Chip Kelly concedes UCLA secondary should have tightened coverage during loss

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PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 18, 2021:Fresno State Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener (9) eludes the oncoming rush of UCLA Bruins linebacker Bo Calvert (33) at the Rose Bowl on September 18, 2021 in Pasadena, California.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener eludes the oncoming rush of UCLA linebacker Bo Calvert at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

On UCLA’s final defensive play, three defensive backs positioned themselves almost as close to fans sitting behind the end zone as the line of scrimmage.

Jay Shaw hovered around the goal line. DJ Warnell stood at the one-yard line. Kenny Churchwell III lingered between the one and the two.

When Fresno State snapped the ball from the 13-yard line to quarterback Jake Haener, Shaw and Churchwell retreated several yards into the end zone.

Haener eyed the available real estate and fired a pass to Jalen Cropper in the right corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 40-37 victory Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

Cropper beat cornerback Mo Osling III, who was near the line of scrimmage at the snap, with Shaw unable to provide help after having run himself out of the play.

It was almost an exact repeat of the 19-yard touchdown pass Haener had thrown minutes earlier while facing a similarly soft defensive alignment.

Whether it played man or zone coverage, held a lead or was coming from behind, UCLA gave out more cushions than a mattress store hosting a free pillow promotion. Defensive backs routinely played five or 10 yards — sometimes more — off the line of scrimmage.

Haener thanked the Bruins by throwing for 455 yards and two touchdowns, his final five completions coming after absorbing a hit that made him hold his hip in anguish between plays.

In a rare admission of fault, UCLA coach Chip Kelly seemed to acknowledge Monday that his team should not have ceded so much territory to the Bulldogs receivers.

“Yeah, we were off a little bit,” Kelly said, “I think trying to keep the ball in front of us, rally up and make tackles, so we need to tighten that up this week.”

Kelly said his team gave up smaller cushions in the second half, though it certainly didn’t with the game on the line.

It's an ongoing issue for a secondary that ranks No. 126 nationally in passing yards allowed (342.7 per game) and figures to be tested again Saturday against Stanford’s Tanner McKee, the former Corona Centennial High star who has guided the Cardinal to back-to-back wins since being anointed the starting quarterback.

Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener extends his arm to UCLA linebacker Bo Calvert as he scampers for extra yardage.
Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener extends his arm to UCLA linebacker Bo Calvert as he scampers for extra yardage in the first half at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Vaccination requirement

A City of Pasadena spokeswoman said a vaccination requirement for mega events, including UCLA football games at the Rose Bowl, would more than likely start after Oct. 9, meaning that if implemented, it would go into effect for the Bruins’ game against Oregon on Oct. 23.

Dr. Ying Ying Goh, a Pasadena health officer, is scheduled to provide a COVID-19 update to the City Council on Sept. 27 that is expected to include a recommendation to require proof of vaccination at mega events, according to city spokeswoman Lisa Derderian.

UCLA announced last weekend that it would require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the start of all indoor athletic events for all fans ages 3 and older through at least Nov. 1. UCLA football fans headed to the game against Stanford on Saturday will face similar requirements at Stanford Stadium.

Fans attending the Bruins’ next home game, against Arizona State on Oct. 2, are not expected to be required to show proof of vaccination.

The Los Angeles County board of supervisors last week passed a vaccination requirement at events attended by more than 10,000 people, but Pasadena is not subject to the order because it has its own department of health.

Etc.

Kelly said no injured players had been ruled out for Stanford, but the prospects don't look good for Mike Martinez. The tight end had his left foot in a walking boot while moving around the practice field in a scooter. Defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia and safety Quentin Lake also did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media. … Running back Zach Charbonnet got only six carries against Fresno State, Kelly said, because the Bruins’ early deficit forced them to throw more than they anticipated. … Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said his fumble was caused by rushing his throw with a slippery football. “The grass was pretty wet on the field,” Thompson-Robinson said, “so I don't know if the ref, or whoever it was, was rolling the ball around a little bit before the snap, but when I got it, it was pretty wet. We also had a miscommunication with the protection, I had to throw hot, had to get the ball out fast. When you have a wet ball and you don't really expect it, bad things happen.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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