Preview: Colorado's O v. UCLA's D

After two weeks of facing elite offenses, UCLA's defense downshifts to the Buffaloes. The speedy and athletic Bruin defense should overwhelm the true frosh quarterback...

COLORADO'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

Good news and bad news for Colorado football: The CU offense is ranked 88th in the country.

That's not good, but it's better than the 116th it was ranked during the 2012 season.

New head coach Mike MacIntyre brought his offensive coordinator from San Jose State, Brian Lindgren, with him, and it's clearly made a difference. Lindgren's offense at SJSU gained almost 6,000 yards a season ago, and it shows signs of being a good scheme at Colorado, just lacking enough good personnel. It emphasized the Pistol at SJSU, but so far in Boulder it's been a multi-look attack, at times going over center in a pro-style but then also using spread concepts.

Lindgren is trying to find a spark at the quarterback position, so he benched junior Connor Wood (6-4, 225), who had started Colorado's first five games, and went with true freshman Sefo Liufau (6-4, 210) last week against Arizona. It was Liufau's first college start, and he acquitted himself rather well, going 17 of 32 for 212 yards and one interception. For a first step on the field, as a true freshman, it was a solid performance. Liufau showed considerable poise and presence, and made some pretty impressive throws. He doesn't have that kind of rocket-arm, but he was effective throwing short and on the run. Arizona didn't put a great deal of pressure on Liufau, which often gave him time to compose himself.

It helps a freshman quarterback when he has a pretty solid offensive line made up of four returning starters. They're led by senior center Gus Handler (6-3, 290) and junior right guard Daniel Munyer (6-2, 290), who both have over 20 starts each in their college career. Senior left tackle Jack Harris (6-7, 295) and sophomore right tackle Stephane Nembot (6-7, 305) have performed solidly (Nembot you might remember as a UCLA recruit). The Colorado OL was a bit of a question going into the season, since it lost David Bakhtiari to the NFL and then Alex Lewis was charged with assault and transferred to Nebraska. The primary question was depth, but Colorado has had very good luck with injuries to its OL, starting the five same guys in seven games.

Receiver Paul Richardson.

Most experts feel if you can stop junior receiver Paul Richardson (6-1, 170) you'd have a good chance of shutting down Colorado's offense. Most UCLA fans know the story of Richardson, the one-time UCLA commitment who got into a little theft problem in the summer before his freshman year at UCLA and then opted for Colorado. It was a very critical development, for both UCLA and Colorado. The Bruins have lacked a big-play receiver ever since, and Richardson certainly has been one for the Buffs. He had a huge freshman year, then sat all of last season due to the knee injury, and has been one of the best receivers in the conference so far in 2013. He is third in the country in receiving yards per game (130.6) and, even with defenses geared to try to take him away, Richardson has still made an impact in almost every game this season. Last week against Arizona he had 7 receptions for 132 yards, which included a 75-yard touchdown. He's the guy they look to on almost every throwing down, with Richardson having 50 catches and the next best, sophomore Nelson Spruce (6-1, 205), their possession guy, having 26. Junior Tyler McCullough (6-5, 210) is their Y-ish threat, and junior D.D. Goodman (5-6, 170), a converted running back and defensive back, squirts through little seams a couple of times a game for a reception.

The running back spot has also been taken over a bit by a new true freshman, Michael Adkins (5-10, 200). Sophomore Christian Powell (6-0, 230) had started the previous five games before last week but Adkins started against Arizona and had the bulk of the carries, running 16 times for 54 yards. Two weeks previous he set a freshman single-game rushing record of 137 yards and four touchdowns but grain of salt: It was against Charleston Southern. Adkins definitely brings more explosiveness to the field compared to the battering ram of Powell, but the two make for a decent combination. It needs to be said, too, that Liufau can run himself.

UCLA's defense had a very good performance against Oregon last week. In fact, it's played well for most of the season and is continuing to improve. It's just not the players getting better, but every week it appears that the defensive coaches have conceived of a new tactic or personnel tweak that is effective – and perfectly matched to the opponent.

Last week, UCLA's defensive line played well against the Ducks, and it's particularly impressive given that a great deal of the reps were taken up by two true freshmen, Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenneth Clark,

Eddie Vanderdoes.
and a true sophomore, Ellis McCarthy. Vanderdoes, the week before against Stanford, had the most tackles in a game (11) by a UCLA defensive lineman since Bruce Walker in 1992.

UCLA's linebackers last week – and all season – have been the strength of the team, and are probably among the better linebacking units in the country. Last week against Oregon it was impossible to determine which linebacker had the better game. Jordan Zumwalt has been surging, and he especially flourished playing some outside linebacker last week, getting a team-leading 14 tackles against the Ducks. Kendricks had 9 tackles in the first half, before he was injured. Anthony Barr had two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery, and that doesn't come close to describing how good he was. He lined up mostly as a defensive end, which isn't good news for the Colorado left tackle, Jack Harris. Then there's Myles Jack, whose speed matched that of the Oregon skill guys.

The UCLA secondary, too, started off the season being surprisingly good (surprising since they were so inexperienced), and have continued to rise to the challenge. It's been some of the best DB play UCLA had had in almost a decade. Safety Randall Goforth has been getting the most notice so far this season but his partner Anthony Jefferson continues to get comfortable and put himself in a position to make plays, recording 13 tackles last week against the Ducks.

Advantage: UCLA.

There isn't any angle in looking at this match-up where you can see Colorado having an advantage. You could assert that Richardson is one of the best receivers UCLA has seen so far this year, and that's true, but UCLA has shut down comparable players, like Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper and Ty Montgomery. So far this season there hasn't been a receiver who you would say has had a "big day" against the Bruins. Richardson, too, might be easier to shut down because Colorado just doesn't have any other really dangerous weapons to keep defenses from heavily shading Richardson.

UCLA's defensive approach so far this season hasn't been to pressure the quarterback much, but to try to contain him, and it's been successful. It goes against generally the type of defensive tactic we prefer, which is to be creative in your blitzing to try to put pressure on the quarterback at all times. It's mostly been employed since UCLA has, for the most part, gone up against some very mobile quarterbacks that could beat you with their feet. While Liufau is a pretty athletic guy, being just a true freshman we can't see that he'd be too savvy or ultimately effective running the ball. And putting pressure on the youngster, trying to force him into bad throws and mistakes, could get UCLA some easy points. If you're UCLA you'd have to have a good amount of confidence in your back seven against the pass, especially going up against a generally poor offense in Colorado with a true freshman quarterback. So, we could see UCLA going to a little more blitzing Saturday against the Buffs.

Colorado actually ran the ball decently last week against Arizona, gaining 137 yards. It will, again, try to establish at least some kind of running game, to take the pressure off Liufau. But UCLA, no doubt, will try to put as much pressure on Liufau as possible. Thinking about Barr honing in on Liufau is a pretty scary thought. And if it's scary for us you can probably think it's fairly scary for Liufau.

The primary factor in this unit match-up is going to be the team speed -- that is, UCLA's exceptional team speed and Colorado's overall lack of it.

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