Lessons for the future from UCLA’s victory over Utah in four points
Chip Kelly often looks like he’d rather face a firing squad than reporters.
The UCLA coach parses questions, looking for any flaw in their logic. Injury inquiries lead nowhere. Facts are often dismissed as “true but useless.” Have a hypothetical question for Kelly? Don’t bother. He’s just trying to have a great fill-in-the-day-of-the-week-here.
All of which made the scene following UCLA’s 42-32 victory over then-No. 11 Utah on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl all the more surreal.
Kelly literally asked for more questions, twice dismissing an athletic department spokesperson’s attempt to end the session so that he could spend more time with the media. The 15-minute interview was the longest since his introductory press conference in November 2017.
Kelly was gracious, engaging and even a touch humorous, apologizing to a columnist for not watching his appearances on television. Yes, the coach who started his career 7-18 with the Bruins is enjoying his team’s success every bit as much as his players. No. 11 UCLA (6-0 overall, 3-0 Pac-12) has won nine consecutive games going back to last season, giving Kelly a 24-25 record at the school.
Asked how this newfound success felt, Kelly referenced the Buddhist term “mudita,” saying he derived joy from others.
“When our players have success,” Kelly said, “I see the smiles on their faces, I watch that celebration in the locker room, those are the things that really get us going as people and the reasons we get up in the morning and go to work.”
Here are four takeaways from the most impressive victory of the Kelly era:
They’re going up, up, up
From unranked to No. 18 to the top 10?
It nearly happened after UCLA knocked off its highest-ranked opponent under Kelly just eight days after a victory over then-No. 15 Washington.
The Bruins are No. 11 in the latest Associated Press poll, rising seven spots and leapfrogging four teams that won Saturday. They would undoubtedly move into the top 10 with a victory over No. 12 Oregon on Oct. 22 at Autzen Stadium, a place where the Bruins have not won since 2004.
Beat the Ducks, and the Bruins would be heavily favored to remain undefeated going into an epic showdown against No. 7 USC on Nov. 19 at the Rose Bowl. Los Angeles’ cross-town rivals have not both been unbeaten going into the game since 1969, when they were both 8-0-1.
Dual Heisman campaigns?
Get the T-shirts, buttons and Twitter graphics ready.
UCLA has two players worthy of Heisman Trophy buzz. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is finally getting some national attention after accounting for nine touchdowns — seven passing, two rushing — in the victories over Washington and Utah, but how about that running back?
Zach Charbonnet ran for a career-high 198 yards and a touchdown against the Utes, blowing through holes and bouncing off defenders like he was playing bumper cars. Charbonnet is now the leading rusher in the Pac-12, averaging 123 yards per game.
Might UCLA be able to get a two-for-one deal on plane tickets to New York for the Heisman ceremony Dec. 10?
Vote for McGovern
An important but often overlooked story line given UCLA’s offensive pyrotechnics has been the improvement of the defense.
A competent defense was the one component missing during Kelly’s first four seasons, and now the Bruins have it. UCLA is generating a consistent pass rush, regularly forcing turnovers and getting big stops.
The Bruins lead the Pac-12 in fumbles recovered (five), rank third in interceptions (seven) and rank fourth in sacks (15). Nationally, UCLA ranks No. 40 in total defense (344.8 yards allowed per game) and tied for No. 48 in scoring defense (22.7 points given up per game).
New defensive coordinator Bill McGovern has earned his $900,000 salary and linebacker Darius Muasau deserves every name, image and likeness dollar after intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble against Utah.
As usual, the Bruins are entering what Kelly likes to call “improvement week” with no game Saturday.
Here’s one easy fix: Don’t get two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties involving identical twins after the same play.
It happened in the third quarter Saturday when edge rushers Grayson and Gabriel Murphy were called for that infraction after Utah quarterback Cam Rising ran for a six-yard touchdown.
The penalty on Gabriel was enforced on the extra point, moving the ball half the distance to the goal. Rising ran the two yards for a two-point conversion, cutting UCLA’s lead to 21-18.
Grayson’s penalty was enforced on the kickoff, allowing Utah to kick the ball from midfield. Oddly, the Utes booted the ball through the end zone for a touchback instead of trying to pin the Bruins deep in their own territory.
The Bruins could chuckle about the double gaffe afterward, but it’s the sort of thing that could swing a game in the other team’s favor if repeated.