When UCLA (1-2) takes it against Arizona (0-2) on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. in the Rose Bowl, it will likely be one of only three Pac-12 teams (along with Oregon and Oregon State) to have all four played from his scheduled games. That alone will be a significant achievement after the Bruins had to reschedule a game earlier in the season and face Colorado in place of Utah at short notice after the Utes were unable to play due to a COVID-19 breakout on their roster.
The Bruins had their own fight with the coronavirus last week, as two players tested positive and as many as 10 were unavailable due to contact tracking, including third-year quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
The Bruins still had enough stock market players available to take the field for a 38-35 road loss against Oregon.
The Pac-12 has a rule that players who test positive or come into contact with someone who tested positive must be quarantined for 14 days, but the Bruins seem on track to defeat the Wildcats.
Arizona beat UCLA 20-17 last year, but it hasn’t beat the Bruins in the Rose Bowl since 2010. If both teams can pass the final coronavirus tests Saturday morning, UCLA coach Chip Kelly said this will be his own separate win.
On Thursday evening USC had to cancel its game against Colorado because the Trojans did not have enough stock market players available due to coronavirus issues.
“You know, 2020 is a unique year for everyone in this world,” said Kelly. “So we are grateful to have this opportunity to continue doing something we love. There are many people who cannot be in our situation right now. ”
The Bruins’ two defeats were combined with nine points, including last week’s three-point loss against the then number. 11 ranked Oregon, a game that was up for grabs despite the Bruins’ four turnovers.
Kelly was asked if all that would have been given if the Bruins’ 1-2 start had been discouraging.
“Frankly, I think it’s a much bigger factor for you (media) than it is for them (players),” said Kelly. “After the game in Oregon, this group of guys wanted to get back on the field and play against them again. Their mentality is: let’s keep playing. They were great.
“I think it’s the nature of what we do, (whether) we’re 1-3 or 1-2, and you (media) have to write what you do, and we understand that. But I really believe our players know they are a good football team and if we stay away from SIWs (self-inflicted wounds) then we have a chance in every game we play, no matter where we are this season. ”
The Wildcats, who have lost nine in a row since last season, can probably relate. In their season opener, they gave No. 19 USC everything it could in a 34-30 defeat, and they trailed 37-0 against Washington last week before settling for a 44-27 defeat.
“You look at their first game, they played really well against USC and lost it towards the end,” said Kelly. And then it was really a tale of two halves against Washington. I thought they gathered and did really well in the second half, but they dug themselves too big to get out, but it was a competitive game with (Grant) Gunnell as the quarterback. ”
6-foot-6 Gunnell threw for 1,239 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman last season. He hasn’t thrown an interception this season and just one last year.
He averages 272 yards pass per game with six touchdowns and completes 68 percent of his passes, which is second in the Pac-12.
For the Bruins, Redshirt freshman quarterback Chase Griffin will likely get his second start in place of Thompson-Robinson, who could miss a second game in a row due to quarantine.
Whether it’s Griffin or Thompson-Robinson on the field, the Bruins need to take better care of the ball. Thompson-Robinson committed three of the Bruins’ four turnovers in their season – 48-42 opening loss to Colorado. Griffin passed for 195 yards and a touchdown last week, but also made three turns (two interceptions, one fumble) in the loss against Oregon.
The Bruins believe their sales are the biggest reason for their two losses, and Griffin knows he can’t let that happen again when he starts.
“Any turnovers I have in a game are up to me,” Griffin said. “It’s unacceptable in the quarterback position, and every game you play you want to minimize the turnover, not to two, not to one, you want to have zero turnover.”
Griffin was asked how to do that.
“It comes down to two things, fundamentals and decision making,” said Griffin. “So both are very tangible things. It is not these distant things, they are simple. They are not easy, but they are simple and correctable and those are the things that I focus on in practice. ”
Overall, Kelly was pleased with Griffin’s first scoop.
“I was impressed with Chase’s game,” said Kelly. “I think he has a very good feeling for football. He is a smart and intelligent player and has a very good understanding of situational football.
“Whether in a four-minute situation or a two-minute situation, I think he’s doing well. It’s part of the play call that will tell us what we’re trying to do and get the call to him. I think he understood the situational part of it well. ”
The Bruins have had great success using the “Pistol” on attacks, benefiting their group of ridges. The Bruins averaged 228 yards rushing per game, led by all-purpose back Demetrius Felton and powerhouse Brittain Brown.
‘If the back isn’t on one side or the other, it’s in the middle. It’s hard to figure out which way he’s going, ”said Kelly. “There are a number of advantages, it is a bit more downhill.
“We’ve used the gun a lot over the years because Josh Kelley (now with the Los Angeles Chargers) liked to be behind the quarterback. There is a comfort factor with the backs, and there are also some things for the defensive guys where you don’t tip the ball to the right or left. ”
The Bruins will go against Arizona defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, who was the Bruins’ defensive coach for the previous two seasons before joining the Wildcats.
“I don’t think it benefits us (because he knows his coaching style) because it’s Paul’s system that he runs,” said Kelly. “We have understood a number of things. I think there are some things that he did when he was here, but there are other things that he does that are new. ”