“It’s always special to come back.” UCLA’s Chip Kelly eyes big win at Oregon

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UCLA coach Chip Kelly in the first half against Colorado September 24 in Boulder, Colorado. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

For the third time, Chip Kelly returns to the scene of his greatest success, where he revolutionized the fabric of college football with dizzying offenses and kitschy uniforms.

For the first time, fans inside Autzen Stadium might feel like they’re seeing the same guy they remember.

His team is undefeated. Her offense is so good it’s almost a shock when she doesn’t score. His defense reliably gets enough saves.

It’s the kind of thing the man who propelled Kelly into the national spotlight in Oregon always thought would happen to his UCLA protege, even though it was just before fifth grade.

“It took a while,” said Mike Bellotti, who hired Kelly as offensive coordinator before the 2007 season and backed Kelly to become his successor as head coach two seasons later. “It definitely took longer at UCLA than I thought it would. He chose to stay and work and it’s certainly paid off not just for Chip and for the team, but for the whole university, and that is one of the best teams in the country.

Bellotti sees two main factors elevating the No. 9 Bruins (6-0 overall, 3-0 Pac-12) to elite status ahead of their Saturday afternoon showdown with No. 10 Oregon (5-1, 3 -0). The first is a team Kelly says may be the most experienced he’s coached at the college level, including a fifth-year starting quarterback in Dorian Thompson-Robinson and 19 graduate-level players. The second is a defense that finally generates sacks and forces the takeaway after four years to do very little.

Another big difference: Kelly is clearly having fun.

“He’s flippant, he doesn’t exaggerate with the media, he answers questions – every once in a while he goes a little bit into the lark and says something Mike Leach,” Bellotti said, referring to the Mississippi. State coach known for his verbal detours, “but yeah, he loves it and he’s excited about what they’re doing, the group of kids they have.”

Kelly’s first two trips to Autzen Stadium with the Bruins were missed. A 42-21 loss in 2018 gave the coach as many losses in his first nine games at UCLA as he had in four seasons at Oregon while compiling a 46-7 record. A 38-35 loss in 2020 was far more competitive but equally disappointing after Bruins wide receiver Kyle Philips dropped a pass in the final minute.

At the end of that season, many doubted Kelly could generate a winning record at UCLA, let alone achieve the kind of heights he achieved in taking the Ducks to four major bowl games in as many years. At one point, the trainer was sold as “a broken down used Chip Kelly” on Craigslist, with the seller touting “a few workable parts here if you’re looking for end-5 game designs and need to wreck your list down to his bones.”

A sign of the depths Kelly has scraped, a victory on Saturday would represent his 10e straight win – and move his overall record at UCLA to .500 for the first time.

Of course, that would just be a footnote overall. UCLA would become the only undefeated team in Pac-12 play and take its biggest step toward an appearance in the conference championship game Dec. 2 in Las Vegas. He would also remain in contention for a berth in the College Football Playoffs.

Seduced by the storylines, ESPN dispatched its “College GameDay” team to the Oregon campus even though the game will air on Fox. Oregon will release a special color combination on its helmets and uniforms, the pink feathers a nod to breast cancer awareness even though they might look like a tribute to the coach who made it fashionable. to be a duck.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly celebrates the Ducks victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly celebrates the Ducks victory over Kansas State at the Fiesta Bowl on January 3, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Kelly said he never had anything to do with the design of the uniform, even though he had his hands on everything that made game days at Oregon stand out. The Ducks have maintained their huge home court advantage since leaving after the 2012 season, winning 22 straight games at Autzen Stadium and last losing to UCLA in 2004.

“It’s always special to go back there, it’s a special place in my life and there are a lot of great people there who have had such a profound impact on my life,” Kelly said when told. asked what his last trip to Autzen Stadium might be with UCLA bound for the Big Ten Conference in 2024. “But I’m not playing the game.”

Luckily for Kelly, given his staff, he gets to design the game plan. His offense has been nearly unstoppable during the team’s nine-game winning streak since last season, averaging 510 yards and 44.1 points per game. That adds up to dominance, with the Bruins winning by an average of 21.6 points while posting just three wins in the streak by less than 24 points.

Kelly’s offense may not be as fast as when he was at Oregon, but it’s just as effective.

“He’s playing with different tempos now, it’s not just all blurry, some it’s checking with me on the line of scrimmage, some it’s going fast, some it’s just no huddle, this that puts pressure on the defense,” Bellotti said, “but he runs the football effectively, which is the same plan we had when he was here at Oregon.

This running game features Zach Charbonnet, who averages 123 Pac-12 best yards per game. The stat that best illustrates his value: UCLA is 11-0 the past two seasons for every 100 yards.

Oregon players dump Gatorade on coach Chip Kelly after the Ducks beat Kansas State 35-17 at the Fiesta Bowl.

Oregon players drop Gatorade on coach Chip Kelly after the Ducks beat Kansas State 35-17 at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona on January 3, 2013. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Running the ball might be a bigger factor than usual given the weather forecast calling for an 80% chance of rain. Kelly prepared his team for wet conditions in practice this week, squeezing a water bottle to squirt his punt returns before they caught balls hurtling towards them.

Any precipitation could water down the bamboo that grows on both teams. At the Pac-12 media day, new Oregon coach Dan Lanning used the same metaphor long favored by Kelly about explosive growth after a long dormant period. The Lanning Ducks only had to wait a few weeks for bud break, picking up one win after another after that 49-3 loss to Georgia.

In many ways, the Ducks and Bruins are alike. Their offenses are among the most prolific in the nation, with Oregon’s (42 points per game) holding a slight advantage over UCLA’s (41.5). Teams rank first and second in the Pac-12 in rushing offense (Oregon is gaining 241.6 rushing yards per game compared to UCLA’s 211.5), completion percentage (UCLA having completed 74% of its passing 69.4% for Oregon) and rushing defense (Oregon giving up just 98 yards per game rushing to UCLA’s 99).

Bellotti said he’ll likely wear Oregon colors when he sits among Ducks fans cheering on his former team. He’ll also be keeping tabs on his former colleague who roams the UCLA sideline.

“I’ll text him after the game, win or lose,” Bellotti said, “and either say ‘Congratulations, great job,’ or ‘Hard.’”

If these seem like old times for Kelly in her old home, the only disappointed ones will be her former fans.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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