DE Takkarist McKinley (Photo by Steve Cheng)

Know Your Foe Q&A: UCLA Bruins

To get more insight into the Buffaloes' next opponent, we caught up with Blair Angulo of Bruin Report Online, which is part of the network...

After going 37-16 in their first four seasons under Jim L. Mora, the Bruins have lost five of their first eight games this season... what are the main factors that have led to this down year for UCLA?

Blair Angulo: "There have been numerous issues, but none greater than the woeful running game. The Bruins switched to a more traditional offense following the departure of Noel Mazzone to Texas A&M, incorporating tight ends and fullbacks in power sets and putting an emphasis on being more physical. That approach has failed miserably.

"UCLA didn't even pretend to run the ball against Utah in its previous game and it's a direct result of the inefficiency. The personnel just doesn't fit the scheme at the moment, particularly since the current roster was recruited for an uptempo, spread look. On top of all that, the injury to Josh Rosen in the Arizona State game hasn't helped things. UCLA has yet to play a complete game -- when the offense rolls, the defense seems to struggle and vice versa. Losing that first game to A&M in the opener and then falling at home to Stanford in a game the Bruins should have won really took the air out of the program early on and Mora has been searching for answers ever since."

It sounds like the chances of quarterback Josh Rosen playing against the Buffs are slim to none at this point?

"It's looking very unlikely that Rosen sees the field against Colorado this week. Reporters are allowed to view only the first 15 minutes of practices and, this week, we didn't see much of Rosen. When he was out there, he was not wearing cleats and warmed up gingerly off to the side. Mora has said they're waiting for the nerve issue in his shoulder to go away, and we'd be shocked if that happened this week."

Rosen's back-up Mike Fafaul threw the ball 70 times in the Bruins' most recent game against Utah... what should Buffs fans expect to see out of the Bruins' offense this Thursday?

"Fafaul is gutsy, particularly for a former walk-on that doesn't have the best measurables. He can sling the ball around a bit, making some impressive throws down field, hitting receivers in stride and standing in the pocket to deliver passes in heavy pressure. But the downside of all that is that Fafaul still is largely inexperienced and is prone to make some mistakes, at times being too careless with the ball and throwing into double coverage. He was intercepted four times by the Utes in that 70-pass performance and also fumbled on what would have been a long first-down scramble.

"We mentioned the running game's inability to move the ball and, if that's the case again this week, it would again put a lot of pressure on Fafaul to make things happen. That's not the type of expectation you'd hope to put on a quarterback that is filling in, but that's where the Bruins are now. With the program's bowl aspirations basically on the line in this one, we'd expect UCLA offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu to hold nothing back Thursday, even if that means abandoning the run game once more."

What are the strengths and weaknesses of UCLA's defense, and who are the Bruins' top playmakers on that side of the ball?

"The strength of the defense is the experienced secondary, led by one of the top cover corners in the conference, senior Fabian Moreau. Safeties Jaleel Wadood and Randall Goforth have also played a lot the last few years, and their backups, Tahaan Goodman and Adarius Pickett, rotate in quite a bit. It's a savvy unit that is among the best in the Pac-12.

"Rush end Takkarist McKinley, a former track standout in high school, is certainly someone to watch on defense. He put on a show against Utah's formidable offensive line and has seen his draft stock soar in recent weeks. McKinley has been playing through some injuries this year, but he's been on the field because the Bruins are dramatically different when he's among the 11.

"At linebacker, keep an eye on Jayon Brown, who brings a lot of energy and can make things happen when he's hitting the right gaps in run support. But when he, Kenny Young and Cameron Judge are getting caught on the wrong side of blocks, the defense is often exposed."

Outside of Rosen, do the Bruins have any injuries of note for this week?

"Starting defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes suffered an ankle injury in practice Saturday and has been working with trainers the last couple days, though media is only allowed to view the first 15 minutes of practice. Kenny Walker, one of the leading receivers on the team, left the Utah game after taking a big hit on special teams and has been practicing in a red non-contact jersey this week. Kolton Miller, the starting right tackle, remains out as he recovers from an ankle fracture."

Lastly, how do you see Thursday night's game shaking out and what is your score prediction?

"All of UCLA's losses this year have been decided by a possession, but I just don't see that happening again if the Bruins can't run the ball Thursday. That's going to be a big key. Colorado is vastly improved and, if Fafaul is forced into predictable downs, it might be a long night for him and that offense. On the defensive side, I would expect coordinator Tom Bradley to correct some of the mistakes that led to an embarrassing performance against the Utes (see: 330-plus rushing yards allowed), but I'm not sure even that would be enough to pull out a much-needed road victory. Colorado 24, UCLA 17"

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