At your first glance at the UCLA offense, you’ll see plenty of familiar names and players who were once high on Cal wish lists. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Kazmeir Allen (still hurts) and Michael Ezeike are all former Cal targets who have seen the field early and often for UCLA this season. While there are certainly more than a few lingering questions about the Cal coaching staffs ability to recruit offensive players, UCLA has found itself in a dark place with all of that talent.
Chip Kelly made his triumphant return to Pac-12 football this past offseason replacing the ever-mediocre Jim Mora for the UCLA Bruins. The collective groan from fans of the California Golden Bears could be heard around the world as Chip looked to revitalize his career after stalling out in the NFL. So far this season, it looks like Chip’s ride home in the golden chariot might be short-lived.
2018 Season in Review
Say what you will about UCLA’s offensive production—most of what you can say isn’t great—but the Bruins haven’t had any luck on scheduling. The Fresno State Bulldogs, Cincinnati Bearcats, Oklahoma Sooners and a Pac-12 gauntlet ahead of them doesn’t give any young team the proper chance to get comfortable. Thus, we have a very similar situation that happened to Cal when Sonny Dykes took over. A shift from a pro-style system to an up-tempo offense and a series of injuries that have forced freshman into high-leverage situations. After the Bruins finish their schedule not favored in any remaining games, they may see a high volume of departures similar to what the Bears went through in 2013.
What to look out for Saturday: Advanced stats, player to watch and positional preview
After five weeks into the season, the Bruins rank 89th in the country Off. S&P+. They average ~18 points per game which is a far cry from the high-powered offenses Kelly led in his Oregon tenure. They have a true freshman starting at quarterback, running back, and potentially tight end. On the ground, Kazmeir Allen has been effective in just a limited set of carries and the passing game’s inefficiency allows opposing defenses to key in on stopping the run game.
Chip Kelly’s offense with Dorian Thompson Robinson
Chip Kelly’s offense will feature a variety of staples in the up-tempo college offense. RPO, the pistol formation, and zone reads will all look very familiar to Cal fans on Saturday. The offense itself is in the middle of the pack in regards to tempo, ranking in the mid-40s for pace of play. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been impressive for a true freshman, but still looks as you would expect most freshman not named Sam Darnold to look. He struggles with his completion percentage and hasn’t been as successful as you might have expected as a runner. Yet he is coming off his best game of the year against Washington and Cal fans will certainly hope that momentum doesn’t carry into the game Saturday afternoon.
What is so surprising for this offense is how underwhelming their receivers have been and that further illustrates Robinson’s struggles early this year throwing the ball. Incumbent receiver Theo Howard is the top target for the offense and yet his statistics have been sub-average over the first five games. Howard averages around 4/5 catches a game for ~50 yards per contest. He leads the team in receiving yards and is tied in receiving touchdowns behind the aforementioned Ezeike.
What to Expect come Saturday
This is a match-up that Cal should win and it should be another coming out party for the Cal defense. Thompson-Robinson is struggling as a runner and isn’t accurate to date as a passer, which takes some pressure off of the Bears defensive line. The Bears can get away with installing a game plan similar to the Oregon game where they only send three or four on several plays without having to worry about a Herbert-like quarterback destroying them with the extra time in the pocket. Cal’s defense has been excellent so far against the run and that shouldn’t change facing UCLA’s offensive line. The Bruins have struggled both to create holes and keep the quarterback upright which means a big day could be there for Alex Funches.
It would be quite enjoyable for Wilcox to let Aaron Maldonado suit up against the team that spurned him and see how big of a motor he plays with. This game, I am sure, means a lot to him and the Bears should be ready to pounce on one of the meeker UCLA teams they have seen in a while.
How many points will the UCLA offense score against Cal?
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50 or more