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UCLA waiting to see whether it will be bowled over by postseason possibilities

UCLA players enter the Rose Bowl before their game against rival USC on Dec. 12, 2020.
UCLA players enter the Rose Bowl before their game against rival USC on Saturday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Like everything else about 2020, it’s complicated. UCLA’s decision whether to accept a bowl invitation should the Bruins qualify hinges on a handful of factors.

Where would the game be played? How much time would the Bruins have to prepare? What would the COVID-19 testing protocols be for the teams involved? Would the Bruins be able to practice at the site of the game?

Those were among the issues that UCLA coach Chip Kelly said would have to be assessed with Pac-12 Conference officials this week as the team weighed the benefits and drawbacks of potential postseason participation.

“To make a blanket ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without all the information isn’t the way it’s going to be done here,” Kelly said Monday.

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Adding to the uncertainty, many of the bowls that traditionally have Pac-12 tie-ins were canceled this season amid the pandemic. The Sun, Holiday, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Redbox bowls will not be staged because of safety concerns, leaving Pac-12 teams to look elsewhere.

UCLA will try to turn the page from their heartbreaking loss to USC to focus on a Stanford team that has turned it around.

The NCAA announced before the season that any team would be eligible to participate in a bowl this season, regardless of record, but Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott stipulated that teams from his conference would need to finish at least .500. That means the Bruins (3-3) would need to beat Stanford (3-2) on Saturday at the Rose Bowl to even have a chance at playing in a bowl game.

Kelly said he also wanted to gauge interest from his players about participating in what would be UCLA’s first postseason game since it appeared in the Cactus Bowl in 2017.

“I mean, we love playing football, so that’s my stance on that, I guess,” Bruins tight end Greg Dulcich said, “but we’re focusing on Stanford as of now.”

Said wide receiver Ethan Fernea: “As far as I’m concerned, we’re not bowl-eligible right now until we have a winning season, so we’ve got to win that Stanford game before we can start thinking about other stuff.”

No yards and a cloud of dust

If it’s fourth and short, odds are that UCLA is going to make a run for it.

The Bruins have tried to covert on fourth and one and fourth and two a combined 11 times this season and ran the ball in each instance, succeeding five times.

Kelly defended his play-calling when asked whether it had become too predictable in those situations, with many runs going up the middle.

“No, I think we have varied calls in those situations,” Kelly said.

The Bruins ran it up the middle on fourth and one with about four minutes left against USC on Saturday, with redshirt freshman Keegan Jones getting stuffed for no gain. Kelly said he went with Jones instead of a more seasoned running back because of the rotation used by running backs coach DeShaun Foster.

Kelly said the Bruins got the defensive look they wanted on the play but just couldn’t convert. Another fourth down went awry earlier in the game because of a mental mistake involving a lineman, Kelly said, and the fumble by Luke Akers on fourth and four came on a poorly executed fake punt.

Overall, UCLA has converted five of its 15 fourth-down attempts, a 33.3% success rate that’s tied for No. 118 in the nation.

“You’ve got to be able to get a yard,” Kelly said. “If you can’t get a yard, then you’re probably not going to win the football game.”

The Pac-12 Conference has set the schedule for its final weekend of football games, which includes UCLA hosting Stanford at the Rose Bowl and USC in the championship game.

Fond farewell?

Kelly said he was going to speak with his seniors about a possible ceremony to honor them before the game against Stanford even though their parents would not be permitted to attend the game because of COVID-19 safety protocols.

“It’s hard because usually senior day is a great day for all programs and it’s a great day because their parents and family members are there,” Kelly said, adding that the school would pay tribute to the seniors in some fashion.

Etc.

Kelly said cornerback Obi Eboh, a graduate transfer from Stanford, didn’t play against USC for unspecified reasons and his status for the game against his former school was being evaluated. Running backs Kazmeir Allen and Martell Irby remained unavailable, Kelly said. Allen hasn’t played since the California game last month, and Irby has not played this season.


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