Colorado Game: Expectations

Heading into the first game of the Karl Dorrell era, most UCLA fans aren't wildly optimistic or pessimistic. Here are a list of reasonable expectations a UCLA fan might have for the Colorado game, and a wish-list of expectations...

There aren't many BROzos who are either wildly optimistic or morbidly pessimistic, with a few notable exceptions, about the 2003 UCLA Bruins, led by first-year head coach Karl Dorrell and his hand-picked staff. Most of us are of two, or even three, minds. (Until we watch a USC game.) There are things we like about our Bruins, yet there are still some nagging questions heading into the first game of the season against the Colorado Buffaloes, who are coming off a 42-35 win over the Colorado State Rams in a game that among college football head coaches only Bob "I-love-shoot-outs-because-I hate-D" Toledo would love.

Here's an attempt to put into words the things we expect to see, and the things we'd love to see…but realistically cannot count on just yet.

I expect to see:

- The Bruins play hard for four quarters. With their improved physical conditioning, their depth, their national reputation to upgrade, and the premium Dorrell places on toughness and competitiveness (not to mention Eric Bieniemy's presence on the sideline), there's no reason the Bruins won't stand toe-to-toe with Colorado for 60 minutes, even if the Buffs have a commanding time-of-possession advantage.

- Karl Dorrell call a pretty conservative game on O. Of course, even the most conservative play-calling can produce exciting football if huge holes are opened, accurate passes are thrown and caught, and receivers break/avoid tackles after the catch. But short passes and runs between the tackles are the staple of this offense; no toss sweeps, no reverses, very few trap plays, and very little misdirection in the running game. On 4th and 1 from the 50 up by 14, I don't expect KD to go for it. But I would like to see a play-action pass on 3rd and 1! Or on 1st and goal from the 3!

- Marcedes Lewis to catch five or more passes. The TE is the #1 option in Dorrell's passing offense, and Matt Moore has established a special rapport with Lewis (even though Blane Kezirian is formally the #1 TE on the depth chart). Watching Lewis catch a pass in the flat and turn up-field on a cornerback may be one of the most anticipated moments of the college football season for me.

- Matt Moore check down to his outlet receiver at least three or four times. The little dump-off pass is essentially a long hand-off that gets the RB beyond the grasp of the DL, puts the LB in a position to look bad by missing an open-field tackle, and eventually shortens up the drops the LBs take into passing zones, opening up posts and deep middles in the second half.

- The UCLA CBs in a mismatch with the CU WRs any time CU wants, because UCLA keeps Matt Ware at RCB regardless of formation and Matt Clark at LCB. Nothing is stopping CU from sending Derek McCoy or DJ Hackett right and Jeremy Bloom left all game long, and you'd have to conclude that Clark will be most challenged by big, strong and fast WRs and Ware by small, ultra-quick smurfs. Ware will need to be very physical with Bloom at choice times to offset his hyper-agility. It's hard to juke when you're on your ass. Watching when and where he chooses to beat Bloom to a pulp will be one of the better "games within the game." I think Clark may actually have the easier assignment, because his quickness may allow him to beat McCoy or Hackett to the spot on inside routes, and Clark is a strong, physical CB. But if McCoy/Hackett are allowed to get to full speed before making a cut, they may have Clark at their mercy. Their longer strides will almost ensure Clark will have no way to recover and defend against a pass head-high or above. If Clark draws a PI early for aggressively playing the big guys, it may get into his head and make for a long day at the office.

- The Bruins run the ball more than they attempt to throw it. Although at one point in the fall scrimmage Dorrell called 10 straight passing plays, so he's not averse to putting it up. UCLA will be happy to run the ball about 40 times whether they gain four yards per carry or not.

- The Bruins down a punt inside the 10 after the practice time they have devoted to covering pooch punts.

I'd love to see:

- The Bruins suffer no sacks against CU. But the talented DE Marques Harris has that great blend of strength and speed to offset his 6-2, 235 lb stature. He's a linebacker in the pros, but at the college level, he's a guy who's likely to get at least one sack a game. Especially if UCLA tries a bootleg pass to his side and he doesn't fall for the fake. Or if UCLA is forced into obvious passing situations. The good news is that the CU pass rush didn't look very ferocious against CSU, and Marques Harris often resorted to the spin move when attempting to get around the OT blocking him, which rarely came close to working. The key is getting the Buffs' D tired…

- Chris Kluwe boom long, beautiful, spiraling punts during pre-game. But not during the game, because the dangerous Jeremy Bloom will be returning punts for CU. Just kick the ball out of bounds. If the Bruins give Bloom a chance to put up six on them on a punt return, they deserve what they get. Navigating through 11 players with his 4.3 speed is child's play for a guy who skis a zipper line through dozens of moguls going 35 mph…throwing huge tricks for grins. Bloom was easily the fastest player on the field v. CSU and looks ready to bust out every time he touched the ball.

- The Bruin DL collapse the pocket and sack the QB on every pass attempt. But t no team meets that standard; at best, they pressure 25% of the throws. Consider this: last year in 14 games, the Oklahoma Sooners registered 36 sacks for -236 yards. Non-DL accounted for 12 of those. UCLA, in one less game, registered 41 sacks for -276 yards. Likewise, LBs and DBs accounted for 12 of those sacks. I think it is fair to say that the Bruin DL has the talent to pressure the QB commensurate with other Ds that are generally considered elite. The DBs and LBs have to make some plays in the passing game on their own once in a while. Hopefully, the times the DL hits the QB will register in the young man's mind, and DC Larry Kerr will call a great game.

- The Bruin DL get their arms up in the air and attempt to deflect passes when they sense the QB is about to pass and they are short of sacking the QB. Batting down a pass plays with a QB's head almost as much as planting him in the ground, but it does more to alter a QB's release point and trajectory, things no HC wants to see his QB tinker with mid-game. But UCLA DL aren't encouraged to use this approach.

- Barney fall in love with his new toy (the "forward pass") and forget about his commitment to running the ball. But Barney is too smart for that. He knows that balance on O wins FB games when your wonderboy QB is playing only his second game and your D is coming off an absolutely nightmarish performance. So expect Bobby Purify and Brian Calhoun to tote the pig a lot, although it may not be until the second half.

- The UCLA back seven shut down the middle of the field. Especially since UCLA, with great talent and pretty good depth in its back seven, has fared pretty well the last two years against all pass/no run/shaky D teams like U-Dub, ASU, and Arizona. But given how good DJ Hackett (big and fast), Derek McCoy (big and fast) and Jeremy Bloom (very fast) looked running posts and flys, and Klatt looked delivering the ball, we should consider whether this trend can hold. With UCLA's talent, every time the ball leaves the CU QB's hand headed for the middle, a pick is possible. The question is, will the UCLA DBs burn CU more than they get burnt? Don't be surprised if Jarrad Page or Ben Emanuel return a pick for six…

- The coaching staff produce good (if not great) game plans. They've been thinking about this game for eight months. They have a great amount of knowledge about the CU program, staff and personnel. If they can't out-scheme this team, then who? But this is Game One of Dorrell's tenure, and this staff has never seen this group of players respond to a game situation before. Some guys play better in games than they do in practice, and some play worse. Given that only 25% of Dorrell's full offensive scheme is available to UCLA, he has to feel somewhat constrained in the options he has when it comes to play-calling. And the CU O that emerged v. CSU is certainly not what was expected prior to the season…

- The Bruins be penalty- and error-free. But a time-out will probably get burned due to miscommunication, or a delay of game penalty will get assessed. I can't imagine that Dorrell's first game will be more chaotically managed than BT's 70th, however…

- Karl Dorrell and crew produce good in-game adjustments. When the fog of battle descends, expected results have a way of not materializing, which is why adaptive coaches are so revered. But Karl Dorrell has no history as a HC making half-time or mid-stream adjustments. However, the sense we get of Dorrell's personality is that he is a disciplined, persistent man of strong convictions, a profile that may indicate that he is from the "if it ain't working, stick with it, it eventually will…" school.

- Justin Medlock nail every kick. His scrimmage performance (along with snapper Riley Jondle and holders Chris Kluwe/Garrett Lepisto) was heartening. But I can't shake the uncertain feelings about the kicking game until a game or two of data is available. Hopefully his first kick will be a PAT.

- The Bruins drop zero passes. They made tremendous strides in spring because of Jon Embree's renewed emphasis on catching fundamentals, although they backslid during the early part of fall camp. But first game jitters and a WR rotation of five or six will result in some situations where the best options aren't on the field at the critical times.

- Matt Moore throw the ball away rather than take sacks. But playas wanna play. And playas typically don't equate getting outside the tackles and nailing a cheerleader in the back of the head with a lob a "big play." (Now, back of the throat with a wad, that's a different matter…but that's just gross.) Those of us who remember Carson running for his life in the early stages of the 27 zip debacle and yet frustrating the hard-working UCLA DL by denying them the satisfaction of the momentum-swinging big sack with a flip-out-of-bounds-while-being-dragged-down know what a big play it can be in the context of the overall game.

- The Bruins dominate the game with their running attack. Complete a short pass for 5 on 1st down, then run the ball the next play and pick up the first down, wearing down CU in the process and taking away their heart. In the end, UCLA racks up 250+ on the ground in a rout. But 1) CU's front seven is too talented (Sean Tufts, Marques Harris, et al.) to get punked by a team playing its first game while they're playing their second, no matter how embarrassing they looked vs. CSU, and 2) UCLA won't lead off the TB rotation with its ace: Manuel White. Against aggressive, physical defenses, it helps an O's confidence when there is a guy back there who can make the trash-talking, smack-running D pay a huge physical price with every tackle, especially on Play One when messages are sent. Football is a man's game, and it always helps to have the baddest man on the field on your side. UCLA has him in Manuel White. But will they use him?

- The Bruins beat down the Buffs 35-14, run 70+ plays, gain over 400 total yards, hold the Buffs to 300 total yards or less, and avenge last year's debacle. Just like I wanted to see UCLA do ‘bama in tuska-loser. But football games have a funny way of not working out the way you want them to. Funny calls by refs, not so funny execution at crunch time, and downright farcical bounces of the ball. It may not be pretty, but I still expect to see UCLA prevail 20-17.


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