The summer season officially began on Monday and you know what that means: it’s time to crank up the offseason football #content machine.
LSU is one of the blue blood programs in college football. There’s not a whole lot that LSU, the program, hasn’t done. But September 4 will be the first time the Tigers will ever play in the historic Rose Bowl and if you’re able I highly encourage you to make the trip to California.
On the surface the Bruins don’t quite measure up to the Power 5 opponents LSU has played in recent years. That said UCLA has slowly but surely made some progress and if LSU isn’t ready, the Bruins could put an early damper on what should be a bounce back season.
2020: 3-4 (3-4 Pac-12)
2021 S&P+ Projection: 21st
2021 Recruiting Class: 31st
Head Coach: Chip Kelly (10-21 through three seasons)
Offensive Coordinator: Justin Frye
Defensive Coordinator: Jerry Azzinaro
The fourth year of the Chip Kelly era in Westwood feels like the make or break year.
On the one hand Kelly has lost two-thirds of his games as coach of the Bruins and has yet to produce a winning season. On the other, UCLA went 3-9 in Kelly’s first year, improved to 4-8 in year two, and were 3-4 in a topsy turvy COVID-19 season and all four losses were by six points or fewer.
The improvements show on the box score too. Kelly made a name for himself at Oregon and with the Eagles as an offensive whiz and it’s slowly but surely taking effect in Los Angeles. Last season UCLA ranked 21st in the nation in total offense; and between 2019 and 2020, UCLA jumped 70 spots in rushing, going from 154 yards in 2019 to 224 yards in 2020. The Bruins also upped its scoring by a two whole scores, jumping from 26 points per game in ‘19 to 35 points ‘20.
What’s more is Kelly brings back 19 starters, nine on offense and 10 on defense. Couple that with the fact that Kelly’s No. 31 ranked recruiting class is his best to date and that all adds up to Chip’s seat being unseasonably warm. Simply put, Kelly has to get UCLA to a bowl game if he wants to be the Bruins head coach in 2022.
What makes things tricky for UCLA is the schedule is no gimme. Not only does UCLA play your Tigers, they also play Hawaii and Fresno State. Once conference play starts, things won’t get much easier for UCLA as the Bruins will have to go to Stanford, Washington, Utah and USC.
Leading the way for UCLA will be senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a legit dual-threat quarterback. Thompson-Robinson, a second-team All-Pac 12 selection last year, completed 65 percent of his passes last season and had 12 touchdowns to only four interceptions. He also picked up 306 yards with his legs, including a 109-yard effort against Colorado in the season opener. Going up against an experienced, multi-talented threat like Thompson-Robinson will be a good measuring stick to see just how much LSU has improved defensively.
As mentioned earlier the Bruins had one of the top rushing attacks in the nation last year. While UCLA loses leading rusher Demetric Felton, the Bruins get an impact transfer in the form of Zach Charbonnet formerly of Michigan. Charbonnet was a top-50 prospect in the 2019 class and ran for 700 yards as a freshman. UCLA also has one of the better tight ends in the country in Greg Dulcich, who caught 26 balls for 517 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Defensively the Bruins improved from terrible to slightly below average. UCLA ranked 112th in total defense in 2019 but improved to 71st in 2020, allowing 135 yards on the ground, 274 yards in the air and 30 points per game. The Bruins weren’t great when it mattered most, allowing teams to convert about 45 percent of third downs and 28 scores (23 touchdowns) on 31 red zone attempts.
While UCLA brings back 10 starters, the one departure is a massive one. Defensive end Osa Odighizuwa, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, is off to the NFL after being taken in the third round by Dallas. But UCLA may have bolstered its line by way of the transfer portal with the addition of former USC Trojan Jay Toia. The Bruins also added former Alabama linebacker/special teams ace Ale Kaho.
UCLA’s top two incoming freshmen, cornerback Devin Kirkwood and defensive end Quintin Somerville, both enrolled early and had strong spring practices. Kirkwood reportedly worked his way up from practicing with the third string to rotating between the first and second team. He also intercepted two passes in UCLA’s spring game and returned one for a touchdown. Somerville, on the other hand, may not have had eye catching moments in a game situation, but has done well in practice and will surely see the field September 4 against LSU.
August 28 vs. Hawaii
September 4 vs. LSU
September 18 vs. Fresno State
September 25 @ Stanford
October 2 vs. Arizona State
October 9 @ Arizona
October 16 @ Washington
October 23 vs. Oregon
October 30 @ Utah
November 6 BYE
November 13 vs. Colorado
November 20 @ USC
November 27 vs. Cal