Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images
Date with CU: Sept. 28, 7 p.m. MT at Folsom Field in Boulder
Head coach: Chip Kelly, 1st year (46-7 in college career)
Series: UCLA leads 10-3
Bruins in 2017: 6-7, 4-5 in Pac-12; lost to Kansas State, 35-17, in Cactus Bowl
Returning starters: 12 – 5 on offense, 7 on defense
Offensive players to watch: OG Michael Alves, So. (started all 13 games in 2017); WR Theo Howard, Jr. (56 catches, 594 yards, 4 TD); RB Soso Jamabo, Sr. (90 att., 446 yards, 6 TD); OT Andrew James, Jr. (20 career starts); RB Bolu Olorunfunmi, Sr. (117 att., 565 yards, 5 TD); QB Wilton Speight, Sr. (grad transfer from Michigan); QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Fr.; TE Caleb Wilson, Jr. (38 catches, 489 yards, 1 TD in five games).
Defensive players to watch: ILB Krys Barnes, Jr. (50 tackles); CB Darnay Holmes, So. (39 tackles, 3 INT); OLB Keisean Lucier-Smith, Jr. (53 tackles, 5.5 TFL); CB Nate Meadors, Sr. (55 tackles, 1 INT, 9 PBU); DT Chigozie Nnoruka, Jr. (47 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks); OLB Jaelan Phillips, So. (21 tackles, 7 TFL, 3.5 sacks); S Adarius Pickett, Sr. (85 tackles, 4 TFL); DE Rick Wade, Jr. (33 tackles, 5 TFL); ILB Josh Woods, Sr. (30 tackles, 3.5 TFL).
Notable: Although they struggled to meet expectations under Mora, he did lead them to five bowl appearances in six seasons. … The Bruins allowed 36.6 points per game last year, ranking 117th nationally. … Under new defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro, the Bruins will shift to a 3-4 base defense, which could allow them to take advantage of their strength at linebacker. … In 2016, UCLA was 127th out of 128 teams in rushing, and then improved to 116th last year. … The Bruins should be solid in the kicking game, with punter Stefan Flintoft and kicker J.J. Molson both returning. … During his career at Michigan, Speight threw for 3,192 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was the Wolverines’ primary starter in 2016 and led them to a win against the Buffs that season. … Wilson is one of the most dangerous tight ends in the country and was on his way to a great season before a Lisfranc injury.
During his first stint as a college football head coach, Chip Kelly guided one of the best and most entertaining teams in the country.
UCLA is hoping Kelly can regain that success now that he’s back in the college game.
The former Oregon and NFL head coach was hired last November to re-energize a Bruins program that has been one of the most underachieving teams in the country in recent years.
This month, BuffZone.com is previewing each of Colorado’s opponents, with this installment focusing on UCLA, which will visit the Buffaloes on Sept. 28 for the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
UCLA went 6-7 last season, beating California in the regular season finale to sneak into a bowl game. Even with Josh Rosen at quarterback the past three years, the Bruins were 18-20 overall and 11-16 in the Pac-12, leading to coach Jim Mora being fired.
Kelly became one of the hottest names in coaching during his four-year run with the Ducks (2009-12), leading them to a 46-7 record and three top-four finishes in the Associated Press rankings.
From 2013-16, Kelly coached the Philadelphia Eagles and then the San Francisco 49ers and struggled to find the same success, going 28-35 with one playoff appearance.
His return to the college game was met with excitement in Westwood, and the Bruins seemed to enjoy their first spring with Kelly.
“He says we have to bring great energy; that’s something he harps on every day,” offensive lineman Andre James told local media at the end of the spring.
James and other players talked about Kelly’s attention to detail being a point of emphasis every day.
“That’s (the difference) between the wins and losses, honestly, the little stuff,” James said. “Coach Kelly does a great job with that.”
Safety Adarius Pickett said the Bruins bonded this offseason.
“We’re a lot more team,” Pickett said. “We’re together. Everything is serious; we’re a very detailed team. Building that culture is going to be imperative for us moving forward during the season.”
The talent level at UCLA doesn’t match what Oregon had during Kelly’s time, but the culture change might be the most important difference for now.
UCLA does have some talent, but it may take some time for it to come together, and the Bruins need major improvement from its offensive and defensive lines.
Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi are talented running backs, but the Bruins ranked 116th nationally in rushing offense. Kelly’s Oregon teams were routinely near the top of the national rankings in rushing.
Defensively, the Bruins have some nice individual pieces, especially at linebacker and in the secondary, but they were 130th – last – in the country in rushing defense, allowing 287.4 yards per game and 5.76 yards per carry.
Replacing Rosen is a high priority and coming out of spring, the quarterback competition was still alive. Devon Modster is the top returner, but highly touted freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Michigan grad transfer Wilton Speight will join the battle in the fall. Former Legacy High School star Matt Lynch is in the mix, too.
Kelly, as usual, was rather tight-lipped about his team during the spring, but did come away feeling encouraged.
“They’ve gotten better since we started,” he told local media after the spring game. “It’s all new to them. They’re willing learners and they’ve worked really hard at it.”
They’re working hard, in part, because of the energy infused by Kelly.
“He’s a cool guy,” receiver Theo Howard said. “I like him. He just wants to win and he’s all about that