The Bruins have a clean slate and a chance at redemption – but it is not going to get any easier.
After failing to get a win during nonconference play, UCLA football (0-3) will get to start fresh with the beginning of its Pac-12 schedule Friday.
The Bruins are also coming off of their bye week, and freshman defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia said the players took the time away from game planning to focus on their mechanics and finding a team identity.
“Just getting a lot better fundamentally, tactically, … know who the team is as a whole,” Ogbonnia said. “We took, like, a day off I think. But it’s been good – we’ve been getting a couple practices in, so we’ve been working hard to get better.”
The Bruins are committed to their youth, and the growing pains through the first three games of the season have been evident as UCLA has been losing by an average of 20.33 points per game and has not yet scored more than 21 points in a game.
Coach Chip Kelly said there are no plans to redshirt the freshmen who are playing significant roles if the struggles continue, however.
“The freshmen who have played so far have earned playing time, so they’re going to continue to play,” Kelly said. “We don’t plan on pulling back on Chris Murray or Kyle Phillips or (Chase) Cota or Martell (Irby) or (Kazmeir Allen) or Dorian (Thompson-Robinson). Those guys have earned playing time, so they’ll continue to play this year.”
Kelly also said that players returning from early season suspensions will not be handed their playing time back without earning it.
“We’ll see how they do in training sessions and can they factor in the game plan or not factor in the game plan?” Kelly said. “When they were suspended, they weren’t practicing with the ones and twos, they were always down on the scout squad, so we’ll see how they acclimate back.”
With the freshmen expected to finish out the season, the remaining schedule will be a good challenge.
UCLA has four games remaining against top-25 opponents, including home contests with No. 7 Stanford (4-0) and No. 11 Washington (3-1), and visits to No. 19 Oregon (3-1) and No. 24 Cal (3-0).
Redshirt junior tight end Caleb Wilson – one of the few holdovers from the Jim Mora era who still play a significant role – said the Bruins also spent the bye week studying the playbook in an effort to fix their execution issues that plagued them in the first few games.
“I think we really just focused on execution and communication,” Wilson said. “Really talking everything out, making sure everybody’s on the same page in every single aspect, in every single assignment. So if we’re all on the same page, we should be able to execute.”
Zach Sweeney forced to retire
Kelly informed the media at practice Tuesday that redshirt freshman offensive lineman Zach Sweeney was forced to medically retire due to a shoulder injury.
Sweeney was in competition for the starting center job in fall camp but ultimately lost to freshman Christaphany Murray.
Sweeney did not appear in a game last year and saw limited snaps in UCLA’s season-opening loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 1 – the only game he played in this season.