If you’re looking for information on The Chip Kelly Offense, the internet isn’t hurting for breakdowns of what once made the ex-Oregon coach the toast of the football world. Chris Brown wrote a nice primer on the the concepts and schemes at its foundation a few years ago. I’d recommend starting there.
Now that Kelly is back in college after his ill-fated NFL stint and TV sabbatical, did he add any new wrinkles to his old Oregon playbook? I’d imagine so. However, the UCLA Bruins looked so out-of-sync in their season-opening loss to Cincinnati that I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what those new additions might actually be.
Even for their first game under a new coach, the Bruins played some stank football on offense. Stadium’s Michael Felder offered an apt comparison:
it really looked like a scout team trying to run an offense off a card.— Michael Felder (@InTheBleachers) September 3, 2018
College football teams supposedly make their greatest strides from their first game to their second. For UCLA, it wouldn’t take much to make a gargantuan leap forward this weekend against the Sooners.
Breaking down the Bruins on offense
By my count, the Bruins played 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) on 49 of 68 offensive snaps versus the Bearcats, with the quarterback lined up in the shotgun more than 90 percent of the time. Occasionally, UCLA would swap out a receiver for a second tight end, or Kelly would take the back off the field and put in a fourth wideout to give the defense a five-wide look.
Very little worked, as UCLA averaged a scant 4.5 yards per play. Of UCLA’s 306 yards of total offense, 74 of them came on one touchdown run by freshman RB Kazmeir Allen.
Watching their team throw the ball had to be particularly depressing for UCLA fans, considering that the Bruins’ 37 passes yielded all of 4.4 yards per attempt. QBs Wilton Speight and Dorian Thompson-Robinson rarely threw downfield, which has a lot to do with why the team’s longest completion covered just 16 yards.
Of note, one of the Bruins’ two touchdowns came off a fumble by the Bearcats that UCLA recovered at UC’s 13 yard line. That was a fortunate bounce for the home team on an evening in which it struggled to put together drives consistently.
Why was UCLA’s offense so bad?
Start with the offensive line, which got bullied all game by UC’s unheralded defensive front. The Bearcats set up shop on the Bruins’ side of the line of scrimmage, plugging up running lanes. They also harassed Speight and Thompson-Robinson whenever either attempted to drop back — clean pockets were few and far between.
That’s a fairly representative sample of what the field of vision for UCLA’s RBs looked like.
Additionally, Speight’s game-ending back injury in the first half left the O in the hands of the freshman Thompson-Robinson. Not surprisingly, the rookie looked skittish, which was exacerbated by the fact that he was constantly trying to evade pressure.
What about UCLA’s offense should worry the Oklahoma Sooners?
Let’s take a look at Allen’s 74-yard TD scamper. This play involved a staple of Kelly’s running game mixed with his his fondness for funky formations.
With the ball at their own 26, the Bruins came out in 11 personnel. Junior TE Caleb Wilson (No. 81) lines up to the weak side of the formation next to the left guard. Meanwhile, left tackle Andre James comes out to the strong side of the formation and lines up outside right tackle Jake Burton.
Once the ball is snapped, James and Burton block down to seal UC’s interior linemen inside. The center and right guard pull outside to block the SAM and MIKE linebackers, opening a running alley for Allen on a sweep.
The WILL linebacker is near the hole to meet Allen, but he whiffs on the tackle. The freshman runner turns on the jets and doesn’t stop until he hits the end zone.
The lesson here: Even though growing pains abound for the Bruins, they still have some talented athletes on the roster. Kelly didn’t forget how to design a running game in his time away from college. UCLA’s players might be on the front end of the learning curve now, but they can still create opportunities for explosive plays if OU busts assignments or refuses to gang tackle.
Oklahoma’s defense in week one
Sooner fans who spent the offseason fretting about the seventh season of defensive coordinator Mike Stoops 2.0 had to feel pleasantly surprised by what they witnessed last Saturday. OU’s defense did a little bending but not much breaking versus Florida Atlantic and Lane Kiffin’s high-octane offense.
I studied the first half, consisting of 43 FAU snaps, because the final two quarters were primarily about emptying the bench. In terms of what the defense actually looked like, Stoops proved the depth chart issued earlier that week was bunk. OU came out in a standard 3-4 alignment with Ryan Jones at SAM linebacker. Brendan Radley-Hiles lined up at strong safety.
The Sooners stayed in the 3-4 for 29 plays (roughly 70 percent of the time). The Owls dictated that to a large degree by rolling with 12 personnel most of the time (one running back, two tight ends).
FAU had some instances of success in which OU’s old habits on defense cropped up. For example, the Sooners didn’t always hold up at the point of attack. That’s the case below, as FAU’s right tackle buries defensive end Ronnie Perkins and Jones gets sealed off on the edge. (The damage is compounded by what looks like a loaf by Jones when Devin Singletary shakes free of cornerback Parnell Motley’s shaky attempt at a tackle.)
Kelly will likely come after OU’s linebackers and the nose tackle position with some of the things he sees on film from from the Owls.
Matching up with Caleb Wilson
UCLA’s tight end is arguably the team’s best player. Kelly moved Wilson around versus Cincinnati, using him as an inline tight end and also splitting him out.
One of the more interesting questions heading into this weekend’s game is how Stoops will elect to match up with Wilson. When FAU went with 11 personnel, OU defaulted to its nickel package with a four-man defensive front and Justin Broiles replacing Jones on the field.
If the Sooners go that route this week when the Bruins are in 11, will they miss Jones in run support? Conversely, can Jones cover well enough to not be a liability if OU is planning on going with a 3-4 look?
The Bruins looked so bad in week one that those kinds of questions could prove to be academic relative to the final outcome of this game. Nevertheless, even if OU has UCLA completely overmatched, Sooner fans should still have a chance to parse out a few more hints about what’s to come on defense in 2018.
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