Spring Assessment: Colorado

With the football season less than three months away, we'll look at how UCLA's out of conference opponents stack up coming out of spring practice and heading into the fall. First up: Colorado...

With about 90s days to go before the Bruins kick it off against Colorado in Boulder in front of hordes of traveling BRO-natics, it's not too early to get a sense about the state of the teams UCLA will be facing in Karl Dorrell's "first quarter" of the season. Once again, we'll use an amazing little thing called the Internet (specifically, TheInsiders network) to discover what dirt can be found out about the four out-of-conference opponents and how they stack up against UCLA at this early date.

First stop is the Buffs. The overwhelming sentiment about the upcoming season for Colorado is one of fear and loathing. There are major question marks at QB, OL and the kicking game. After the spring game (where the D "won" 32-26 using a points-for-play system), the following disclaimer was made: "BuffsInsider does not recommend any Buff fan looking at the 2003 schedule until some of these issues [personnel] have been settled." How's that for a ringing endorsement?

Check out the brief recap of the spring game [link=http://colorado.theinsiders.com/2/106077.htmlhere[/link]. A better one is [link=http://cubuffs.ocsn.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/041903aaa.htmlhere[/link].

In general, the D dominated the O in almost every practice during spring, which is not a pattern coaches like; they prefer to see the two sides alternate good days/bad days over the course of spring ball.

The race for QB is between Joel Klatt (SO), Eric Greenberg (SO) and James Cox (RS FR). As BuffsInsider is quick to note, "At this point last season, Klatt was playing minor-league baseball and Cox was still in high school. Thanks a lot Craig Ochs."

No bitterness there, I see...

Even offensive coordinator Shawn Watson gets into the back-handed compliment swing-of-things with the classic: "When I look at where these guys [the QBs] were last season, I can't complain." Ouch. Make that a tag line entry...

Klatt, however, was 11 of 18 passes for 127 yards and a TD in the spring game. Meanwhile, Cox only went 4-11 for 30 yards and one TD, was sacked three times and injured his elbow on one sack, but not seriously. Hey, it could have been worse; In an earlier scrimmage, Cox was sacked seven times with the first-team offense.

Eric Greenberg, returning from a Mormon mission, also had a TD pass, connecting on 12 of 23 for 117 yards. Most of his damage was leading the 2nd team O vs. the 2nd team D. He was also sacked 3 times, for 21 yards.

Overall, the D registered 8 sacks (54 yards) and 8 hurries during the 103 play scrimmage. The Buffs only return 3 players with 6 or more starts from last season, only one on the OL. On the other hand, the Buffs return 8 "starters" on D.

The Buffs were nicked up for this spring-end capper: a dozen players were out with injury and 5 were suspended. No one was seriously hurt during the final scrimmage.

The suspended players were redshirt freshman receiver Blake Mackey and sophomore fullback Jeff Tolbert (theft and conspiracy allegations), redshirt freshman defensive back Gerett Burl and defensive back J.J. Billingsley (academic suspension) and linebacker Thaddaeus Washington (charges of criminal trespassing).

Coach Gary Barnett's ball-control O doesn't require a very sophisticated QB. Although he promised to name a starter at the end of spring practice, provided one proved superior, no one sufficiently outshone the others; most observers give Klatt the lead based on overall play throughout the spring because of his ability to improvise. All three are around 6-1 and 200 lbs.

Things are better at RB where Bobby Purify and Brian Calhoun will bring some demonstrated productivity. Both are strong, built-low-to-the-ground RBs who are a threat to get a first down on every carry, or a lot more if one tackle is missed. Calhoun did strain a hip flexor on a 46-yard run and did not return. He finished with 55 yards on 8 carries; that breaks down to 9 yards on 7 carries if the big pop is removed.

So, clearly, in order to do their thing, they'll need linemen. Two projected starters missed considerable time this spring with injury, and another sprained a knee during the spring game. Barnett's assessment is, "Obviously, our offensive line's gotta have a great fall camp." Because things just didn't gel during spring ball...overall, OL is the single biggest threat to CU's hoped for success next year.

The Buffs don't have Pac-10 caliber WRs, but one TE to keep an ear open about is Joe Klopfenstein, 6-5, 240, good speed, great hands. He's an especially favorite target of Greenberg. He could be murder on bootleg action...

The status of one of the nation's top punt return men and most dangerous CU WRs is also uncertain. Jeremy Bloom might pursue a full-time career as a professional skier instead of playing football.

The kicking game last year was a debacle: CU only made 11 of 26 FG attempts. Yikes. I sense the typical Buff fan hairdo last year was a mullet with two round bald spots just above the ears. Kinda an inverse Bozo the Clown look...

While the Buffs are looking for a "replacement" PK, they didn't exactly find one yet. Three guys are competing, and no one has locked down the job. It could be bullpen by committee time come September.

On D, the faithful are starting to grow disenchanted with CU's 4-2-5 alignment. Too many yards are given up, because not enough gambling is called for by the DC, Vince Okruch. VO has been with Barney a long time, and some are questioning his contributions in the area of recruiting and game planning/scheming. While the talent is there, the passive "no blitz/big cushion/zone only" D is ripe for a fundamentally sound O to pick apart.

The Buffs have a large but relatively unheralded recruiting class coming in. The biggest name is probably Dominique Brooks, S from TX, 6-2, 200, 4.4 40. There doesn't appear to be many if any high-impact players that could alter the equation.

All things considered, UCLA looks well positioned to win this game. The O KD is installing should exploit the weaknesses of the CU D, unlike last year's O with its heavy emphasis on the vertical game and running out the clock when behind by two scores. One would hope that Larry Kerr (with the input of ex-Colorado coaches Embree and Bieniemy) will produce a game plan better able to stop CU's patented "blast left/boot right" O that was run so devastating last year in the 100+ degree heat of the Rose Bowl.

Next up: the Fighting Illini...


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