With the bag collapsing around Dante Moore and pressure mounting on the sideline for its coach to do something about it, UCLA took some countermeasures against Utah.
The Bruins increasingly utilized their maximum protection package, which included blocking support from the tight end and running back, and rotated through various rotations on their offensive line in search of the best combination. Above all, Khadere Kounta substituted Bruno Fina at left tackle in the second half.
None of this could save the day. Moore was sacked in three of his final four games and the Bruins suffered a disappointing 14-7 loss that included a season-worst seven sacks.
After having almost a week to digest the defeat, the UCLA coach said Chip Kelly offered a few suggestions on how his team could better protect its true freshman quarterback.
“Just execution, technique, everything — make sure everyone is on the same page,” Kelly said Thursday, alluding to the issues plaguing the offensive line. “There were some communication issues which we will sort out. We have a new group and some newer faces on the O-line that haven’t been here before.”
Fina and right guard Josh Carlin are freshmen. In his first season since leaving Old Dominion, Kounta is one of three transfers, along with the starting left guard Spencer Holstege (Purdue) and backup right guard Jake Wiley (Colorado). The only returning starters are the midfielders Duke Clement and right tackle Garrett DiGiorgio.
The whole turnover caused problems communicating between each other as to which lineman was responsible for which defender, allowing defensive linemen and linebackers to break their blocks. An unaccounted defensive tackle hit Moore, resulting in the quarterback’s first fumble, and an unaccounted linebacker stripped the ball on Moore’s second fumble. UCLA has allowed 11 sacks in four games, ranking 104th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
“It’s just about these guys getting a chance to come together and work together, and after four games they’re doing a good job,” Kelly said, “but we’ve got to keep improving.”
Although Moore’s lost fumble on the speed option late in the third quarter was a rare run by the quarterback against the Utes, Kelly indicated he was confident in Moore’s ability to run the ball when necessary.
“He’s good,” Kelly said, before referring to Moore’s fleet-footed predecessor. “He is not Dorian [Thompson-Robinson] – I mean, I think Dorian was a special quarterback when you look at him from that standpoint – but Dante…. can influence a game [his] Feet in relation to key games.”
UCLA’s running game, which was among the best in the country before last weekend, also suffered from the offensive mishaps. TJ Harden averaged 2.8 yards per carry and Carson Steele averaged 2.6 yards with both running backs carrying the ball 11 times. If you include the sacks, UCLA only gained nine yards rushing, an average of 0.3 yards per carry.
“I give Utah credit, I think they have a really good defense, one of the best defenses we’ll play,” Kelly said, “but there were plays that needed to be made and we just didn’t play to our potential .”
Kelly said, former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernickwho listed the coach as a reference in his recent letter to the New York Jets asking to join their practice squad Aaron Rodgers’ Season-ending injury, had made friends with UCLA Justin Martin during practice at the Bruins’ practice facility.
“That’s exactly the type of Kaep that helps other young players in the game, gives them his knowledge and explains drills and things like that,” Kelly said. “It was really nice of Kaep to do that.”
Kelly, who coached Kaepernick with the San Francisco 49ers in 2016, said the Jets had not contacted him about the quarterback.
Colson Yankoff has averaged just 19.6 yards on kickoff returns, including a season-high 23 yards, but Kelly said those numbers were a reflection of blocking issues rather than the player the coach praised for his speed and vision. “I could put you deep,” Kelly told a reporter, “and you wouldn’t gain any yards if we didn’t block for you.”…UCLA is 2-4 in games following bye weeks under Kelly, with the wins coming in 2019 at Stanford and at home against Colorado in 2021. Washington State, UCLA’s next opponent, is also not playing this week. … UCLA’s Oct. 7 game against the Cougars in the Rose Bowl will be televised by the Pac-12 Network beginning at noon.