LOS ANGELES (AP) — In a season with many unknowns, there is one definite when it comes to UCLA's football program this season — Chip Kelly needs to show the Bruins are turning the corner.
Kelly is going into the third season of a five-year, $23.3 million contract, but patience has already worn thin with only seven wins. The Bruins were 4-8 and averaged 43,848 fans at home last season, which was their lowest turnout since moving to the Rose Bowl in 1982.
Kelly goes into the Nov. 7 opener at Colorado with something he didn't have the past two years — an experienced squad. The Bruins had the second-highest percentage of freshmen players on their roster last season (53.3%). In 2018, 37 players saw their first collegiate action. Inexperience and a lack of depth were evident both seasons as UCLA lost its first five games in Kelly's first year and started 0-3 last year.
“One of the positives of this team is most of the players that have played the last two years are still here," Kelly said. "You know, we have been a very young team. A lot of those players that had the byproduct of getting that game experience in ‘18, and ’19 will be able to play for us here in 2020. I’m excited to see those guys.”
The Bruins' fortunes will largely depend on whether Dorian Thompson-Robinson can become a more consistent quarterback. The junior was fourth in the conference in total yards last season, averaging 263.5 yards per game, but led the nation in total turnovers (19) and fumbles lost (seven).
Thompson-Robinson said the biggest thing he has been working on is ball security as well as doing a better job of reading defenses.
"I think we're just more of a dynamic offense. I think everybody has more freedom, more keys to the castle, so I’m excited for the opener to come around,” he said.
EXPERIENCE AT SKILL POSITIONS
The Bruins have four of their top five receivers back from last season, including Kyle Philips, who led the team with 681 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman.
Senior Demetric Felton was third on the team in receiving and has emerged as the leading candidate to replace Joshua Kelley at running back. Felton rushed for 111 yards against Oregon State last year. Brittain Brown, a graduate transfer from Duke, is also in the mix.
The Bruins are switching to a 4-2-5 scheme. Kelly has tried to downplay the change, noting that they played mostly nickel last year, but new defensive backs coach Brian Norwood is emphasizing playing faster and being more aggressive.
The switch has energized a unit that has been one of the worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision the past two seasons. UCLA had the fifth-worst defense among Power Five conference teams last year, allowing 456.2 yards per game.
Most classes are being conducted remotely with a limited number of students being housed on campus. The Bruins have had a couple players quarantined during preseason practices due to close contact with someone who tested positive, but they haven't had players or coaches receive a positive test for the past couple of months.
“Our players have done a real good job of protecting their ecosystem. I also know from talking to our doctors that there aren’t as many cases in the Westwood community," Kelly said.
The Bruins were slated to host New Mexico State and travel to Hawaii and San Diego State in nonconference play before the Pac-12 went to a conference-only schedule.
UCLA's North Division game will be at Oregon, which originally wasn't on the schedule. It is not slated to face California for the first time since 1932 (the series started the following year) and Stanford for the first time since 1945.
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