The coach known for a businesslike approach that involves monitoring his players’ sleep, hydration and heart levels might have just earned himself a new nickname: Fun-time Chip.
UCLA’s Chip Kelly told the Bruins to enjoy themselves against Stanford, sparking their best defensive effort of the season during a 34-16 victory that snapped a losing streak at 11 games against the Cardinal.
“When our head man said it, like, ‘Guys, I just want you to have fun. I just want you to enjoy it,’ ” linebacker Jason Harris said Wednesday, “once we heard him say it, we were like, all right, let’s do our thing. Let’s ball out.”
Harris made one of his team’s season-high seven sacks while limiting the Cardinal to 198 yards of offense, the first time UCLA had held an opponent under 200 yards since 2009.
To Harris, a graduate transfer from Illinois State, having more fun meant worrying less.
“We have a pretty in-depth schematic program here and sometimes it can get a little complicated for us,” Harris said, “but he just really wanted to put that aside and for us to not worry about making mistakes and just to fly around and have fun and I think that’s what we did and that’s why we saw a lot of success.
“For me, it’s just trying not to be perfect because a lot of times I want to be perfect. I want to not have any mental errors, get 100% on my assignments and stuff like that, which you want to do, but sometimes it can slow you down constantly thinking and you just have to let it loose and be a ballplayer because that’s what they want us to do.”
The Bruins made enough plays to nudge them away from contention for the worst defense in the nation. They are now yielding 459.7 yards per game, down from 503.3 before the Stanford game, as well as 34.6 points per game, down from 37.7 points previously.
All because they decided to have a little fun.
“I don’t know if you guys could tell, but we had a lot more energy as a team and it was a lot of fun to be around those guys,” Harris said. “I think it will carry on and I hope it does. That’s the plan.”
UCLA has statistically enjoyed far greater success on its opening drives than it has over the rest of its games, but it’s not a matter of a winning script giving way to ineffective ad-libbed play calls.
Kelly said every play call is predetermined based on down and distance.
“We script by situation,” Kelly said, “so we have first- and second-down calls, third-down calls, red-zone calls, coming-out calls, so whatever the situation dictates, everything from that standpoint in terms of what we do is all scripted.”
The Bruins have scored on four of seven opening drives (57.1%), nearly double the success they’ve had in scoring on 26 of their other 80 drives (32.5%), not including end-of-half situations.
Kelly said his team’s inability to sustain its early success has involved a hodgepodge of factors, including consistency in execution and defensive coverages.
“That’s kind of the give and take that goes on during a game,” Kelly said. “We know going into the game that they’re 75% [in two-deep coverage] on this down and distance, so you’re probably calling a play that’s good versus two-deep. They didn’t run two-deep; they ran it the first time, they didn’t run it the second time. So the first time it worked, the second time was their 25% where they’re running another coverage and it didn’t work out as much.”
Freshman defensive lineman Siale Liku, still waiting to make his college debut, has been spending time at offensive line in practice. Kelly said the move was intended to find the best spot for Liku because the team has more depth on its defensive line. No decision is expected until the end of the season. … Kelly said sophomore receiver Michael Ezeike, who has no catches this season in limited playing time after a promising freshman season, has been hindered by nagging injuries. “It’s just a matter of Mike being able to sustain consistent weeks over time,” Kelly said of a player who caught 12 passes for two touchdowns as a freshman. “It seems like he starts moving and you’re excited about him but then something flares up and he’s out for a week or so.”