Cincinnati is good. The Bearcats are a good, balanced, top-20 team. They are the best team in the Group of Five, I kept telling myself during Friday night's 24-14 win over UCLA. I was trying to convince myself that UCLA's offense can't be this bad again this season, right? It was a disturbingly pathetic exercise.
UCLA's offense ranked near the bottom of the FBS in most statistical categories last season, Chip Kelly's first as UCLA head coach after two failed NFL experiments and one year in the TV studio. They averaged just 24.6 points per game (91st) and averaged 0.33 points per play (96th) and 5.3 yards per play (5.3).
The Bruins couldn't convert on third down (37.7 percent, 74th), scored points on just 81 percent of their red-zone opportunities (86th), and averaged 4.1 yards per rush (78th) and 7.1 yards per pass attempt (83rd). They committed too many penalties (6.8 per game, 94th), had a sack rate of 7.4 percent (83rd) and failed to score more than 24 points in seven of their 12 games.
New coach, new system, true freshman quarterback for half the season. The offense was ugly and inefficient for most of the season, but it was year one. While I didn't drool over the Kelly hire, give him a full offseason and allow more of his players to arrive and acclimate to the system.
A full offseason of preparation and acclimation later, UCLA's offense was ugly and inefficient in Friday's loss at Cincinnati, their second straight season-opening loss to the Bearcats.
Fifty-seven percent of their 218 total yards came on two plays. They averaged 3.5 yards on 62 plays, couldn't throw the ball (Dorian Thompson-Robinson was 8-of-26 for 156 yards), couldn't run the ball (70 yards on 35 attempts, not including sacks), and earned only nine non-penalty-caused first downs. Four turnovers, nine penalties, and five punts. They converted one of three red-zone chances, and possessed the ball for only 21 minutes.
Cincinnati's defense is good, I told myself. They held 10 of their 13 opponents under 25 points, and ranked in the top 20 nationally in most defensive areas last season, including points per game, points per play, yards per play, yards per rush and completion percentage.
UCLA is bad, I finally told myself as drives repeatedly stalled, passes sailed into double coverage, and ball-carriers ran into an unblocked brick wall. The injuries, absences and youth (which Kelly mentioned a billion times in his postgame presser) were on full display, but UCLA's offense is inexcusably pathetic.
Thirteen games is far too early for a Chip Kelly hot-seat proclamation (and even if he was on the hot seat, UCLA athletics director Dan Guerrero gave Jim Mora two seasons while he was on the hot seat, so Kelly isn't going anywhere), but the Bruins need an overhaul.