Spirits remain strong for UCLA football despite season’s disappointing start

Senior cornerback Nate Meadors and the UCLA defense are allowing just under 21 second-half points per game this season. Meadors said he sees the defense improving despite the disappointing numbers. (Michael Zshornack/Daily Bruin senior staff)

The Bruins still have their heads up.

UCLA football (0-4) remains the only winless team in the Pac-12, but the players and coaches are encouraged by the progress they are seeing in practice and on game days.

Coach Chip Kelly highlighted quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson as one of the bright spots in the Bruins’ past few games. Kelly said the freshman has impressed him most through his ability and willingness to learn.

“He’s really even-keeled, he doesn’t flustered out there,” Kelly said. “Sometimes the moment can get too big for younger kids – you know, they kind of get overwhelmed with it. He’s never once been overwhelmed by the moment and so you love coaching him because of his approach to everything. He wants to get better every day and he wants to learn every day.”

Thompson-Robinson ranks near the bottom of the conference in most significant quarterback statistics, but he has been good at taking care of the football.

Of the 12 starting quarterbacks in the conference, Thompson-Robinson is one of only five who have recorded two or fewer interceptions. That stat is impressive when looking at the type of production – or lack thereof – that UCLA has received from its offensive line.

The Bruins’ offensive line has allowed 15 sacks in four games this season, which ranks dead last in the Pac-12 and 123rd out 129 FBS schools.

Kelly said the unit as a whole needs to improve and that it would be wrong to try and pinpoint a weak link.

“It’s everybody’s responsibility,” Kelly said. “I don’t think any person or player stands out and we’re not a blame operation so we’re all just trying to find solutions on how we can get better.”

The Bruins’ defense has a bit of work to do as well.

UCLA surrendered 24 unanswered points in Saturday’s contest against Colorado after owning a 16-14 third-quarter lead – all of which came in the second half. Just two weeks prior, the Bruins gave up 22 unanswered second-half points in their 38-14 loss to Fresno State.

UCLA is allowing 20.75 points per game in the second half this season. Meanwhile, the Bruins’ offense is scoring just 17 points per game.

Senior cornerback Nate Meadors said that although the defense has come out of the gates with energy in recent weeks, it has to focus on giving maximum effort for a full 60 minutes if it wants to win games moving forward.

“I think the first half, we’ve come out really strong and played aggressive, and we all feel like we just lose our energy towards the end of the game,” Meadors said. “We’ve just got to work on that, especially for us to finish games and get the victory.”

Some of UCLA’s defensive struggles late in games this season have been attributed to the inexperience among the unit.

The Bruins started five underclassmen on defense against the Buffaloes, and Kelly made it clear last week that none of those players plan on redshirting if the losing continues because they have earned their playing time.

Meadors said that despite their youth, he can see the improvements being made by the defense throughout his film sessions.

“You definitely see it,” Meadors said. “We do have a bunch of young guys playing, even though that shouldn’t be an excuse right now. You see the progress we’re making as we watch film, so I think there’s great progress being made.”

Meadors is not the only one with an optimistic mindset, either.

UCLA might be in jeopardy of matching its worst start since 1943, but players such as junior linebacker Krys Barnes have not given up on turning things around this season.

“We can’t let this record show that we’re giving up already because that’s not what we’re doing,” Barnes said. “We’re coming out here ready to work, coming out ready to improve every day.”

Read more here: http://dailybruin.com/2018/10/01/spirits-remain-strong-for-ucla-football-despite-seasons-disappointing-start/
Copyright 2018