DuckNews Preview: UCLA

Chip Kelly returns to Autzen.

Oregon is reeling off of two lackluster performances and now possibly the worst guy that could enter into the door is coming through that door Saturday (4:30 pm, FOX).

Chip Kelly is back.

Kelly, now the coach at UCLA, returns to the school, the city and the stadium that made him a household name and will be on the other sideline trying to keep the Ducks reeling.

“It’s just part of what goes on. You go out the other locker room to the other sideline,” Kelly said of his big return. “I know it’s a great experience. Our players are excited about it. It’s one of the cool places in the Pac-12 to play. The fans are unbelievable and it’ll be a good experience for our team.”

Just having Kelly on the sideline hasn’t meant a lot of wins for the Bruins as they are currently 2-6 overall and 2-3 in conference play. They are also coming off of a big loss to Utah last week. But there is a reason why UCLA had to get a brand new coaching staff. It’s a rebuilding project that could take a couple of seasons to be complete and it’s just eight games in.

UCLA was forced to go with true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback after Michigan transfer Wilton Speight was injured in the season-opening loss to Cincinnati to begin the season. As expected with most true freshmen, the results have been mixed. Thompson-Robinson started the next four games, only to see the Bruins begin the season 0-5 for the first time in their history.

After coming close to upsetting Washington the week before (a 31-24 loss), the Bruins finally put everything together at Cal where they buried the Bears 37-7. Thompson-Robinson had his best game going 13-of-15 for 141 yards. But it was the ground game that carried the Bruins over the top.

Joshua Kelley ran for 157 yards and scored three times in that initial win. UCLA managed to carry over the momentum the following week with a 31-30 win over Arizona. Although the Bruins came out on top, Thompson-Robinson hurt his throwing shoulder in the second quarter of that game. Speight replaced him and led UCLA to the close victory.

However, without Thompson-Robinson against Utah the following week, everything came crashing down. The Utes dominated UCLA in a 41-10 beatdown. Speight was 20-of-40 with no touchdowns and two costly interceptions.

With Oregon on the horizon, it’s unclear of which quarterback will be on the field inside Autzen Stadium. But UCLA won’t be the only ones unclear of which quarterback will take the field.

Justin Herbert has been in concussion protocol all week and while he’ll probably be able to play, it’s certainly not guaranteed the junior signal caller will start for Oregon. If he can’t go, it would be the second straight year the Ducks would have to go with a backup against the Bruins.

In last year’s 31-14 loss inside the Rose Bowl, Braxton Burmeister was forced into duty and as the score indicates, it wasn’t pretty. The then true freshman went just 8-of-15 for 74 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Royce Freeman did rush for 160 yards, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Burmeister himself this season has battled injuries and if he can’t go, the job will fall to another true freshman in Tyler Shough. Oregon hopes it doesn’t come to that and Herbert will be ok to take the field against the suspect Bruins defense.

UCLA is 11th in the conference in total defense (431 ypg). Stopping the run hasn’t been their cup of tea as they’ve allowed 209 yards per game on the ground, again, 11th in the Pac-12.

Sticking with the ground game might be the way to go for the Ducks. The Bruins are bad against the run, but it’ll be a way to protect Herbert from injuries and his favorite receiver, Dillon Mitchell, has also been in concussion protocol after receiving a vicious hit at Arizona. While Herbert will probably play, Mitchell’s status is more up in the air.

Running the ball hasn’t been easy in the last couple of weeks. Since the loss of Penei Sewell in the Washington game, the offensive line hasn’t been the same.

“He’s (Sewell) a good football player, but it’s not a excuse of producing or performing up to our standards,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “We have to do a better job at teaching and scheming and applying the fundamentals that we believe in to get a better result.”

— Don Smalley

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