Surging UCLA will face No. 18 N.C. State in the Holiday Bowl at Petco Park

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UCLA wide receiver Kyle Philips, center, celebrates his touchdown with teammates during the first half of an NCAA college football game against California on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
UCLA wide receiver Kyle Philips, center, celebrates his touchdown with teammates during the first half against California on Nov. 27 at the Rose Bowl. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Chip Kelly won’t have to venture far for his first bowl game at UCLA but has a long way to go when it comes to his knowledge of the team his Bruins will face in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28 at Petco Park in San Diego.

“That Dave Doeren’s the head coach and they’re the Wolfpack,” Kelly said Sunday when asked what he knew about No. 18 North Carolina State.

Here’s a primer on the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to play in the Holiday Bowl: The Wolfpack combine an elite passing offense led by quarterback Devin Leary with a defense that’s strong against the run and the pass.

Like the Bruins (8-4), who closed the regular season with three consecutive victories, N.C. State (9-3) is on a roll, having won four of its last five games, including a thrilling 34-30 comeback victory over rival North Carolina in which Leary threw for two touchdowns in 26 seconds and the Wolfpack recovered a late onside kick.

N.C. State, which defeated four teams that are playing in bowl games, is trying to win 10 games for just the second time in school history after having gone 11-3 in 2002.

UCLA also has plenty of incentive in its first postseason appearance since the 2017 Cactus Bowl. A victory would give the Bruins nine wins for the first time since they went 10-3 in 2014 while also giving the team its first triumph of 2021 over a team with a winning record. (UCLA’s victory over Louisiana State would also qualify if the Tigers can beat Kansas State in the Texas Bowl.)

This will be Kelly’s first bowl game since taking Oregon to the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2013 season prior to his departure for the NFL. His first three UCLA teams finished 3-9, 4-8 and 3-4 before this season’s breakthrough.

The first football game in the history of Petco Park will qualify as a home game for the Bruins given the short drive down the freeway compared to the cross-country flight facing N.C. State.

But it will also be a homecoming for Doeren, a San Diego native who was born on Coronado Island and lived in Los Angeles until the fourth grade. Doeren spent the 1998 and 1999 seasons as a USC graduate assistant and his father still lives in west Los Angeles.

N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren walks the sideline during a game against Miami in October.
N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren walks the sideline during a game against Miami in October. (Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

UCLA’s roster is also dotted with players who hail from the San Diego area, including receiver Kyle Philips and defensive back Martell Irby.

UCLA has faced N.C. State twice previously, winning 21-12 in 1959 and 7-0 in 1960, with both games at the Coliseum. The Wolfpack’s quarterback in those games was Roman Gabriel, who would go on to become the NFL’s most valuable player with the Rams in 1969.

The Bruins haven’t played in the Holiday Bowl since 2012, when they lost to Baylor, 49-26. Kelly last experienced the bowl in 2008 when he was Oregon’s offensive coordinator, guiding the Ducks to a 42-31 victory over Oklahoma State.

After practicing for three consecutive days, UCLA will take the next five days off for final exams before resuming practice next weekend. Kelly said analyst Clancy Pendergast, the former USC defensive coordinator, would serve as the team’s defensive line coach for the bowl game after Johnny Nansen departed to become Arizona’s defensive coordinator.

“He’s been a godsend to us all season long,” Kelly said of Pendergast, who was also a defensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs, “and the fact that you have a former defensive coordinator in the NFL in your building, that was kind of a no-brainer for us.”

Kelly said running back Brittain Brown, who missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury, is expected to play in the bowl game and the team could get other players back from injury as well.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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