UCLA fired Jim Mora for this?
For an 0-3 start under Chip Kelly? For another penalty-filled effort in a 38-14 loss to Fresno State that was a step backward from the Bruins’ loss Sept. 8 at Oklahoma?
If Mora’s last two seasons didn’t meet expectations, as athletic director Dan Guerrero said when announcing Mora’s dismissal last November, how far short has Kelly fallen of expectations that he’d bring about progress even in small measures?
UCLA has a tough schedule. This is a young team. Those are factors that must be considered in any judgment of the early days of the Chip Kelly Era. But if wins don’t come, improvement must become evident. There was no improvement visible on Saturday in the Bruins’ disjointed mistakes and their constant flow of penalties — 11 for 96 yards, many of them at momentum-killing moments.
“Too many times we were inflicting lost yardage on ourselves,” Kelly said, and that’s an obstacle the Bruins don’t need. They have enough already.
The Bruins haven’t started a season 0-3 since 1971 in their first season under Pepper Rodgers. They were 0-4 that season, too. This year’s team is off this week before it plays at Colorado, which has won its first three games, on Sept. 28. After that, the Bruins are home for Washington followed by a game at Cal. By then, 0-3 might seem like the good old days.
Kelly insisted he didn’t feel deflated being winless. “No one feels sorry for you,” he said. “You’re obviously disappointed in the result of what happened but it’s not because of what happened in Week 1 or Week 2. We look at every week as its own individual week. We’re preparing for who our opponent is.
“We knew this was a real good football team coming in, after they won 10 games last year and went to a bowl game. We knew it was one of the best teams in the Mountain West and we had to be prepared to play and obviously they did a better job. They outcoached us and they outplayed us today.”
Kelly appeared to show some frustration when he confronted quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson on the sideline after the freshman threw the first of two costly interceptions Saturday night. Kelly and Thompson-Robinson said their conversation wasn’t angry, but was a discussion of what Thompson-Robinson had seen on the play and what he had been thinking.
“It’s easy to second guess and coach from the sideline and from the stands but you don’t see it the same way the quarterback sees it,” Kelly said.
Thompson-Robinson verified Kelly had simply asked what he saw on the play. “I gave him an answer and it was just move on,” Thompson-Robinson said. If they both learn and move on, that’s fine. Frustration or impatience on either side won’t help.
Junior wide receiver Theo Howard, who teamed with Thompson-Robinson on a 45-yard touchdown play that cut Fresno State’s lead to 16-7 in the second quarter, said the offense remains a work in progress.
“Obviously it’s a brand-new offense. We’re still working on jelling and getting together,” he said. “We have new faces on the line. We have true freshmen that are playing at the receiver and running back spot. Everybody’s just getting used to each other and trying to play.
“It’s a process, but we’ll get there. We just have to keep the faith.”
Nights like Saturday test that faith.
Sophomore defensive back Quentin Lake, who had two pass breakups but also committed a roughing-the-passer penalty that gave the Bulldogs new life, said the problems with the Bruins’ defense are more mental than strategic.
“I wouldn’t say we underestimated our opponent, but I would say we weren’t to the level of mental preparation where we wanted to be,” he said. “Three games into the season, I would consider it still early. We have the whole Pac-12 to get through. It’s just a learning process. We have a lot of young guys on defense and on offense. Defensively, I think we’re going to step it up.
“You’re going to see us in practice working even harder, get on guys. Self-criticism, which is the biggest thing, especially me and some of the older guys, some of the veterans, that we can do. We can do a better job of self-criticism on some of the younger guys and even on ourselves in a matter of we have to take this team by our hands.”
No one expected Kelly to work miracles, but it’s fair to expect his team to make progress in maintaining discipline and poise. Those have to be in place before the wins come, whenever they might come.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen