Around the state of Oregon, Chip Kelly is known as the innovator of the speedy “blur” offense that was the hallmark of the Ducks a dozen years ago.
Now in his sixth year at the helm at UCLA, Kelly has built a team that’s still fast but has also emerged as a defensive juggernaut. The No. 18 Bruins (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) bring one of the top defenses in the country to No. 15 Oregon State (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday night.
UCLA is coming off a 25-17 victory over Washington State in Pasadena last weekend. The Bruins held the Cougars to 216 yards, the fourth straight game they have held an opponent to under 300 yards.
Afterward, Washington State coach Jake Dickert called the Bruins’ D “creatures.”
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“And I don’t mean that in a bad way. They’re big, long. They can rush the passer. They have aggressive schemes. I think they kept us off balance, and we couldn’t offset it enough to stay ahead of the chains,” Dickert said.
The numbers are certainly impressive. UCLA is holding opponents to an average of 12.2 points a game and has kept every opponent this season to under 20 points. The Bruins’ D has allowed just five touchdowns — four passing and one rushing — fewest in the Pac-12 and second nationally to Michigan.
The Bruins are also limiting teams to 254.2 total offensive yards a game, tops in the Pac-12, including just 64.6 rushing yards, which is the second-fewest nationally.
The Beavers are well aware of what they’re getting into.
“Coach Kelly has been doing it at a high level for a long time. A dominant defense, as you look at these guys on tape, so that will be a serious, serious challenge. We’re going to need to play well to win,” Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said.
Oregon State is coming off a 52-40 victory on the road against California. DJ Uiagalelei, a transfer from Clemson, had arguably his best outing as the Beavers’ quarterback in that game, throwing for 275 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. The performance earned him Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.
The Beavers will need him to do just as well — if not better — against UCLA because touchdowns may be hard to come by, and Oregon State’s defense allowed Cal to rack up 448 yards and 40 points last weekend.
UCLA freshman QB Dante Moore is averaging 16.5 yards per completion, third-best nationally, but he is completing only 53.1% of his passes.
Moore also has been picked off three times in the last two games, with two resulting in a Pick-6. The offensive line will need to do a better job of protecting Moore after allowing 11 sacks the past two games.
Still, Moore threw for 290 yards against Washington State, matching his career high, and overall he has thrown for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns.
Isaac Hodgins, a 270-pound defensive lineman, has been moonlighting a bit at fullback for the Beavers. He even had a touchdown catch last weekend against the Golden Bears.
A senior, he played fullback in similar situations back in 2018 as a freshman.
“I just kind of took it like, OK, I’ll add as much value to myself as I can and help the team in the best way that I can,” he said.
What does he like most about playing on the offense? “I get to get out and run a little bit,” he said.
His catching ability appears to run in the family: His brother, Isaiah, was a receiver for the Beavers and now plays for the New York Giants.
For the first time since 2006, the Bruins have held four straight opponents under 300 yards. Kelly likes the way the defense is playing, but knows each game poses its own challenge.
“Each week is different. But I know we have talent in our defensive fronts,” he said. “There are some guys that can win one-on-one pass rushes, and that’s what you need. Because if not, then you have to really come all out and blitz people to get pressure on the quarterback. But if you do that, you’re getting yourself exposed on the back end. Pass rush and pass coverage kind of go hand in hand, so to have some guys that can generate individual pass rush, whether it be a three- or four-man rush, and allow us to stay in coverages is a big deal.”
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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