All Ball Sports: The Life of Riley, Chip Kelly Blues

By Paul Teetor

UCLA just blew its best and last chance for the foreseeable future to beat USC in their annual rivalry soccer game.

After Saturday night’s heart-pounding, heart-pounding thriller where USC outlasted the Bruins by 48-45 in front of 90,000 mad fans at the Rose Bowl, how can we make such a definitive statement?

Well, All Ball should have some credibility on this issue since we predicted in the same room last week that USC would win 45-42. If the rivalry game was a Power Ball draw, we wouldn’t win the $2 billion mega prize, but we certainly would get one of those $1 million consolation prizes.

The number one reason we’re confident of making such a long-term prediction is the same reason we picked USC to ring the victory bell this year: The Trojans have a hot young head coach who’s a brilliant offensive innovator.

At 39, Lincoln Riley is a charismatic young manager that the most talented players want to play for. Like a football magnet, he naturally attracts the elite guys who see the NFL as their future and want to make sure they’re on a glide path to the pros when they commit to college.

Riley has groomed quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray while they were in Oklahoma. He made them Heisman Trophy winners and first overall picks in their respective draft classes.

Now he’s doing the same thing with second quarterback Caleb Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma after Riley announced he was leaving Oklahoma and coming to LA. Having personally amassed a Rose Bowl record of 503 yards total offense — running and passing — while leading the Trojans to victory on Saturday night, Williams must be considered the favorite to win this year’s Heisman Trophy.

On the other hand, UCLA has a man who used to be a hot young coach, who used to be an offensive innovator, whose charisma and brilliant play naturally attracted the most elite high school players looking for a launch pad for the UCLA NFL.

But Chip Kelly’s glory days in Oregon are long gone, stretching back to the days when Myspace and AOL Online were trending tech darlings. Now it’s yesterday’s news, and at 58 that makes him yesterday’s man. Today he looks more like a fat, tired old dude who cares more about keeping his huge salary than working around the clock and leading his team to a national championship.

When Kelly arrived at UCLA five years ago after going underground with both Philadelphia and San Francisco in the pros, he was still big enough to take on a recruiting commitment from Dorian Thompson Robinson, the country’s top-rated quarterback, who played a Mega was to get stardom at a Las Vegas high school.

Five years later, DTR is still Riley’s top rated recruit. His talent is undeniable: he is an electric runner, an elusive target that walks like a gazelle and is difficult to bring down.

But during their five years together, Kelly hasn’t been able to make DTR the kind of reliable passer and decision-maker that Williams already is at 19.

That was never clearer than in the last two minutes of Saturday’s game. With USC leading 48-45 and marching towards a crucial result, Williams made one of the few mistakes he made all night. He rolled left on a run-pass option play, dodged two tacklers, and had an open field ahead with plenty of room to run to turn the third-down game into a first-down game.

But Williams had a brain freeze, suddenly launched a wild pass towards the touchline that didn’t have a chance to follow up, and USC had to stab in fourth place. So here it was: one last chance for UCLA to win the game, for Kelly to show that all his work with DTR is finally paying off, and for DTR itself to prove to the dozens of NFL scouts in attendance that he’s a true pro quarterback prospect.

With 60 yards from target for a field goal that would level the game or a touchdown that would win it and more than two minutes to play, everything was primed for DTR to be the hero in their final game against arch-rivals to be his team.

Instead, the last two plus minutes turned into a microcosm of DTR’s entire five years at UCLA: exhilarating at first, but ultimately maddening and deeply disappointing.

He started well, with a couple of short completed passes and a couple of escape runs for good wins. But as the clock ticked down and they were a crucial third down with 1:32 to go, the old DTR reappeared at the worst possible time for the Bruins and their overexcited fans.

DTR tried to avoid a sack that would have sent it fourth and long and attempted to force a pass that was intercepted by lineman Korey Foreman, who had ducked back into cover. It was DTR’s third game stoppage.

There was a minute plus left but that was the ballgame right there and everyone knew it, especially DTR – who left the field in tears.

As a sidebar, Foreman’s game-defining interception was the feel-good story of the night. Just two years ago he was the nation’s top-rated recruit, a Corona Centennial homeboy, a five-star monster who looks set to be the next dominant defensive player for USC.

Instead, he barely made the team, barely played in his freshman year and was quickly branded a gigantic bust who didn’t have the heart for the game and might give up football altogether. But he stuck with it, coming back for his sophomore year and gradually working his way into the lineup as a substitute.

And when USC’s decisive moment came, it was in the right place at the right time when, as has been its habit for the past five years, DTR made the wrong play at exactly the wrong time.

And here’s the near-term problem for UCLA: As unpredictable as DTR is, there’s nobody in Kelly’s talent pipeline even remotely willing to step in and offer the kind of dynamic quarterback play and experienced leadership that DTR has had in recent years has offered for years.

His backup is someone named Ethan Garbers, a nice kid from Newport Harbor who was a very good quarterback in high school. But in his few game appearances as a Bruin, he has shown no signs of being ready to fill in DTR’s footsteps.

So now USC has punched its ticket to the Pac-12 championship game, likely against Oregon. First, they have to face Notre Dame in their second most important rivalry game next Saturday. But if they win those two games, they’ll be in the top 4 in the country and a strong pick for the college football playoffs.

And UCLA, which just suffered its second straight loss and fell 8-3 behind on the season? They queue for nothing but some third grade bowl games like the Holiday Bowl, the Sun Bowl or the Las Vegas Bowl.

Not exactly what UCLA fans had in mind earlier in the season.

Think of the USC and UCLA football teams as ships sailing by in the night: one of these is the Titanic heading for the bottom of the ocean, with Captain Kelly oblivious to the iceberg in front of them. The other is a superyacht moored in Marina Del Rey, headed for a Caribbean cruise with Captain Riley in shades and a big grin.

Which ship would you rather be on?

Cody, we barely knew Ye

Every relationship in human history, whether personal, professional, or both, eventually comes to an end. It’s just that some endings are a lot more painful and a lot more confusing than others.

That’s why the Dodgers’ decision this week not to offer 27-year-old former National League MVP Cody Bellinger a contract extension was so painful but so inevitable in hindsight.

Fifty years from now, when the history of this Dodgers era is written – beginning with an amazing streak of ten Western Division titles in eleven years – Bellinger will still be a mystery shrouded in a mystery shrouded in a mystery .

When the Dodgers picked him up from the minors at the start of the season in April 2017, he immediately hit the ball like Roy Hobbs in the great Robert Redford film based on the even greater Bernard Malamud novel The Natural.

It seemed like there was nothing he couldn’t do on a baseball field. In addition to being a great hitter, he was a standout defensive player who anchored the Dodgers’ outfield with his superb speed and glove skills. He was named an All-Star Game and Home Run Derby in his rookie year, and it came as no surprise when he was named Rookie of the Year.

He averaged 40 home runs a year in his first three seasons, and after being named NL MVP in 2019, his future was so bright he’s been called the cornerstone of the Dodger’s future, a guy capable of Clayton Kershaw as the face of the franchise when Kershaw inevitably left the team to retire.

Then came the celebration that changed everything. During the 2020 playoffs, he hit a home run and celebrated with teammate Kiki Hernandez by jumping in the air and smashing shoulders with him.

Although he stayed in the game, it was immediately clear that Bellinger had been injured in the jubilant collision.

He was never the same player again.

In 2021, he was one of the worst hitters in the entire National League. In 2022 he was even worse and was automatically eliminated while being relegated to the bottom of the batting order.

It got so bad that he was benched during the playoffs and that boded well for the future. The Dodgers had to make him a qualifying offer of at least $18 million by Friday if they wanted to retain his rights, and after weighing the pros and cons, President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman declined an offer and left get rid of him.

Understand now: Bellinger can still sign with the Dodgers for less than $18 million a year. But chances are that one of the other 29 clubs is willing to bank on a young talent who was such a high-profile player in his first three years.

For Bellinger’s sake, All Ball is hoping he can regain his once-impressive form and find a new home in the major leagues.

For the Dodgers, we hope they made the right decision. Considering they should be plunking down every penny they can to sign Shohei Othani next fall when he becomes an unrestricted free agent — it’s going to take at least a half-billion dollar deal to get him there Moving up to the 405 – it was a decision they had to make.

At some point every relationship comes to an end. But few endings are more painful or puzzling than this one.

Contact: [email protected]. Follow: @paulteetor



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