• UCLA will host Colorado this Saturday at the Rose Bowl. The game will kick off at 4:35 and will be televised on Fox Sports 1. Craig Bolerjack, Joey Harrington, and Ryan Nece will call the action.
• Colorado is 3-4, and 0-4 in the Pac-12.
• UCLA is 5-2 (2-2 in Pac-12), and ranked #17 in the AP, 19th in the USA Today poll, and #20 in the BCS.
• In the all-time series, UCLA leads, 6-2, and has beaten the Buffaloes each of the two times the teams have faced since C•olorado joined the Pac-12. Last year, the Bruins beat Colorado 42-14, in a game in which UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley threw for two touchdowns and ran for a pair as well.
• Colorado is coming off a 44-20 loss to Arizona at home, which was a frustrating one for the Buffaloes. With 5:38 left in the first half, actually, Colorado had a 13-10 lead. The Wildcats scored twice before the end of the half, and then smoked the Buffaloes the rest of the way.
• Colorado is led by first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre, who takes over for fired coach Jon Embree. Prior to Colorado, MacIntyre was the head coach at San Jose State, where he took the Sparts from a 1-12 record in 2010 to an 11-2 record in 2012, complete with a national ranking. MacIntyre has a defensive background, having been the defensive coordinator at Duke prior to taking over as the head coach at San Jose State. MacIntyre's father George won national coach of the year honors in 1982 as the head coach of Vanderbilt.
• Embree left in a bit of a controversial manner, being fired after just two years on the job. In his final press conference, Embree spoke fairly bluntly about the circumstances of his firing and the state of minority coaches being hired at major programs, ultimately saying that two years was too short of a time period to fix what was wrong with the Buffaloes program. Athletic Director Mike Bohn essentially admitted after the press conference that facilities and support were way behind other Pac-12 programs.
• Colorado has lost 20 straight road games against ranked opponents. Coincidentally, the last win for Colorado on the road against a ranked opponent came in 2002 against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
• The Pac-12 hasn't been particularly kind to the Buffaloes thus far. Colorado last won a conference game in the conference opener last year against Washington State, having lost twelve straight since then. Additionally, since entering the conference two years ago, the Buffaloes are 3-19, with wins over Arizona and Utah in 2011.
• MacIntyre has already done some work improving the defense at Colorado, but it's gone, essentially, from very bad to just sort of bad. Through seven games, the Buffaloes have forced 35 three and outs. In all of 2012, Colorado forced just 29.
• Colorado receiver Paul Richardson, who is putting up stats worthy of one of the best wide receivers in the country, was once a UCLA commit. He actually enrolled at UCLA for summer classes prior to his freshman year but was kicked off the team and out of school after he and two other incoming freshmen (Shaquille Richardson and Josh Shirley) were arrested on suspicion of stealing a purse. Each of the three wound up at other Pac-12 schools. Paul Richardson's dad, Paul Sr., played for UCLA.
• The Bruins are hoping to bounce back against unranked Colorado after a 42-14 loss to No. 2 Oregon and a 24-10 loss to No. 5 Stanford. The Bruins are 2-3 after a loss under Jim Mora.
• UCLA still controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 South despite being behind Arizona State in the loss column. With the Sun Devils still on the docket in November, if the Bruins win their final five games, they will earn another trip to the Pac-12 Championship game.
• UCLA, despite losing two straight, is still ranked in the Top 25 thanks to those losses coming against two top ten teams. The Bruins are the fourth-highest of the two-loss teams, with SEC teams Texas A&M (6-2), LSU (7-2), and South Carolina (6-2) all ranked ahead of them.
• Marcedes Lewis will be the honorary captain for UCLA against Colorado. Lewis earned the Mackey Award, given to the nation's best tight end, in 2005 after his senior season. The Bruins went 10-2 that year behind the offensive exploits of Lewis, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, and quarterback Drew Olson.
• UCLA is favored by 27.5.
• The weather calls for a high temperature of 81 degrees in Pasadena on Saturday and a low of 53 degrees, with some patchy cloudiness throughout the day.
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.
|Quarterback Sefo Liufau.|
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. Akins, however, suffered a concussion in last week's game and is listed day-to-day. 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,
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.
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.
UCLA'S OFFENSE v. COLORADO'S DEFENSEUCLA's offense is a bit in purgatory at the moment. It began the season pretty much on fire, racking up big yards against fairly mediocre defenses. It had a running game, which coincided with Jordon James not being hurt; it had a passing game, with quarterback Brett Hundley able to execute efficiently a majority of the time. It had what was shaping up to being one of the best offensive lines in the conference.
Then some things happened. First, and probably most significantly, UCLA faced some better defenses than it had to start the season. It then hiccupped against a solid Utah defense in the second half in Salt Lake City, which sent it a bit off-track against a really bad Cal defense the next week, and then it got completely out of sync and off its game against two good defenses in Stanford and Oregon.
As we've written, a great deal of the struggles are coming from the quarterback position. Hundley was never naturally great in terms of his feel, vision and decision-making, but he's particularly struggled in the last four weeks. We know he's lost some confidence in his offensive line because of the injuries, but that would be relatively unjustified since the makeshift OL has fared pretty well, even against Stanford and Oregon. He's just in a rut, in being able to process the position, making reads and making the optimum decisions. We're asked all the time whether Hundley will get better, and we can't claim to have a crystal ball. If we had to logically guess, we'd have to say that Hundley has some unique talent in his body, athleticism and arm strength, and that we all tend to forget that he's still a fairly young college quarterback. We would have to venture to say that he will get better, but the question is: How much? And the most pressing question: When? It's impossible to project a prospect perfectly, because it's literally impossible to know how each individual will develop. It's especially difficult in projecting quarterback prospects since there are just so many mental factors involved compared to other positions.
While UCLA's running game has clearly gone a bit into the tank in the last several weeks, it's tough to blame Paul Perkins, who took over for Jordon James as the starter. Yeah, he's seemingly hit a couple of the wrong holes, and looked like he ran a bit tentatively against Stanford. But he, for the most part, has run hard and looks to be gaining confidence. Given the issues with the offense, it'd be hard to say that James, who is less of a straight-ahead runner, would have done any better in the last two weeks when Perkins often times was handed the ball and found himself faced with tacklers in his face.
Why is Perkins being handed the ball and faced with an impending tackle for loss so often in the last several weeks? First, it's because, again, they've played against Stanford and Oregon. But it's also that the playcalling has gone a bit conservative in trying to compensate for Hundley's rut. It's made the run game predictable, and that puts Perkins, Malcolm Jones and the running attack at a disadvantage. It doesn't, also, doesn't give the true-freshman-dominated offensive line the best chance to succeed either. In fact, you have to give a huge amount of credit to the OL; true freshman Scott Quessenberry came out of his redshirt to start against perhaps the best team in the country last week and, for the most part, played way beyond his years. And then you have to recognize that the right side of the line, made up of two other freshmen, Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch, held their own, too. Give credit to center Jake Brendel for getting his snap issue under control last week, and for Xavier Su'a-Filo, because of the injuries, having to make a transition to left tackle, which isn't his natural position.
The point has been made a few times (we actually made it, too) that UCLA's receivers have contributed to UCLA's offensive problems by, simply, not being able to get open enough. It's clear UCLA doesn't have that one big-time, go-to receiver. Having Joseph Fauria last year was definitely Hundley's security blanket. But in watching the last four games closely we've come to the conclusion that UCLA's receivers are doing their jobs sufficiently for the UCLA passing game to succeed. They're running good routes and getting enough separation. True freshman Y Thomas Duarte, in particular, has shown a knack for getting open. While defenses are trying to take away Shaquelle Evans, Devin Fuller has stepped up. But the plays are there, the receivers are generally open; it's just a matter of getting them the ball.
The Colorado defense, as we said, is what the doctor ordered for the UCLA offense. It has a smattering of talent, but just not enough to be able to hold back the high-powered offenses of the Pac-12. In the Pac-12, it's allowed an average of 624 yards and 50 points per game. Astounding numbers.
More astounding numbers: In its last three Pac-12 games it's allowed an average of 343 yards rushing. It just hasn't had the horses up front to match up against Pac-12 caliber running games.
Here's the good news/bad news, at least if you're a Colorado fan: The Buff front seven are mostly a veteran group that have been mostly healthy for the entire season. In other words, they can't use the inexperience excuse, or the decimated-by-injury excuse. They can use the we're-just-not-very-talented-because-it's-the-coaches-first-year excuse.
Probably the biggest issue is not being able to match up at the point of attack, with Colorado's DL in the 4-3 just not Pac-12 caliber. The best is senior defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe (6-3, 245), who is a physical specimen that leads the team in tackles for loss (8) and sacks (2).
|Defensive End Chidera Uzo-Diribe.|
A definite bright spot for the defense has been the play of true freshman Mike linebacker Addison Gillam (6-3, 225). Of course, he's a freshman playing middle linebacker so he's swimming, but he's shown some real talent and athleticism. He leads the team in tackles (74), and he's on his way to setting a Colorado freshman record for most tackles in a season. He ranges well, and has a good knack for penetration. What's significant is that, even against all the Pac-12 spread offenses, Colorado has kept Gillam in the game, which says a great deal about how good he is, or how Colorado just doesn't have a great amount of talent. Senior Derrick Webb (6-0, 225) is at the Will, and he's an undersized over-achiever, and junior Woodson Greer (6-3, 220), a decently-talented player, is at the Sam.
The back four have been under siege themselves. In the Pac-12, they're giving up an average of 336 passing yards per game. It's tough when your front seven aren't putting much pressure on Pac-12 quarterbacks, so they're getting picked apart. There are a couple of veteran safeties who have had knee issues in the past but are holding up so far this season, junior Jered Bell (6-1, 195) and senior Parker Orms (5-11, 190). Both are solid and have made some big plays this season (mostly against their weak, non-conference opponents). Junior corner Greg Henderson (5-11, 190) has been opportunistic, with four interceptions on the year, but he and his counterpart, sophomore Kenneth Crawley (6-1, 165), have been overrun in the conference. Crawley is a bit scrawny and opposing offenses match up their beefier receivers against him. True freshman Chidobe Awuzie (6-0, 190) has shown flashes and he's the #1 nickel back. Sophomore Marques Mosely (6-0, 175), who has some talent, started at safety last season but has been supplanted by the older guys, and is also getting time at nickel.
Most fans who are casually watching the game will think how much better the UCLA offense looks this week. But we all have to raise the bar of expectation. Hundley could very well have a Cal-like performance, where he puts up impressive numbers but, overall, doesn't perform well. Against this Colorado defense, where he should get plenty of time to make decisions, Hundley should pretty much be flawless. With opposing QBs getting a great deal of time, the Colorado secondary has been prone to breaking down and susceptible to some big plays, so this should be a week when Hundley gets at least a bit back on track in being able to read the defense and see receivers downfield. We suspect we'll probably see more of the conservative playcalling, at least initially, Saturday, with probably too much read option and too many swing passes. But if it can help to get Hundley in a confident rhythm, Colorado is the team you can get away with being predictable against.
We'd expect Colorado to probably use the Cal defensive tactic, that is, to stack the box, try to stop down UCLA's running game and make a struggling Hundley beat you. So, at least initially, alarms shouldn't go off if Perkins and Co. can't find running room. It will be up to Hundley to then execute the passing offense to force Colorado to get out of the stacked box and open up the running game.
There isn't anything particularly noteworthy about Colorado's special teams. Junior field goal kicker Will Oliver (5-11, 190) hit a 53-yarder last week, and has been good from long range, going 5 of 7 from 40 to 50+. Freshman kick-off returner Ryan Severson (5-10, 200) has been a bright spot. He hasn't necessarily broke one but he has been good at setting up the offense for decent field position. The word is that Marques Mosely is a potential kick-off return breaker but he hasn't really gotten an opportunity yet. Colorado goes for the sure-handed option in punt returns in Nelson Spruce. Junior punter Darragh O'Neill (6-2, 190) is solid, averaging 41.2 yards per punt.
Colorado tried a fake punt last week that failed, in which O'Neill tried to run for the first down. McIntyre got a little flak for the attempt, but also some praise for the call. UCLA, as we all remember, got burned on an Oregon fake punt last week.
As UCLA punt returner Shaquelle Evans has gotten into Pac-12 play he's had considerably less running room. Kick-off returner Steven Manfro isn't a homerun threat but has consistently been very good at getting to the second level on kick-offs. Punter Sean Covington was perhaps the team MVP two weeks ago against Stanford.
Here are the positives for Colorado:
-- They've been pretty healthy so far this season.
-- Paul Richardson is an elite wide receiver.
-- True freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau showed something last week and has some potential.
-- Brett Hundley is struggling.
The first four factors listed here probably won't be enough to give Colorado even a chance. The fifth factor, the Hundley factor, could possibly keep Colorado within three touchdowns. While Colorado showed signs of life a little last week at home against Arizona, when they were still in the game in the fourth quarter, they just don't have the horses to match up against UCLA, even if Hundley struggles. Man for man, Colorado is out-manned – under-sized and under-talented. Even if UCLA's offense isn't hitting on all cylinders, UCLA's defense will probably be responsible for a couple of scores itself.
After struggling on the road against Stanford and Oregon, the Bruins will be far more in the comfort zone at home in the Rose Bowl against a non-conference level opponent. But we are skeptical that Colorado is even enough to be Hundley's panacea. He might make some positive steps, but we think it's a longer process than just one game. This game will probably look something similar to the Cal game, but Colorado isn't even near as good as Cal, who is bad.