Smoky conditions leave start of UCLA football practice up in the air

UCLA quarterback Austin Burton runs out of the pocket against Oregon State during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Pasadena.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

UCLA has encountered a new, irritating adversary in its bid for respectability: air quality.

Smoke from the Saddleridge fire in the San Fernando Valley enveloped the Westwood campus Saturday morning, making the practice fields smell like somebody was slow-roasting brisket on the terrace of the Wasserman Football Center and had badly charred the meat.

The practice start time darted around like a bouncing football as the team’s training staff assessed the air quality in conjunction with campus officials. First it was set to start at 9 a.m. … then 10 a.m. … then 8:40 a.m.


It seemed like practice as usual once players jogged into position for stretches. Nobody wore a mask or appeared to be going at half speed once drills commenced. The session lasted roughly 80 minutes, the normal length for the first practice of a game week.

The only accommodation for the hazy air resulting from the fire, about 21 miles from campus, was that scheduled interviews with coach Chip Kelly and players were canceled.

UCLA (1-5 overall, 1-2 Pac-12 Conference) is scheduled to hold practices Sunday, Monday and Tuesday on campus to prepare for its game against Stanford (3-3, 2-2) on Thursday in Palo Alto. The Cardinal have won 11 consecutive games in the series, last losing to the Bruins in 2008 at the Rose Bowl.

According to an email sent by campus officials, the air quality Saturday morning was considered unhealthy for sensitive individuals, including people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and pregnant women.

“We ask that individuals within this group consider reducing outdoor activities such as sports, recreation and other outdoor activities,” the email read.

As of 9 a.m., the Air Quality Index was listed as 123 for UCLA’s ZIP code, putting it in the middle of the 101-150 range that’s considered unhealthy for sensitive individuals. An index of 151-200 is considered unhealthy, while an index of 201-300 is considered very unhealthy and an index of 301-500 is considered hazardous.

There was no air quality forecast for Sunday given the constant variability of wind conditions. UCLA canceled several practices in December 2017 during its preparations for the Cactus Bowl because of poor air quality caused by nearby wildfires.


UCLA has started 1-5 in back-to-back seasons, its worst showing six games into consecutive seasons since it started the 1943 season 0-6 and the 1944 season 2-3-1 under coach Edwin C. Horrell, who did not return for 1945.… Defensive linemen Martin Andrus Jr. and Elijah Wade, both recovering from injuries, did not appear to be present during the portion of practice open to the media. Safety Quentin Lake practiced as a member of the scout team, with a large wrap over his injured arm. Linebacker Krys Barnes, running back Martell Irby and defensive back Mo Osling III worked off to the side of the practice field with a trainer as they continued to ease their way back into practice following injuries.


The first-year Bruins coach wants to change their work habits and culture after UCLA has missed the NCAA Tournament two of the past four seasons.

Oct. 10, 2019