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Cal Football

A (Slightly) Too Early Opponent Preview: UCLA Bruins

August 5, 2019
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Chip Kelly’s return season to college football — and the Pac-12 — was largely underwhelming, but also predictable. After back-to-back 10-win seasons and bowl wins in at the Sun and Alamo Bowls in 2013 and 2014, UCLA has been on a downward trend, finishing 8-5, 4-8, and 6-7 from 2015-2017, with a loss in the Cactus Bowl to end Jim Mora’s tenure.

To be sure, Kelly was a solid hire for the Bruins. While he couldn’t quite get it done in the NFL, his time at Oregon between 2009 and 2012 was prolific. UCLA is obviously not Oregon — the Bruins haven’t won a conference title since 1998 — but it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Kelly get his team to bowl games pretty much every year.

Not to make too many excuses for Kelly, but the only continuity UCLA had last season was in the secondary. The Bruins lost their top two quarterbacks after the 2017 season — Josh Rosen to the NFL draft and Devon Modster to a place called Berkeley. Kelly was also without the top two returning running backs, only one lineman that started the previous season, the top two receiving targets from 2017, and over half of the defensive end and linebacker crew.

While the defense returns 81% of its production from 2018 to 2019, the offense isn’t as fortunate, only carrying over about 61% of its production into this fall.

Last season the Bruins split snaps between graduate transfer QB Wilton Speight and former top-40 recruit Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who was a true freshman. Heading into fall camp, the QB1 spot seems to be Thompson-Robinson’s to lose, although, he will have to fend off redshirt sophomore Austin Burton. Last season, Thompson-Robinson completed nearly 58% of his passes for more than 1,300 yards with seven TDs and four picks. 

While Thompson-Robinson has largely been seen as the Bruins’ QB of the present and future, reports out of UCLA’s spring camp said Burton’s improvement over his three seasons in Westwood has made him a strong contender to potentially swipe the QB1 spot. The other X-factor is Colson Yankoff, a former four-star recruit who transferred from Washington last spring. UCLA has reportedly filed for the elusive and finicky transfer waiver to get Yankoff eligible immediately.

Perhaps the biggest loss for the Bruins on offense comes from tight end Caleb Wilson, who will now be suiting up for the Arizona Cardinals this fall. Wilson accounted for 60 catches, four TDs, and nearly 1,000 yards last season. He led the team in virtually every receiving stat category. Theo Howard is this year’s top returning receiver, who also had four TDs last season with 51 catches for 677 yards. Besides Howard, the receiving corps is largely unproven. While this is unlikely to impact the game against Cal, it should be noted that Howard has yet to practice this spring as he’s been held out of practice as a precaution to an injury. 

The injury bug hasn’t been kind to UCLA this spring. Also sitting out of spring practices is top returning rusher — and one of the top receivers — Joshua Kelley. The UC Davis transfer rushed for 1,243 yards last season. No other Bruin ran for more than 200 yards last year. Four out of five offensive linemen return this season and the Bruins will also add Sean Rhyan a top-75 recruit from the 2019 cycle.

While the offense shows some promise heading into the 2019 season, the defense is another story. Mainly because last year’s defense was pretty horrible, giving up an average of 34 points and 445 yards per game last season. Thankfully, for UCLA, there is a team called the Oregon State Beavers in the Pac-12, otherwise, they would have been the worst defense in the conference in nearly all statistical areas.

The Bruins lose their leading tackler — and one of the better safeties in the conference — in Adarius Pickett, who recorded an incredible 123 tackles last year. However, Quentin Lake, who had 67 tackles and two interceptions last season returns. Corners Darney Holmes, who had three picks last year, and Elijah Gates, who had one pick and five breakups last season return. Holmes led the team in interceptions and pass breakups with 11 last year.

Leading pass rusher Keisean Lucier-South, who had four sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss last year, returns, as does Osa Odighizuwa, who recorded three sacks and six tackles for a loss last year. Inside linebacker Lokeni Toailoa also returns for his senior year. The former four-star recruit had three sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss last season.

Projection: Cal Bears 24, UCLA Bruins 10

The Bears get payback for last seasons game we’d all like to forget and finish off the regular season with a win on their way to a bowl game.

The entire opponent preview series:

UC Davis

Washington

North Texas

Ole Miss

Arizona State

Oregon

Oregon State

Utah

Washington State

USC

Stanford

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A (Slightly) Too Early Opponent Preview: UCLA Bruins

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