UCLA football coach Chip Kelly hasn’t enjoyed a lot of success, but there is one game in the past, and one that just happened that stands out.
Now in his third season, UCLA’s (3-2) victory over Arizona State on Saturday gave Kelly a winning record for the first time in his tenure as the Bruins’ coach.
And though UCLA went 3-9 his first year with the Bruins in 2018, one of those wins was the biggest in his short tenure, beating rival USC, 34-27, at the Rose Bowl.
But the big difference between that game two years ago and what happens when undefeated USC (4-0), ranked No. 15 in the College Football Rankings, makes the trip to Pasadena to take on UCLA on Saturday the Rose Bowl at 4:30 p.m., is that when the Bruins won two years ago, they had the benefit of 57,116 fans in attendance.
Because of COVID-19, there will be no fans at the Rose Bowl when the Bruins take on the Trojans in their annual rivalry game Saturday.
“That’s one of the real unfortunate things about 2020,” Kelly said. “It’s the fact that parents, fans and family members can’t attend games of their schools.
“It’s just different, and I think we all understand this. We’re grateful and fortunate we have an opportunity to play but there are a lot of things that are missing from what we’re going through and obviously that’s a big part of it.”
What also will likely be missing are the traditional pep rallies on campus, and all the things students would normally do leading up tot the game. Will there even be some sort of virtual rallies?
“I have not heard any plans,” Kelly said.
Fans or no fans, however, Kelly said he didn’t need to come to Westwood to understand the importance of the USC-UCLA rivalry game.
“I was always aware of the great traditional rivalries in college football,” Kelly said. “Army-Navy, Alabama-Auburn, Michigan-Ohio State and USC and UCLA, I’ve always been aware. There are a lot of rivalries and every school has a rivalry and there are a few that standout and this is one of them.”
WHAT’S THE STATUS ON DEMETRIC FELTON AND OTHERS?
When it comes to injuries, Kelly has always been careful about what he says, not wanting to give his opponents more information than they need.
It was never more evident that in Saturday’s 25-18 victory over Arizona, when senior Demetric Felton, the Bruins’ all-purpose back and one of the leading rushers in the country, didn’t start and appeared limited throughout.
Felton entered Saturday’s game ranked eighth nationally in average yards (134.2), but he carried the ball just 10 times for 41 yards and had one reception for eight yards, though he did score a two-yard TD run late that closed it out.
A week before Saturday’s game, Felton appeared to injure himself late in the fourth quarter against Arizona, but when asked about it during the week leading up to the Arizona State game, Kelly kept dismissing whether there was anything serious, simply explaining Felton was practicing.
So, when Kelly was asked about Felton’s usage and injury status following Saturday’s win, Kelly didn’t say much again.
“Yeah he was a little limited,” was Kelly’s response.
And that didn’t change Monday when Kelly was again asked about Felton, and whether he would be a 100 percent at any time with two games left.
“I don’t think anybody’s 100 percent this point in time,” Kelly said. “That’s just the nature of football. The only time you’re at 100 percent is the first day of training camp.”
It was thought that UCLA reserve backs Kazmier Allen and Martell Irby would also return Saturday, possibly from a 14-day quarantine that others returned from, including quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but when asked about both players, Kelly simply said both Allen and Irby are still “unavailable.”
And that was all he would say about the total health of his running backs.
“Yeah, we have Felton and Brittain (Brown) as the one and two and they should be practicing (Monday) and that’s sort of our rotation right now,” Kelly said.
BETTER CHANCE OF CONTAINING USC QB KEDON SLOVIS?
USC is coming off a 38-13 beating of Washington State on Sunday. The Trojans crushed UCLA 52-35 in last year’s game at the Coliseum, and that was mostly because Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis, a freshman at the time, torched the Bruins’ secondary, throwing for 515 yards and four touchdowns.
UCLA’s defense is improved, but so is Slovis, which made Kelly laugh when asked about the Trojans’ quarterback’s improvement as a sophomore.
“I don’t know because his freshman year was pretty good,” Kelly said. “I thought the one thing that was really remarkable about Kedon is what you could do as a true freshman. He’s at 72 percent (completion percentage) this year and he was at 72 percent last year. To do what he did as a freshman was pretty special and he’s picked up where he left off and it’s all good.”
Defensively, UCLA has been better, but obviously taking on Slovis and the Trojans’ potent receiving core is the Bruins’ toughest challenge yet.
“I think we’ve got more athletes on the field and you can kind of match what they’re doing better,” Kelly said. “They’re going to spread you out and try to stretch you from sideline to sideline and end zone to end zone and you have to try and match that with some athleticism and that’s part of our plan.”