UCLA shows some progress in Year 2 of Chip Kelly but still can’t beat Cincinnati


The Chip Kelly era at UCLA is off to an 0-1 start for the second straight season. The only difference between the 2019 campaign and last year’s early loss at the Rose Bowl however, is that this time around nobody bats an eye at the Bruins losing to Cincinnati.

The Bearcats notched yet another victory over a Power Five opponent under Luke Fickell on Thursday night, defending their Nippert Stadium turf with a rather run of the mill 24-14 win over the Pac-12 visitors as both sides look ahead to far greater challenges on the schedule going forward.

Young Cincy quarterback Desmond Ridder was a little rusty in the season opener for both teams, throwing for a respectable 242 yards and two touchdowns (one interception) but not quite looking in complete sync with his receiving corps. He did spread the ball around to seven different players in the passing game while rushing nine times for 34 yards but he wasn’t quite the electric player we saw down the stretch in 2018 nor the one he needs to be in order to beat mighty Ohio State next week.

Tailback Michael Warren dealt with cramps throughout the game but chipped in with 92 yards and a score on the ground, finding the end zone after his defense forced one of their four turnovers on the night early in the second half.

While the Bearcats had their chances to firmly take control of the outcome, UCLA continued to make things interesting down the stretch even if they could never quite get over the hump (including having a fumble returned for a touchdown in the final four minutes overturned).

Signal-caller Dorian Thompson-Robinson will surely not be a fan of watching film of the loss, given that he fumbled away a ball in the red zone in the first quarter and then did so again as the Bruins were driving in the fourth. He wound up throwing for two touchdowns and 156 yards but those two fumbles — combined with two interceptions — made it one step forward and two steps back in the grand scheme of things for the sophomore.

Of course, it would have helped having Joshua Kelley in the lineup but last year’s leading rusher did not play in the contest with a lingering knee injury. Wide receiver Demetric Felton wound up being the primary ball carrier as a result, rushing for 71 yards on 23 carries while also recording two catches for 91 yards and a touchdown where he split the defense and took it 75 yards to the house.

All things considered, there was progress shown on the by Kelly’s team in playing an 11-win team from last season on the road and doing so pretty close. But as anybody in powder blue can tell you come Friday morning, close isn’t going to cut it in Westwood nor does it help the Pac-12 by losing yet another game to an AAC foe.

On the flip side, a routine win over a brand name like UCLA is exactly where Fickell wants UC to be. He’ll face off against his alma mater during a Week 2 clash in the state of Ohio that a lot of folks have circled but the Bearcats will need to amp their game up several notches if they want to compete at the Horseshoe.