UCLA Football: We should see more quarterback runs this fall

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 08: Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson #7 of the UCLA Bruins scrambles against the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners defeated the Bruins 49-21. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 08: Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson #7 of the UCLA Bruins scrambles against the Oklahoma Sooners at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners defeated the Bruins 49-21. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images) /

As Chip Kelly prepares for his second year with the UCLA football team, he will take the next step in the Bruins’ evolution. Part of that change will be more quarterbacks runs.

What made UCLA football head coach Chip Kelly successful at Oregon was his ability to run the ball. Though his running backs were the key contributors, so were his quarterbacks.

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In his four years in Eugene, Kelly made the most of his QB’s legs as they consistently put up scary rushing numbers. In four years, his starting quarterbacks averaged 528 rushing yards each season, with an average of 5.4 yards per run. Those numbers helped Oregon to efficiently move the ball downfield in Kelly’s Blur offense.

Oregon QB Rushing Numbers Under Chip Kelly

  • 2012: Marcus Mariota – 752 yards, 7.1 yards per carry
  • 2011: Darron Thomas – 206 yards, 3.7 yards per carry
  • 2010: Darron Thomas – 486 yards, 5.2 yards per carry
  • 2009: Jeremiah Masoli – 668 yards, 5.5 yards per carry
  • 4-year average: 528 yards, 5.4 yards per carry

But things have changed since he got back to the college ranks. Since taking over at UCLA, Kelly has not only had to overhaul the Bruins’ roster but also his approach to offense.

As we saw at the beginning of the 2018 season, UCLA could not move the ball to save their lives. But by seasons end, they could move the ball downfield with little effort. With the offensive line improving, the offense adjusting to the new style and Kelly using players that worked well in his system, UCLA showed massive improvement by the end of November.

So now we move into the next phase of his rebuild. With the Bruins showing signs of light at the end of the 2018 season, it has given UCLA fans a lot of hope for 2019. Aside from the offense becoming a well-oiled machine, we saw a few things from the QBs in spring that lead us to believe that we could see quarterback play similar to what Kelly did in Oregon.

UCLA QB Rushing Numbers in 2018

2018 was a project. Everything was new, and Kelly was trying out different schemes on weekly basis. Despite his constant tinkering, one thing he did not want to experiment too much with was his quarterbacks taking the ball and running. With not a lot of options, it would not have been a smart move to let the QBs run all over the place with potential for injury. They were injured regardless and we saw how the team had to adjust to a new signal caller for than once last season.

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As you can tell from the numbers above, both DTR and Speight did not run very much, at least not consistently. Individually, both had a few games that necessitated the run or used it to their advantage. Speight has 30 yards against Utah (3.8 yards per carry) and 22 against USC (3.1 ypc). DTR had 49 against Fresno State (6.1 ypc) and 27 against Cal (3.0 ypc).

Between the two quarterbacks, there were 89 runs (the average runs per year for the Oregon QBs is 94), but keep in mind that 32 of those resulted in sacks, forcing it to become a rushing stat. That had to with the fact that the offensive line was not very consistent at the beginning of the season. But later in the season, the O-line made improvements with protecting the run, which has and will lead to even more improvements in the future.

Fast forward to this last spring practice. It was apparent that the Kelly and his QBs (DTR, Austin Burton, and Chase Griffin) were getting more comfortable with QB runs. It was expected that Thompson-Robinson would run more and as we saw over the six weeks of practice, he not only tucked the ball and ran more often, but he also looked confident doing it. For the most part, he picked up more positive yards then allowed negative.

It became even more evident that QB runs were going to be a bigger part of the offense when Burton was doing it. Not only did it appear as if he was given free rein to run the ball, but he was also doing it as well as DTR.

From examining the Spring Game, out of 42 run plays (play count is not accurate as the Pac-12 Network had a less-than-optimal presentation of the game), 9 of them were QB runs (this is a collective count of all three QBs). With every run, each quarterback had first looked through his progressions and then took off when nothing was available or kept it in the zone read. What was even more impressive was how the QBs could see openings in the line and gained positive yardage nearly untouched. By himself, Burton had a few runs that went for more than 10 yards.

What this tells me is that Chip Kelly is looking to take that next step with his offense and will add another dimension by having his QBs run more. They might not run as much as the Oregon QBs, but having that dual-threat aspect will give the offense another weapon, now that they can control it.

Next. UCLA Football: 2019 Post-Spring Game Projected Depth Chart. dark

What will be interesting to see is how Kelly incorporates the QB run into the offense. How many will be allowed, how many QB runs will be assigned, and how many will be on the fly? With the offensive line able to hold back defenses better than they did at the start of the 2018 season and Kelly’s tendency for setting up interesting formations, we should see an increase in QB runs, but more importantly, runs for positive yards.