BERKELEY — Chip Kelly hasn’t gotten too caught up in UCLA’s winless start and doesn’t want his players to, either.
That’s why the Bruins’ first-year head coach downplayed the idea of any extra pressure heading into Saturday’s road game against California at Memorial Stadium.
“It’s all important we don’t categorize things,” Kelly said. “Maybe that’s to write a story, but that’s not the way we approach things. We’re trying to win every single day, every single week. That’s what our approach is.”
UCLA (0-5, 0-2 Pac-12) is one of four FBS schools without a win this season. Nebraska, UTEP and San Jose State are the others.
Kelly, who coached the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers from 2013-16, was brought in to help get the Bruins back on track after consecutive losing seasons. Instead, he’s been at the wheel for the school’s worst start since 1943 when they lost their first seven on the way to a 1-8 finish.
If there has been a silver lining for Kelly in his rookie season with UCLA, it’s been in the way the Bruins have responded to the situation. While criticism from the media and some alumni has increased with each loss, Kelly says his players have handled it.
There have been some signs of progress, too.
Freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is coming off his best game of the season after completing 27 of 38 passes for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 31-24 loss to then-No. 10 Washington. Running back Josh Kelley, a junior transfer from UC Davis, ran for a career-best 125 yards against the Huskies and became the first UCLA running back with consecutive 100-yard games since 2015.
“The players have been great,” Kelly said. “They know they control their attitude and efforts, and their attitudes and efforts have been fantastic.”
California (3-2, 0-2) has its own issues.
The Golden Bears have lost two straight after opening the season with consecutive wins over North Carolina, BYU and Idaho State.
In its last two games, Cal has committed nine turnovers — seven interceptions and two fumbles.
Correcting those issues is more important to Bears coach Justin Wilcox than facing a winless UCLA team.
“I think we’ve got a mature team in the way we prepare,” Wilcox said. “We have a ton of respect for them. Our guys know a lot of those players. They played against them in high school and they know how talented they are.”
Here are a few other things to watch in Saturday’s game:
MERRY-GO ROUND AT QUARTERBACK
Brandon McIlwain ran for two touchdowns in Cal’s loss to Arizona and became the first Bears quarterback with multiple rushing TDs in one game since Joe Ayoob had three against New Mexico State in 2005.
Whether that’s enough to keep McIlwain in the starting lineup is uncertain. The Bears have had a revolving door at quarterback all season and Wilcox has been fairly secretive with his plans. Ross Bowers began the season as the starter before being replaced for three games by Chase Garbers. McIlwain’s start against the Wildcats was his first.
HISTORY ON BRUINS SIDE, SORT OF
UCLA has won five of the last seven games against Cal, including a 30-27 win in 2017 when JJ Molson made a 37-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. But the Bruins haven’t had much luck in Berkeley recently, losing eight of their last nine at Memorial Stadium.
BOSS MAN IN THE MIDDLE
UCLA didn’t allow a sack against Washington, the first time this season the Bruins offensive line has pitched a shutout. A big reason? Center Boss Tagaloa, who missed the first three games of the season serving a suspension for violating unspecified athletic department policies. The 6-2, 325-pound Tagaloa, who was a defensive tackle until this past offseason, has stabilized UCLA up front and given the Bruins an anchor in the middle of the offensive line.