ASU Football: Comparing Edwards, Kelly as first-year coaches

After six seasons of Todd Graham and Jim Mora, ASU football and UCLA both made head coaching changes that have had mixed results.

Nearly one year ago to the date, the state of the football programs at Arizona State and UCLA were nearly identical. Both the Sun Devils’ and Bruins’ records were hovering at or below .500 in the midst of underwhelming seasons.

Coaches Todd Graham and Jim Mora were fired from their respective schools, replaced by Herm Edwards at ASU and Chip Kelly in Westwood.

With Saturday marking a full calendar year since the teams last played, a 44-37 win for UCLA in Pasadena, we examine the progress made by the two first-year head coaches.

To evaluate, the topics of debate are recruiting and on-field performance.


Kelly: C    

Edwards: B-

According to 247Sports, neither ASU nor UCLA have an attention-grabbing class in 2019. The Sun Devils’ class is ranked No. 50 nationally while the Bruins’ is at No. 80.

The deciding factors that favor ASU here is Edwards’ ability to secure commitments from quarterbacks Joey Yellen and Ethan Long.

With redshirt senior Manny Wilkins exhausting his remaining eligibility this season, the duo is expected to compete with Dillon Sterling-Cole for the starting job. Yellen, a four-star recruit and Long, a three-star, are both pro-style signal callers that fit Edwards’ offensive scheme.

On-field performance

Kelly: C-    

Edwards: B+

A Week 1 loss to Cincinnati set the tone early for Kelly’s first season at UCLA. The situation worsened, however, when quarterback Wilton Speight was injured during the game.

Forced into a starting role, freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson struggled to adjust to the speed of college football. The four-star recruit served as a stopgap before Speight returned, but the offense showed marginal improvement under the graduate transfer.

Sitting at 2-7 and out of contention for a bowl game, the Bruins’ 21.2 points per game ranks bottom-10 among all Division-I teams while the defensive struggles are just as evident. Allowing over 33 points per contest, UCLA has conceded at least 30 points in all but one game.

Quarterback Josh Rosen’s early departure to the NFL came with an expected drop-off in scoring and productivity. But Kelly, a offensive mastermind at Oregon, has failed to generate consistent scoring through nine games.

Alternatively, ASU appears to be on the rise under Edwards.

At 5-4 with control of their destiny in the Pac-12 South, the Sun Devils could very well be playing for the conference title in Edwards’ first year. Three straight wins separate the program from a trip to Santa Clara.

Should the team not make the Pac-12 Championship Game, victories over two ranked teams in addition to a road win at USC would be a strong baseline to build off of in Tempe.

With a top-40 scoring defense and dynamic offensive playmakers in sophomore Eno Benjamin and junior N’Keal Harry, Edwards and his staff have pieced together a multi-dimensional team with a number of key contributors returning in 2019.

Edge: Edwards

ASU and UCLA meet on Saturday with Edwards and Kelly as opposing head coaches for the first time.