UCLA Football: How the running game could evolve in 2019

UCLA football head coach Chip Kelly wants his team to run. Despite stumbling at the start of 2018, he was eventually able to make that happen by season’s end. But with more back at his disposal, we should see an evolution of the run game.

With Joshua Kelley handling the majority of the carries and help sprinkled in from Martell Irby and Kazmeir Allen, the Bruins were able to put together one of the most potent rushing games in the country. According to the S&P+, the UCLA football team was 28th in the nation. That is huge when you consider it was the first year this style of run game was established and the fact that they were not very good to start the season.

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This is a nice accomplishment, but head coach Chip Kelly is going to find ways to make it better. The Bruins’ coach is aiming for greatness, and he’s going to tinker with his offense to get any advantage possible, but there are avenues he wants to continue to explore and we could see him venture down those streets this season.

That is why we should see an evolution with the running game in 2019. Obviously, there’s going to be a focus on getting the ball to Kelly, with more reps being handled by Irby and Allen, but the coaching staff has brought in five new running backs which will help UCLA in different aspects of the running game.

These new backs all have different skill sets and they go beyond speed. There also seems to be a power element that will be implemented. The coaches were able to bring in Sitiveni Kaufusi who is a legitimate fullback, but they also have Jahmon McClendon and Dusty Mitchell who are two bigger running backs on the roster.

If Kelly plans to use the fullback position in his scheme, it is possible that he will evolve the running game to have more power. Last season, Irby was the go-to guy for runs up the middle and in short-yardage situations, but there was no support behind him. That changes with the addition of Kaufusi, McClendon, and Mitchell.

It is also possible for Kelly to re-implement two-back sets, which was used sparingly (and unsuccessfully last season). Kelly tinkered with all sorts of combinations in an attempt to get the run game going, and towards the end of the season, he settled for one running back. But with more backs to help out, it seems possible that he could return to a two-back set, which would give the run game more options.

If the Bruins start running more two-back formations, this could help with blocking out of the backfield. But backs could also be put in motion and positioned on the line, which is something that occurred on numerous occasions last season, albeit with tight ends.

In an attempt to get an advantage in run blocking, especially with the pin-pull strategy, we saw a lot of different formations (mostly with 13 personnel) in which multiple tight ends were used at the end of the line. A similar situation could occur this year with fullbacks. For example, there could be a situation in which Kelley and Kaufusi are in the backfield and before the snap, the fullback could be sent in motion and line up next to the tackles and tight ends whose purpose was to block and open holes for the zone read.

Another way these bigger running back can be used is in the power game. The Bruins had a hard time running the ball up the middle, but Irby slowly figured out how to get in between the gaps, especially in the last three games he recorded a carry. If UCLA has a speed and power running game, then they could be a dangerous multidimensional running team.