-- Easily the most noteworthy of factors - It's the debut game for new UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell. He is the 15th head coach in UCLA history.
-- Dorrell, running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, receivers coach Jon Embree and strength and conditioning coach Doc Kreis all have long and deep histories at Colorado. Bieniemy is the all-time leading rusher for the Buffaloes, his jersey encased in glass at the Colorado athletic center.
-- Colorado beat UCLA last season, 31-17, at the Rose Bowl. In that game, Colorado ran for 325 yards.
-- UCLA has not played in Boulder since the 1984 season, when it beat the Buffaloes 33-16. UCLA leads the series, 4-1, overall.
-- Colorado, unranked a week ago, beat Colorado State last Saturday, 42-35. The win moved the Buffaloes up to #24 in the AP poll and #22 in the USA Today/ESPN poll. The Bruins are unranked.
-- UCLA has won 10 of its last 11 non-conference games, dating back to 1999. They haven't lost a non-conference road game since that year. UCLA has also won five straight season openers.
-- The altitude at Colorado's Folsom Field is always a factor. It takes 7-10 days for a person to acclimate to the higher altitute, obviously too much time for visiting teams to be acclimated.
-- The game will be televised on ABC at 12:30 PST, to approximately 53% of the nation.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. COLORADO'S DEFENSE
It's pretty much a mystery offense against a defense that gave up 585 yards against Colorado State last week.
A mind-blowing statistic is the fact that Colorado's defense gave up an average of 7.6 yards per play against Colorado State, and 6.3 yards per rushing attempt.
Now, while Colorado State has a good offense, you would still have to believe that UCLA's offense, despite how it approaches the game scheme-wise, has at least as much talent as Colorado State. So, it could be another long day for the Colorado defense.
|Colorado safety Medford Moorer (Getty Images).|
Predicting how UCLA's new offense will look is probably the biggest mystery of the game - and the season. But Karl Dorrell since last spring practice has pretty much shown us that his offense is predicated on what many call the "West Coast Offense," which relies on a short, ball-control passing game. He's also shown that he likes to run, straight-ahead between the tackles, with very little frills such as misdirections and such.
While it's difficult to predict how an offense that no one has ever seen before will do in its first game, what Dorrell has shown us about his offense would tend to match up well against the defense Colorado displayed last Saturday. But then again, just about any offense would. Colorado couldn't stop Colorado State from running the ball, and Colorado State's running game wasn't particularly dominating. You'd have to think that UCLA, with its running game emphasis and talented running backs, would be able to move the ball pretty well against the Buffaloes on the ground. Tyler Ebell and Manuel White, the starting tailback and fullback respectively, have to be drooling over the 246 yards that Colorado State collected on the ground. It's curious, too, since many thought that the strength of Colorado's defense would be up front. Colorado starts two veteran seniors at defensive end in Gabe Nyenhuis and Marques Harris, two guys who combined for 25 tackles for loss last year. Both, though, against Colorado State, had mediocre games, spending most of their time chasing Ram quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt around the field. So, the battle to watch on the line will be Nyenhuis and Harris against UCLA's two new starting tackles, Steven Vieira and Ed Blanton. Harris did record a sack last week, and is one of those smallish (6-2, 230) types of defensive ends that relies on quickness. Colorado's defensive front also might be experiencing the loss of defensive tackle Sam Wilder, who was converted to offensive tackle this fall.
The big question about UCLA's offense really isn't if the scheme will work, but if the offensive line will allow the scheme to work. There is enough talent at UCLA's skill positions to make any offensive scheme succeed, it's just a matter if UCLA's offensive line provides the holes in the running game and the time in the passing game to allow it to happen. While many fans will be watching the more glamorous positions on the field - especially the UCLA quarterback position - probably the best barometer in the Colorado game as to how this season will go is the offensive line's performance. The offensive line had just an okay fall camp, showing vulnerability in its pass protection primarily. To its credit, it was practicing every day against a very good UCLA defensive line, but it was the question that lingered during fall practice: Can UCLA's offensive line give young, sophomore quarterback Matt Moore the time to execute?
|UCLA wide receiver Craig Bragg (Getty Images).|
If it does, UCLA, as stated above, has the talent at its skill positions to slice up the Buffaloes. UCLA will want to get the ball into the hands of four players primarily - wide receiver Craig Bragg, running back Ebell, fullback/tailback White and tight end Marcedes Lewis. The plan will be to get the ball into their hands and let them make plays. Bragg is one of the best playmakers in the west and probably the country. Also, Colorado will have to watch out for UCLA's secret new weapon, freshman tailback Maurice Drew.
If the offensive line can give Moore some time, he could do similar things to what the similarly-athletic Van Pelt did for Colorado State last week. Of course, Van Pelt is an experienced senior and Moore an inexperienced true sophomore, but he does bring similar talents to the table, and a similar swagger, but with a stronger throwing arm. Van Pelt went 18 for 38 for 339 yards, three touchdowns and ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns. Colorado's defensive backs were on their heels for most of the game. In their 4-2-5 system, the employ three safeties and two corners - basically replacing an outside linebacker with a safety, which you would think would be geared toward stopping the pass. The Buffs best DB is Medford Moorer, the senior safety, and he is the defense's leader. A freshman All-American a season ago coming off the bench, the weakside safety J.J. Billingsley also has a rep as a big hitter.
Colorado also has a potentjial standout inside linebacker in senior Sean Tufts, who the Colorado coaches were touting since last spring as the next big Colorado inside linebacker.
How Moore performs as UCLA's quarterback, of course, will determine a great deal of how successful UCLA's offense is Saturday. Watch for UCLA's play calls to give him every opportunity to succeed - quick drops, roll outs, moving the pocket, etc., to get him in a rhythm and feeling comfortable. If he can get the ball into the hands of Bragg and Co. early that will help him shake off the nerves.
Advantage: UCLA. It's tough to give an advantage to an offense that has never been on the field before and one sporting a sophomore quarterbck, but UCLA has too much talent at its skill positions and its offense is geared toward getting the ball in their hands. Which way this match up goes, again, depends on the effectiveness of UCLA's offensive line. But Colorado looked too sieve-like last week against Colorado State. Colorado would have to have a performance that was a complete departure from last week's to stop UCLA's offense for the game. UCLA's O, in its first unveiling, doesn't look to put a huge amount of points on the board, but enough that it will win the battle with Colorado's defense.
COLORADO'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
The performance that Colorado's offense put on against Colorado State last Saturday was the surprise of the first week of the season. Colorado had lost some key personnel to its offense from last year, was starting a former walk-on quarterback and wasn't expected to be much offensively this season. Then it comes out with that quarterback, Joel Klatt, throwing for 402 yards and four touchdowns, and putting up 42 points.
Hard to figure. Is it a matter of Colorado's offense being quite a bit better than many anticipated, or Colorado State's defense being particularly porous - or both?
It's not hard to say that Colorado's offense showed in its first game last week that it will be better than most anticipated, mostly because of Klatt. A former minor league baseball player who is a 21-year-old sophomore, Klatt looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate last Saturday. It's a big boost to Colorado's efforts for the season when they go from a question mark at quarterback (unsure as to whom would even win the starting job between Klatt and redshirt freshman James Cox), to seemingly discovering a star at quarterback.
That might be getting ahead of the game a little, calling Klatt a star. But last week, he fit the part. He not only showed a strong arm, but great athleticism and mobility. He threw on the run, even threw far down field on the run. He had confidence, and an air about him that he was in command. His foot speed and ability to make plays against Colorado State were really the difference in the game.
|Wide receiver Derek McCoy (Getty Images).|
It didn't hurt that Colorado's receivers were far superior to Colorado State's defensive backs. Senior wideouts D.J. Hackett and Derek McCoy had career days. Hackett caught 10 balls for 103 yards while McCoy had 4 receptions for 192 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown pass and an 83-yard scoring reception. Both present matchup problems since they're both big receivers, at 6-3 and about 200 pounds. While UCLA's linebackerish cornerback Matt Ware (6-3, 228) probably won't have a problem matching up physically, his cousin at the other cornerback spot, new starter Matt Clark could, being only 5-9. Ware, Clark, and the rest of UCLA's secondary, which includes standout safeties Ben Emanuel and Jarrad Page, look to be more of a challenge this week for Colorado's receivers.
Probably a big contributing factor to Klatt's success was the time he was afforded to find McCoy and Hackett. Klatt wasn't pressured much, which looks to change this week when he faces UCLA's front seven, which could be one of the best in the west. UCLA's defensive end Dave Ball had 11 ½ sacks on the season last year, and he's joined on the DL by star defensive tackle Rodney Leisle. UCLA will also use super-quick defensive end/tackle Asi Faoa in pass rush situations at both positions to get at Klatt and try to rattle him.
|Matt Ball with a sack (Getty Images).|
In the new scheme of new defensive coordinator Larry Kerr you can also expect to see pressure from the linebackers out of its zone blitz. Expect to see standout sophomore Spencer Havner rushing the passer as well as senior Brandon Chillar. UCLA will also send its fifth back quite often when it's in its nickel package, which looks to be Nnamdi Ohaeri. Regardless of where the pressure is coming from, UCLA's defense will have to be aggressive in pressuring Klatt and trying to shake his confidence. Also, having to throw into a secondary that has three big, long athletes like Ware, Emanuel and Page might provide the front seven more opportunities to chase Klatt.
UCLA's new sophomore starting linebacker Justin London will probably get the call to contain Klatt, who showed great mobility and foot speed against Colorado State.
Perhaps where the biggest mismatch of the day will come is UCLA's defensive line against Colorado's shored-up offensive line. The line that dominated UCLA's defense last year is almost completely gone and the Buffaloes have had to rebuild. They moved Wilder from defensive tackle to offensive tackle early in fall. They do return senior guard Marwan Hage, but three other starters are new and inexperienced.
Colorado does have a nice pair of running backs in Bobby Purify and Brian Calhoun. They're both strong, shifty runners who also can catch the ball out of the backfield. They might actually present the biggest challenge for UCLA's defense since UCLA's front line is more strength and size oriented than quickness oriented.
Advantage: UCLA. The experience and talent of UCLA's defense outweighs the one-game flash Colorado showed in its first game last week. The Colorado offensive line against UCLA's experienced and talented defensive line could be the where the game's decided. If Klatt isn't given time to operate he won't come close to the performance he had last week against Colorado State's inferior defense.
PREDICTION: A week ago, this was an easier call. Then Colorado had its game against Colorado State and it made it quite a bit hazier. But, when you analyze that game, it's easy to pick it apart. Colorado only gained 100 yards on the ground for the day. Colorado State's passing defense was abysmal. Colorado, usually known as a team that likes the power run game, isn't going to abandon it just because they went off through the air last week. But this year's game will be different than last, and you can expect UCLA's front seven to dominate Colorado's, especially in the running game battle. Overall, Colorado has an advantage having played a game before UCLA, having already gotten game-tested. Also, the home field advantage, with the altitude and the good-sized homer crowd, is worth at least a few points. But UCLA's defense looks to be too good for Colorado's rebuilt offense to consistently move the ball against, and Klatt, without the time and now facing a better defensive secondary, won't have nearly as easy a go of it. If Colorado's defense had looked better against Colorado State, this game might be a toss up, but all in all, both UCLA's defense and offense have an edge.