UCLA Bruins: CFN College Football Preview 2021

·11 min read

College Football News Preview 2021: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the UCLA season with what you need to know.

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– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
UCLA Schedule Analysis
UCLA Bruins Previews
2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

2020 Record: 3-4 overall, 3-4 in Pac-12
Head Coach: Chip Kelly, 4th year, 10-21 (56-28 overall)
2020 CFN Final Ranking: 32
2020 CFN Preview Ranking: 57
2019 CFN Final Ranking: 97

UCLA Bruins College Football Preview 2021: Offense

The offense is starting to work. It has taken a few years, and it’s not the high-octane thrill ride a Chip Kelly attack is supposed to be, but the pieces are in place now to do even more.

The 2020 version cranked up 455 yards and 35 points per game, scoring 34 or more in every game but the wins over Arizona and Arizona State.

There’s balance, there are options, and there’s a whole lot of experience and depth to play around with. Ten starters are expected back, but it’s actually an even better situation.

The quarterback situation is set. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been around from the start of the Kelly era, growing into the role as a decent runner and more accurate, effective passer.

Main backup Chase Griffin returns, too, but Washington transfer Ethan Garbers is a big talent to groom for the near future.

Leading yardage receiver Greg Dulcich is back, and the 6-4, 242-pound junior combines tight end forces with the 268-pound Mike Martinez.

The wide receivers are strong, too, with junior Kyle Philips leading the team – for the second year in a row – with 38 catches as a midrange target. There’s nice size and experience across the roster.

Leading rushers Demetric Felton is gone, but Brittain Brown is more than fine carrying the load – he averaged 6.6 yards per carry with 543 yards and four scores – Keegan Jones can add a little flash, and in the mix is Michigan veteran Zach Charbonnet to bring more punch.

All five starters return to the offensive line that paved the way for the nation’s 12th-best running game and was decent enough in pass protection to get by. There’s a decent mix of size, experience, and athleticism for this offense around all-star caliber center Sam Marrazzo. Don’t blow this off as par for the course – it took a long, LONG time for UCLA to have a decent offensive front.

– What You Need To Know: Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
UCLA Schedule Analysis

NEXT: UCLA Bruins College Football Preview 2021: Defense

4. UCLA Bruins College Football Preview 2021: Defense

The defense was solid overall and special at getting into the backfield. The Bruins led the Pac-12 in sacks and were a not-that-awful sixth in the Pac-12 in total D and second in scoring defense allowing 410 yards and 35 points per game.

Big tackle Osa Odighizuwa is a Dallas Cowboy now, but just about everyone else of note is expected to return.

The top pass rushers are still around. Caleb Johnson is a 6-1, 230-pound linebacker who can do a little of everything, including lead the team with 44 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Bo Calvert added more size on the inside to go along with the 245-pound bulk of Mitchell Agude – a tackle for loss machine – at one of the other outside spots.

The front will miss Odighizuwa, but it’s got a 6-4, 318-pound wall of a nose tackle in Otito Ogbonnia and a 275-pound end in Datona Jackson leading what should be a good rotation.

The secondary turned into a monster at picking off passes late. The Bruins came up with nine on the year with eight in the last four games with two from three different defensive backs. Now the pass defense has to be a whole lot better after allowing 274 yards per game.

S Stephan Blaylock was second on the team with 42 stops to go along with two picks, Quentin Lake and Qwantrezz Knight can hit, and the combination of corners Obi Eboh, Jay Shaw and Mo Osling can hit as well as make play when the ball is in the air.

– What You Need To Know: Offense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
UCLA Schedule Analysis

NEXT: UCLA Bruins College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

UCLA Bruins College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Best UCLA Bruins Offensive Player

QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Sr.
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride over the first three seasons, but he settled into the gig last year and was a blast.

He only played in five games, but he was terrific completing 65% of his passes with 12 touchdowns and four picks with 306 rushing yards and three scores.

He hit USC for 364 yards and four scores in a brilliant performance in the loss, and threw for over 300 yards with four scores against Colorado – also a loss. The running game will help him out, but he’ll be a part of that, too.

2. TE Greg Dulcich, Jr.
3. C Sam Marrazzo, Sr.
4. WR Kyle Philips, Jr.
5. RB Brittain Brown, Sr.

Related

UCLA Football Schedule 2021, Analysis

Best UCLA Bruins Defensive Player

LB Caleb Johnson, Sr.
The defense needed more big playmakers and a bigger spark, and in came Johnson from the JUCO ranks to provide both.

The 6-1, 230-pounder led the team with 44 tackles with 5.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss, and he came up with an interception in an all-star season on the inside of the linebacking corps.

An academic all-star, too, he’s a quarterback for the defensive front with the quickness to get into the backfield and size to bring the thump against the run.

2. S Stephan Blaylock, Sr.
3. S Qwuantrezz Knight, Sr.
4. LB Mitchell Agude, Sr.
5. DT Otito Ogbonnia, Sr.

Top Incoming UCLA Bruins Transfer

RB Zach Charbonnet, Jr.
Former Washington QB Ethan Garbers is likely going to be the transfer who makes the biggest impact for the Bruins … next year. There are plenty of other good new parts to the mix, but Charbonnet has the potential to bring something big to the team right away.

The 220-pound former superstar recruit ran for 726 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019, but he lost time in the rotation last season with just 124 yards and a score. The ground game was already going to be good, but he should be able to take it up a few notches.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
UCLA Schedule Analysis

NEXT: UCLA Bruins College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

UCLA Bruins College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

UCLA Bruins Biggest Key: Offense

Keep doing what you’re doing, UCLA. It wasn’t always consistent and it stalled a few times in key moments, but the offense was able to find ways to keep things moving with a ground game finally becoming a factor.

It took a very, very long time for the program to get the offensive line right, and it showed with a ground game that averaged under three yards per carry in 2016 and wasn’t all that much better over the last following three seasons.

Last year the rushing attack averaged over five yards per carry for the first time since 2015 and was stunningly consistent. The Bruins didn’t run for fewer than 171 yards in the six games. The 2019 ground game was under 70 yards four times.

UCLA Bruins Biggest Key: Defense

The pass defense has to improve. It didn’t give up as many big plays as it did in 2019 and it got a whole lot better at taking the ball away, but it also allowed way too many yards.

Again, there was an improvement, and there’s a whole lot of talent and experience coming back, but the pass D was 114th in the nation and the second-worst in the Pac-12 allowing 274 yards per game.

The team was 1-5 when allowing more than 230 yards and 3-0 when it didn’t. Over the last two seasons the Bruins are 3-13 when they allow 230 or more, but this is a different, stronger team. It just has to be a bit tighter to take advantage of what should be another great pass rush.

UCLA Bruins Key Player To A Successful Season

DT Otito Ogbonnia, Sr.
The Bruins have more than their share of experienced and big bodies for the front three, and the pass rushers are there on the outside with a deep group of hybrid types. After losing Osa Odighizuwa off of the interior, though, the line needs a new star.

The 6-4, 318-pound Ognbonnia does a whole lot of the dirty work. He has help around him, and Tyler Manoa can hold his own if he has to take on the job. However, for a defense that improved in so many way last season, being even stronger against the run is a must. The D needs its anchor to be great.

UCLA Bruins Key Game To The 2021 Season

at Stanford, Sept. 25
The home game against LSU might be a coming out moment for the program under Chip Kelly, and there can’t be any Mountain West misfires against Hawaii or Fresno State, but it all starts up for real at the end of September in Palo Alto.

The Bruins closed out last season with a thrilling 48-47 loss to the Cardinal, and this time around it kicks off a run of three road games in the first four with a dangerous home date against Arizona State to follow.

Going back to 2008, UCLA is a ridiculous 1-12 against Stanford – including a Pac-12 Championship loss.

UCLA Schedule Analysis

2020 UCLA Bruins Fun Stats

– Sacks: UCLA 23 for 144 yards – Opponents 12 for 79 yards
– Fumbles: UCLA 9 (lost 7) – Opponents 7 (lost 2)
– Rushing Yards Per Game: UCLA 230.6 – Opponents 135.7

NEXT: UCLA Bruins College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

UCLA Bruins College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

UCLA has suffered through five straight losing seasons, making this the worst era of Bruin football by a mile.

The only run reasonably close was a three year stretch from 1962 to 1964 without a winning campaign, and then the 1965 team won the Rose Bowl.

And there’s no excuse for this.

It’s a gorgeous school with a gorgeous campus that plays in gorgeous weather and populated by gorgeous people. USC has been relatively down – at least by its own standards – and the Pac-12 South hasn’t been the SEC West or Big Ten East.

This should’ve been the UCLA football grew into a massive national thing, and instead it’s been a big pile of disappointment.

There’s been NFL talent, there have been solid coaches, and the schedules have been reasonable enough over the last five seasons to be a whole lot better than 20-36.

This is the season the slide stops.

Set The UCLA Bruins Regular Season Win Total At … 6.5

Chip Kelly needed a while to build this thing up to get his guys in place, and now he’s got a ton of them with – potentially – every starter from last season back other than DT Osa Odighizuwa.

He’s got a quarterback in Dorian Thompson-Robinson who has worked for this moment over the last few seasons. Kelly’s got the skill guys around DTR, he’s got the kicking game, and best of all – and this took the most work – he’s got the linemen to start making it all go. However …

The schedule is going to be interesting.

LSU, Arizona State and Oregon are all better than UCLA, but all three have to come to Pasadena.

USC doesn’t really count as a road trip, but going to Washington, Stanford and Utah sure as shoot do. And then there’s the biggest problem of all – the Bruins don’t get the more reasonable Pac-12 games against Oregon State and Washington State.

Whatever – come up with a winning season already.

Hawaii, Fresno State, at Arizona, Colorado, Cal. Those are all games a good team should take down, but UCLA will blow at least one of them. It’ll be offset by at least one good upset, and the overall experience will be enough to pull off a close win that last year’s team couldn’t seem to get – and there’s the hidden upside.

Yeah, UCLA was 3-4, but all four losses were by six points or fewer. Being competitive actually matters here, considering that wasn’t necessarily the case at times before 2020. Now more of those close losses will flip the other way.

The Bruins will have a winning season, they’ll go bowling, and they’ll look like they’re on the verge of being something big under Kelly.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
UCLA Schedule Analysis