UCLA, Arizona State on course to play after coronavirus issues
Chip Kelly and Herm Edwards had more important matters to discuss than the status of a football game between their teams when they spoke recently.
Edwards had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and Kelly wanted to see how the Arizona State coach was faring while stuck in confinement for an extended period.
“He seemed like he was handling it well,” Kelly, who could speak with authority on the topic after having also contracted the disease last spring, said Monday. “Just when it first came out [that Edwards had tested positive], I called him to see how he was doing and make sure he was OK. I think the virus affects people differently and he seemed like he handled it.”
The recovery of Edwards and Sun Devils players sidelined by the virus could allow their season to resume after a nearly monthlong hiatus. As of Monday, the game between the Bruins (2-2) and Sun Devils (0-1) scheduled for Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium appeared on track to being played.
The Sun Devils returned to practice last week after having three games canceled by COVID-19 issues; they have not played since a season-opening loss to USC on Nov. 7 and if they are able to play the Bruins, it would amount to being their home opener.
UCLA’s secondary is playing better under new defensive backs coach Brian Norwood — something old defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads saw first-hand Saturday.
UCLA could be closer to full strength after getting back at least some of the players who were sidelined the last two weekends because of two positive tests and contact tracing that forced other players into a two-week quarantine.
“We are hopeful of that,” Kelly said.
Among those who could return are starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, safety Quentin Lake and wide receiver Jaylen Erwin, each of whom was forced to miss the games against Oregon and Arizona.
UCLA has not had a player test positive in two weeks and Kelly said there were no new virus issues with the team.
“None as of 8:34 a.m.,” he said.
The Pac-12 Conference announced a partnership with the sports performance technology company KINEXON to assist with contact tracing through lightweight wearable devices that monitor the distance and duration between users. The devices will be worn by players, coaches and staff during all team activities, including games, and can relay contact tracing information to school officials in the event of a positive test so that anyone at risk can enter quarantine.
The devices will be distributed to Pac-12 football teams as well as men’s and women’s basketball teams, though Kelly said he was just learning about the technology when asked about it Monday morning.
“In theory, it sounds great,” Kelly said. “I don’t really know anything about it. What I do know is this disease can affect everybody, so you better social distance and wear a mask and wash your hands.”
Many college football players like to say they don’t know their stats, but UCLA’s defenders are willing to make an exception.
They’re tracking every big play as part of a historic resurgence.
“We all have a competition on who’s going to make the most tackles for loss this week,” nickelback Qwuantrezz Knight acknowledged.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Chase Griffin earned his first win as a starter for UCLA and got the game ball, but he could return to a reserve role soon.
That would make cornerback Obi Eboh the most recent winner after he made two tackles for loss, including a sack, Saturday against Arizona. Linebacker Mitchell Agude is the season leader with 6½ tackles for loss, followed by defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa (five) and linebacker Caleb Johnson and nickelback Carl Jones (3½ each).
Collectively, UCLA leads the Pac-12 with 12 sacks and 32 tackles for loss. Knight said the competition starts in practice, where players swarm the ball in an effort to make plays in the backfield before carrying that mentality over to games. Whoever emerges with the most tackles for loss possesses an extra swagger among his teammates.
“It’s just like a big number on your chest that you get to wear for the whole week,” Knight said. “Bragging rights.”
UCLA running back Demetric Felton Jr. could be seen smiling on the sideline Saturday night after limping off the field on his final carry against Arizona. There was reason for his good humor: He was not seriously injured. Kelly said Felton, who rushed for a career-high 206 yards against the Wildcats, returned to practice Monday.
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