This week off seems to have come at an ideal time for the UCLA football team, which on Tuesday morning held its first practice since Saturday night’s 48-31 home loss to Oregon State that dropped the Bruins to 1-5 overall and into last place in the Pac-12 South.
Coach Chip Kelly pointed to injuries as a big reason for the team’s struggles, particularly on defense.
“Defensively we’ve got to get back to the fundamentals,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of interchangeable parts. We kind of mix and match on the defensive line. We didn’t have [lineman] Elijah Wade available to us and we lost Martin Andrus Jr. in pregame warmup, so we’re trying to get a consistent rotation with the same guys that we’re continuing to practice with.
“The good part about this week is trying to get healthy and see what we have.”
UCLA nexts plays at Stanford on Oct. 17.
Solid start by Burton
Redshirt sophomore Austin Burton, who made his first start at quarterback against the Beavers, completing 27 of 41 passes for 236 yards and one touchdown and running for a score while filling in for Dorian Thompson-Robinson, earned high praise from Kelly.
“Austin did a nice job,” Kelly said. “It really continued from the Arizona game. He just handled the situation. There were some things he needs to improve on like all of us have to do, but for his first start he did a really nice job.
“Once he settled down and got into the flow of the game he made some good decisions. Austin’s similar to Dorian in that when things are covered he can beat you with his legs. He was able to get out of the pocket and extend some drives.”
Thompson-Robinson started the first five games but suffered a leg injury late in the third quarter of the 20-17 loss at Arizona on Sept. 28. He threw alongside the other quarterbacks Tuesday.
“He looked like he never left,” receiver Kyle Philips said. “His motion was good and the coaches did a good job rehabbing him.”
Despite the team’s record, Philips insisted confidence on the offensive side of the ball remains high.
“We can be one of the best offenses in the country,” Philips said. “We’ve shown flashes of that like we did at Washington State. We’re definitely improving, we just have to clean up our mistakes.”
Wade, tailback Martell Irby, wideout Theo Howard and cornerback Mo Osling III all participated in warmups but not drills Tuesday as they were on the sideline with trainers. Asked if Howard or Andrus will redshirt, Kelly said: “We haven’t talked about it yet.”
Bruins need balance
For Kelly, balance remains the key on offense.
“When you can be balanced offensively that’s a big factor,” he said. “Oregon State was a little more geared to the run to start the game because you’re playing a new quarterback, but when Austin and the receivers and the tight ends started making some plays in the passing game, that loosened up the run a little more.”
As for the defense, Kelly expects it to improve as key starters return from injuries.
“You have to play with what you have and because of injuries we haven’t been at full speed on our defensive line, but yes, you have to be able to generate a pass rush so you don’t stay in coverage all the time,” he said. “But if you feel like you have to add blitzers to generate the pass rush, then you’re going to give the opposing receivers more opportunities in man coverage.
“So it’s kind of a catch-22 sometimes. It’s a matter of knowing what we have and what players’ skill sets are. Recently we’ve just been banged up.”
With the Stanford game set for a Thursday, UCLA has altered its schedule.
“We’ve already watched tape as a staff and Saturday is like a Monday for us, so that’ll be our first earnest [practice], but there are similar things Stanford does that we do that we can give some looks to today and Thursday,” Kelly said.
“One thing about byes is that we don’t schedule them, so whenever you have it, you take advantage of it. We’re not in full pads today and it’ll be similar Thursday. They were off Sunday and Monday, they’ll get a little lift in tomorrow, they’ll be off on Friday and then we get back into game week, so you hope the week off gives guys a chance to heal up. It comes at a good time at the halfway point of the season. Knock on wood, we’ll get a couple more guys back and be ready to go Saturday.”