Does Chip Kelly make a change at quarterback? Five things to watch against Stanford

UCLA quarterback Dante Moore warms up before a game.
UCLA quarterback Dante Moore warms up before a game against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

Chip Kelly is known for sticking with young players through mistakes.

When Kelly coached at Oregon, freshman running back De’Anthony Thomas fumbled on back-to-back plays for the Ducks in 2011. They were pivotal mistakes in a loss to Louisiana State, but Kelly did not bench his emerging star from Crenshaw High.

“As I learned from Paul Westhead a long time ago,” Kelly said at the time, referencing the former Lakers and Loyola Marymount basketball coach, “you may stop the bleeding, but you may kill the patient and that’s not going to happen here.”


Then again, Kelly sounded every bit as exasperated as fans this week when he discussed UCLA freshman quarterback Dante Moore’s third consecutive game with a pick-six.

“You can’t do that, you can’t give up points,” Kelly said. “The defense doesn’t even have a shot to get on the field in those situations.”

So what does Kelly do Saturday night against Stanford in Palo Alto? Does he go with the struggling freshman in hopes that Moore can build confidence against one of the nation’s worst defenses? Or does he pivot to redshirt junior Ethan Garbers to try to steady a shaky offense? Transfer Collin Schlee does not appear to be an option after suffering what’s believed to be a sternum injury last weekend against Oregon State.

Here are five things to watch when the No. 25 Bruins (4-2 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) face the Cardinal (2-4, 1-3) in a 7:30 game televised by ESPN:


The case for Garbers

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers throws the ball.
UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers (4) throws the ball during a game against Coastal Carolina at the Rose Bowl.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)


Garbers won the starting job coming out of preseason camp, only to hand it over to Moore after one game in which Garbers tallied one touchdown pass and two interceptions.

Garbers also played in the blowout victory over North Carolina Central and was the holder on field goals and extra points for four games before ceding those duties to Blake Glessner. That switch raised speculation that Garbers intended to redshirt this season because if he played in a fifth game, he would be unable to preserve both of his seasons of remaining eligibility.

Asked this week if Garbers was available to play, Kelly said, “Yes, very much so.”

If Kelly goes with Garbers against Stanford, it likely would mean there is intent for the veteran to play a significant role the rest of the season.

During three seasons with the Bruins, Garbers has been steady if unspectacular. He’s completed 64% of his passes for 733 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions.

The biggest upside to making this move would be increasing UCLA’s chances of limiting the turnovers that have piled up in the last three games, when Moore has thrown for twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (three).


Social media and message boards were not fun places to be over the weekend if you were a UCLA football player, family member or friend.

Oct. 16, 2023


The case for Moore

UCLA quarterback Dante Moore slips a tackle by Oregon State linebacker.
UCLA quarterback Dante Moore (3) slips a tackle by Oregon State linebacker Easton Mascarenas-Arnold (5) during the first half in Corvallis, Ore.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

Giving the freshman a game off could provide a breather.

It also could prompt him to leave in a huff after the season if Garbers retains the starting role.

That’s the risk Kelly takes if he makes a midseason move away from the highest-rated quarterback prospect he’s landed in his decade as a college coach. The Bruins potentially could lose their first five-star quarterback since Josh Rosen for the 2024 and 2025 seasons because they refused to ride it out with him through one rough patch.

It’s also worth pointing out that Stanford’s defense could be essentially a get-well card to whoever plays quarterback for the Bruins. The Cardinal are giving up 321.5 passing yards per game, worst in the Pac-12 and No. 129 out of 130 Football Bowl Championship teams.

If there was a game for Moore to get back on track, this would seem to be it.


What about this idea?

UCLA quarterback Collin Schlee evades a tackle by North Carolina Central.
UCLA quarterback Collin Schlee evades a tackle by North Carolina Central linebacker Jayden Flaker at the Rose Bowl.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)


Another option would be to stay with Moore as the starter and mix in another run-oriented quarterback on select drives like Kelly did with Schlee last weekend.

Schlee was plenty effective, rushing for 80 yards in only six carries before getting hurt. Kelly indicated that he has other quarterbacks capable of running the same package even with Schlee sidelined.

“We have some other quarterbacks that are runners, that have run over 20 miles an hour like Collin does,” Kelly said. “So those guys have been practicing that.”

Redshirt freshman Justyn Martin is a dual-threat quarterback eager to show his talents, boasting before the season that he could out-hurdle predecessor Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Running back Colson Yankoff, a converted quarterback and receiver who now mostly plays on special teams, also could take snaps and take off.

“Whatever they ask,” Yankoff said with a laugh when asked about going back to quarterback as a read-option specialist.


Running back redux

UCLA wide receiver Keegan Jones breaks a tackle by Washington State defensive back Sam Lockett III.
UCLA wide receiver Keegan Jones breaks a tackle by Washington State defensive back Sam Lockett III en route to a touchdown at the Rose Bowl.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In his first season at wide receiver, Keegan Jones is having a breakthrough … running the ball.

The converted running back has been a spark plug for the Bruins’ offense in each of the last two games, rushing for a combined 76 yards and two touchdowns in only six carries while often motioning into the backfield.

Does that make Kelly want to design more plays for Jones or does he think the success is a function of limited runs called at the right time?

“It’s a combination of both,” Kelly said. “To have someone that is a multitool player like Keegan is tough for a defense to defend because you gotta kind of figure out where he is. … We hope when we get the opportunity we can expand his role.”


In Year 6, with his best defense and deepest team, UCLA coach Chip Kelly again briefly raised expectations before going splat in his old home state.

Oct. 15, 2023


A new Stanford ‘tree’

Stanford wide receiver Elic Ayomanor celebrates after making a touchdown catch.
Stanford wide receiver Elic Ayomanor celebrates after making a touchdown catch in overtime against Colorado in Boulder, Colo.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Uh-oh, it’s another big Stanford wide receiver who could cause more Bruins heartache.

Sophomore Elic Ayomanor used every inch of his 6-foot-2 frame to haul in his final touchdown catch last weekend, briefly trapping the ball against star Colorado defensive back Travis Hunter’s helmet, to help finish the Cardinal’s epic comeback from a 29-0 deficit.

Ayomanor finished Stanford’s 46-43 victory in double overtime with a school-record 294 receiving yards and three touchdowns, likely placing him atop UCLA’s defensive game plan.

“We gotta make sure we have people on all sides of him, ‘cause it looks like sometimes in some of things that happened in the Colorado game, one guy didn’t get him down,” Kelly said. “And because one guy didn’t get him down, you gotta make sure you got a lot of guys running to the ball.”