-- UCLA hosts Colorado Saturday at the Rose Bowl, with the game set to kick off at 4:35 p.m., and televised nationally by Versus.
-- Colorado is 2-9 overall and 1-6 in the Pac-12, coming off its first conference victory last week when it beat Arizona, 48-29, in Boulder.
-- UCLA is 5-5, and 4-3 in conference, having lost at Utah last week after achieving its first two-game win streak of the season in the two previous weeks.
-- This is, of course, Colorado's first season in the Pac-12.
-- It's interesting since it's only the 7th time the two programs have ever played each other, with the series dating back to only 1980. UCLA holds a 4-2 lead, with a 2-1 edge in games played in Los Angeles.
-- Colorado's wins have been the last two match-ups in the series, in 2003 and 2002, in Boulder and at the Rose Bowl. In 2002, UCLA was ranked 20th and lost to Colorado, 31-17.
-- UCLA beat the Buffaloes four times in the ‘80s, by a combined score of 150-43.
-- Colorado's head coach is Jon Embree, who is in his first year as the head guy in Boulder. Embree is, of course, UCLA's former assistant coach under Karl Dorrell from 2003 to 2005, coaching the wide receivers and the tight ends while being the assistant head coach. After UCLA, Embree was the tight ends coach with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Redskins, and then also briefly tried to join the Bruin staff as a graduate assistant before the Colorado head job became vacant last December when Dan Hawkins was fired. Before he came to UCLA with Dorrell, he was an assistant at Colorado for 10 seasons, and played at Colorado.
-- Former UCLA assistant Eric Bieniemy, who came to UCLA from Colorado with Embree, is Embree's current offensive coordinator with the Buffaloes.
-- Embree, of course, is the father of Taylor Embree, the UCLA wide receiver. Taylor's real first name is John, like his father and his grandfather, who played for the Denver Broncos in 1969 and 1970.
-- Rick Neuheisel and Embree are pretty close friends.
-- In fact, there are quite a few ties between the programs. UCLA center Kai Maiava and wide receiver Josh Smith both transferred from Colorado and are still close with various Buff players.
-- Counting the current season, Colorado has had a string of six straight losing seasons, which ties the school record (previously from 1979 thru 1984).
-- Colorado is a very old, traditional program, dating back to 1890. It's 16th on the all-time win list (671) and was 22nd in all-time winning percentage (.600) to start the 2011 season.
-- The Buffaloes won a national championship in 1990 under coach Bill McCartney, and then finished then next six seasons ranked in the top 25. In the 15 seasons since that run, Colorado has finished only two seasons ranked nationally.
-- After McCartney won that championship in 1990, he coached the team for four more years, culminating in 1994 when he finished the season ranked 3rd nationally. Rick Neuheisel then took over for McCartney, led the Buffaloes to season-ending rankings in both 1995 (5th) and 1996 (8th), and then two unranked seasons in 1997 and 1998 before departing to coach Washington. Neuheisel's first two seasons, with McCartney's players, he went 10-2 both seasons; then in his last two he went 5-6 and 8-4.
-- UCLA has won its three previous Pac-12 conference home games, the longest streak under Neuheisel.
-- UCLA's Nelson Rosario will look to become only the 10th wide receive in UCLA history to gain 2,000 receiving yards. He currently sits at 1,989.
-- Running back Johnathan Franklin has risen to 12th on the all-time school rushing list, totaling 2,388 for his career.
-- It's the final home game for 18 Bruin seniors: DE Nate Chandler, RB Derrick Coleman, DB Jeff Dickmann, DB Tony Dye, DL Justin Edison, WR Taylor Embree, PK Tony Gonzalez, DB Jamie Graham, TE Cory Harkey, OL Mike Harris, TE Austin Hill, LB Glenn Love, OL Kai Maiava, WR Nelson Rosario, OL Sean Sheller, WR Josh Smith, WR Ryan Sublett and LB Sean Westgate.
-- The Bruin seniors are usually met on the field by their parents, so it will be interesting to see if Embree is met by his.
-- UCLA controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 South, making the Pac-12 Championship Game if it wins out. If it wins one game among its last two, and Arizona State loses one of its last two, UCLA still goes.
-- If UCLA did finish the season 6-6, it would then be bowl eligible. But, if UCLA lost in the Pac-12 Championship game, finishing 6-7 overall, by NCAA rules it wouldn't be bowl eligible, having to finish with a winning season as one of the criteria. UCLA could, however, appeal to the NCAA.
-- Colorado hasn't won a road conference game since 2007. Coach Embree and his quarterback, Tyler Hansen, both pretty much said the Buffs would come to Pasadena and win this Saturday.
-- The weather in Pasadena for Saturday calls for a high of 62 degrees.
COLORADO'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
Colorado's offense hasn't put up very good stats this season:
Scoring offense (21.27 pts per game): 11th in the Pac-12, 101st in the nation
Rushing offense (110 yards per game): 10th in the Pac-12, 110th in the nation
Passing offense (243 yards per game): 8th in the Pac-12, 49th in the nation
Total offense (354 yards per game): 11th in the Pac-12, 92nd in the nation
Last week it did, however, show signs of life with its best offensive performance of the season against Arizona. It gained 500 total yards, passing for 227 and rushing for 273. Of course, Arizona has the worst defense in the conference and 109th in the nation.
What is probably a good indication of how Colorado's offense will perform Saturday is to look at how it did against two comparable defenses to UCLA's – that of Washington and Arizona State -- playing both on the road.
If you average what the Buffs did at Washington about a month ago and at Arizona State a few weeks ago, you get these averages: 19 points, 344 total yards, 272 yards passing and 72 yards rushing.
That sounds close. Perhaps, against UCLA's defense, the Buffs might be able to run a little better and not throw quite as well, but that's essentially what we can expect.
Colorado's quarterback, Tyler Hansen (SR, 6-1, 215) is a solid one, efficient without making many mistakes. He's thrown just 7 interceptions this season against 18 touchdowns, and he had a streak of 131 attempts without a pick. He's experienced and smart, very good at checking down and finding the open receiver. He's also pretty mobile, and they like to roll him out. Colorado's Offensive Coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, installed a zone read last week against Arizona, and it gave the Buff offense another dimension.
Hansen has a couple of targets. UCLA fans are pretty familiar with Paul Richardson (SO, 6-1, 175), who was having an all-conference-caliber season until he injured a knee. He sat out four games before returning last week against Arizona. He is very quick, can slip through seams in coverage with explosion, and is very good at creating yards after the catch. Richardson is complemented by Tony Clemens (SR, 6-1, 210), who is an experienced, strong pass-catcher, and good going up in the air against smaller defenders.
|Tailback Rodney Stewart.|
Colorado's offensive line is actually a solid bunch, led by guard Ryan Miller (SR, 6-8, 295), who will get some NFL consideration. The other guard, Ethan Adkins (SR, 6-4, 290), is probably been the most effective of the group on the season.
UCLA's defense had a bit of a meltdown in the snow last week in Salt Lake City. It had put together a couple of good defensive efforts the two previous weeks against Cal and Arizona State, but pretty much reverted to form. So much of it was UCLA going back to being porous in its rushing defense, allowing Utah 224 yards on the ground.
After missing a month due to a neck issue, Tony Dye will return to the secondary this week. He'll probably plug back into the strong safety spot, where he played well last season.
What was kind of strange last week against Utah was UCLA's use of the nickel over a conventional 4-3-4. Against a team like Utah, which everyone knew was going to run the ball, in the snow, UCLA opted for a more pass-oriented alignment. The thought was to get more quickness on the field, but it didn't help plug holes in the running game.
I came really close to giving UCLA's defense the nod here, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. If I had, it would have only been the lesser of two evils. It really is a crapshoot between these two units, and it wouldn't be surprising at all if Colorado's offense ran right over UCLA's defense. It's easy to envision Stewart running around and through UCLA would-be tacklers all day.
Perhaps one of Colorado's biggest offensive weaknesses is protecting Hansen, having given up 29 sacks on the season. But the good news for Colorado is that it's facing one of the worst defenses in the conference for putting pressure on the quarterback in UCLA, with a measley 11 sacks.
The bend-and-not-break UCLA D did just that at home for two weeks straight against Cal and Arizona State, and those two programs have considerably better offenses than Colorado. Plus, Bieniemy's fairly conventional pro-style set has traditionally been easier for UCLA to match up against. It's a good match-up for UCLA, against a fairly mediocre offense that doesn't run the ball very well.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. COLORADO'S DEFENSE
It's tough to distinguish what's worse – Colorado's offense or its defense. Colorado is 11th in the Pac-12 in total defense, and 103rd in the nation, allowing 444 yards per game.
It's slightly better at defending the run, but it's not really something to brag about. Its rush defense is 80th in the country (179 yards per game), and its pass defense is 101st (264).
It does have to be mentioned that, last week, Colorado's D wasn't exactly bad against Arizona's potent offense. It held the Wildcats to 29 points and a total of 412 yards, which was below Arizona's average.
A great deal of that could be attributed to Colorado forcing a number of fumbles, while recovering one, and picking off Arizona's Nick Foles three times. While that might have been a bit of an aberration, since Colorado is -1 in turnover margin, you still have to give the Buffs's defense some credit. It does have an aggressive defense conceived by Defensive Coordinator by Greg Brown.
Colorado's defensive line might be among the top half in the conference. Veteran defensive tackle Will Pericak (JR, 6-4, 285) mans one side of the line in the 3-4 alignment, and he's been the team's run stopper, with 51 tackles on the season, and a good burst off the line. David Goldberg (SR, 6-1, 245), a transfer from Penn State and a former linebacker, has had a good senior year at the other end spot. Chidera Uzo-Diribe (SO, 6-3, 240) is the designated rush specialist, with 5 ½ sacks on the season.
CU's linebackers would have probably been a pretty good group this season if they hadn't lost their best player. Doug Rippy was leading the team in tackles before he went down to a season-ending knee injury against Washington a few weeks ago. Picking up the slack has been Jon Major (JR, 6-2, 230), and then Rippy's replacement, Patrick Mahnke (SR, 6-1, 210), who is good at getting into the offense's backfield.
|Safety Ray Polk.|
Colorado's secondary has been hit by injury and suspensions. For the Washington State game, Colorado actually had eight defensive backs out for various reasons. They've been without veteran safety Anthony Perkins for a few weeks, but nickel back Travis Sandersfeld (SR, 6-0, 205) returned the last couple of weeks. He had a big day against Arizona, being named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for making 14 tackles and intercepting a pass. Free safety Ray Polk (JR, 6-1, 205) is the anchor. At this point at corner they're left with two young, inexperienced guys in Terrel Smith (SO, 5-8, 180) and Greg Henderson (FR, 6-11, 185), a true freshman.
UCLA's offense definitely hiccupped last week against Utah. It averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, and the Utes completely took away quarterback Kevin Prince as a running threat. Well, they took him away as a passing threat, too. Probably more accurately, he took himself away.
Tailback Johnathan Franklin hasn't had a 100-yard game since Washington State back in early October, and has averaged only 46 yards per game since.
It's a big day for UCLA senior receiver Taylor Embree, obviously. It's not only Senior Day, but he's playing against his father, the Colorado head coach. UCLA's receivers should have a chance to collectively have a big day against Colorado's patchwork secondary.
It's the type of match-up that seemingly should be a good one for UCLA's offense. Colorado isn't good at rush defense, and running the ball is the key to any game for the Bruins. And then Colorado's passing defense is enough of a mess that you'd think Prince and Co. would be able to be effective enough through the air to give UCLA a balanced offensive attack, kind of like the one we saw against Arizona State.
The one wrench in all of this is that Colorado plays an aggressive style of defense. To their immense credit, and that of DC Greg Brown, their philosophy is to pressure the line of scrimmage and the quarterback. And they've done it even more as an answer to their secondary problems. It makes for quite a few Buffs running around in the backfield of opposing offenses, but it also has made them susceptible to big plays once ball carriers get past the pressure. So, on the one hand, you could see Colorado really disrupting Prince all day, but you could also see UCLA taking advantage of some breakdowns in coverage like they did against ASU. Watch for UCLA to try to counter Colorado's pressure with short drops and quick throws, and trying to get its ball carriers out in the flat past the pressure.
Colorado's special teams have been iffy this season. Rugby-style punter Darragh O'Neill is serviceable. He's most noted for being a former walk-on like UCLA's kicker Tyler Gonzalez, but also because he can punt with either foot, and actually will do it. If there is pressure coming from one side, he'll roll out to the other side and punt with that corresponding foot. The Colorado kicker, freshman Will Oliver, is going through a second-half-of-the-season slump. After making his first five attempts, he's now made just two of his past six, had three attempts blocked, and missed an extra point.
Colorado's kick-off and punt returns have been nothing special this season, but neither have UCLA's.
UCLA's punter, Jeff Locke, however, has been a particular weapon, not only booming punts but being very good in recent weeks at pooching them. He alone gets UCLA the special teams nod.
Here's an astounding stat: Colorado hasn't won a conference road game since 2007.
And what's kind of cool about it is that Coach Embree and his quarterback, Hansen, have both said they were going to Pasadena this week and would snap that road losing streak. They came close to guaranteeing a win. You can probably bet that the coach's son has made it bulletin-board material for his team.
It's difficult to gauge both team's mindsets heading into this game. Last week Colorado had a big win – but it was at home, on Senior Day. The pressure was on for them not to be the only team in Colorado history to not get a win at home in a season. So, the Buffs were hyped up last week, and it's doubtful they'll be able to sustain that emotional high for a second week, on the road.
UCLA, on the other hand, is returning to the friendlier confines of the Rose Bowl, where it played its two best games of the season just a few weeks ago. It still is playing for a Pac-12 South championship, too.
Last week, in its win against Arizona, it was key that the Buffs had three interceptions, which are highly uncharacteristic for the Colorado D. UCLA, after Prince threw two picks last week, will probably get more conservative and throw the ball less than 20 times on the day, and minimize Colorado's chances of getting those game-changing turnovers.
As we've been saying for about the last month, so much of the outcome of each UCLA game rests on whether the opposing defense can stop Kevin Prince from running the ball. Cal and ASU couldn't and, voila, UCLA won. Utah did, and the Bruins lost pretty one-sidedly. Colorado's defense, with all the guys it has flying around, is schemed well to stop Prince, but if they can't keep him in front of their front seven, and Prince gets into the secondary it could be a long day for Colorado's defense.
This Colorado team is being hailed as one of the five worst in Buffalo history, but last week's win over Arizona has the program pumped up. That momentum might be enough to keep the game close, especially since UCLA is going to run the ball 2/3s of the time and keep the score down.
But UCLA has a talent edge, a homefield edge and a motivational edge. And again, UCLA will likely be able to go back to effectively running the ball like it did against Cal and Arizona State.