-- Probably the biggest factor here is that Colorado State is heading into it's third game of the season, while the young Bruins will be playing their first.
-- Colorado State has beaten Virginia and Colorado, and the Rams haven't started a season with three straight wins since 1994.
-- The Rams start the season with three road games in a row, coming to the Rose Bowl after having visited Virginia and Colorado.
-- In Sonny Lubick's 10 seasons at Colorado State, he has a record of 40-5 when the team has rushed for more than 150 yards, including the wins over Virginia and Colorado.
-- In Lubick's 10 seasons, the Rams are 7-13 in games where the team has attempted 35 or more passes.
-- UCLA has won five straight home openers on its home field (1994 – Tennessee; 1995 – Miami; 1998 – Texas; 1998 Boise State; 2000 – Alabama).
-- UCLA could play up to 19 redshirt and true freshman on Saturday.
-- Colorado State ranks 11th in the nation for total wins in the ten years that Sonny Lubick has coaches the Rams (46-16).
-- The weather is expected to be good for game time, which is 7:15 Saturday night.
-- The chance of thundershowers is minimal, and it should be a warm evening in the 60s to low 70s with partial clouds.
-- Bulletin board material for Colorado State: "I'm just not impressed. I can't give them respect until they've earned it." -- UCLA wide receiver Tab Perry.
-- UCLA is generally considered a 7-point favorite.
UCLA OFFENSE V. COLORADO STATE DEFENSE
Colorado State's defense has looked good – but not great – in its first two games of the season. It looked quite a bit better against Colorado than it did against Virginia, but Colorado's offense was plainly struggling on its own, too.
The strength of the Ram's defense is obviously in its linebacking corps. It's led by talented junior outside linebacker Eric Pauly (pictured at right), who is 6-4 and 225 and has good quickness. He had 10 tackles in last week's win over Colorado and also had his first career interception. He led the Mountain West Conference in tackles as a sophomore last season, averaging 10.5 per game. The other standout junior linebacker is in the middle. Drew Wood (6-2, 230) had a sack against Colorado last week. He has experience, having started eight games last season. He and Pauly, as sophomores, were named to the MWC second team. The linebacking crew is so good and deep that two-year starter, junior Adam Wade, is second string at weakside linebacker behind Pauly. They're big, quick and have a good nose for the ball.
The teams' top tackler in its first two games has been strong safety David Vickers, a converted linebacker from last season. Safety was a worry for the Rams, since there was a void left after departures from last season, and it still is. Vickers, while in only his third game as a starter at strong, is joined by sophomore Landon Jones at free safety, who will also be making his third career start. The Rams converted running back Rahsaan Sanders into a safety because of lack of depth. Senior cornerback Dexter Wynn gives them some experience in the defensive backfield. While there is some talent and athleticism here, they're also fairly green, and exploitable. They haven't really been challenged yet by a good throwing team on a good day.
Up front is probably where Colorado State might face its stiffest challenge against UCLA. In its first two games the Rams have given up an average of 180 yards on the ground per game. Its front line is generally on the smallish side, marginally talented and young. Junior defensive end Andre Sommersell has been the most effective in the first two games, but he's only 6-3 and 210 pounds. Its two starting defensive tackles are a junior and a sophomore, respectively.
UCLA's offensive line should be able to get the edge on Colorado State's defensive line. The real battle to focus on will be at the tackle positions. Will UCLA senior tackles Mike Saffer and Bryce Bohlander protect Cory Paus from a pass rush? Colorado State has had just an okay pass rush in its first two games, and UCLA will be relying on their size to try to overwhelm Colorado State's defensive line. It's pretty easy to assume that UCLA's offensive line should be able to open up some running room against Colorado State. Expect UCLA to pound on Colorado State early to try to soften them up and tire them out. There's a good history of UCLA's offensive line doing this early in the season against in its non-conference games. It should be especially true since UCLA's offensive line is fresh, having not played a game yet.
Which leads us to the dreaded question of the stacked box. Generally, in the last couple of years, most of the Pac-10 has stacked the box against UCLA, while some non-conference opponents have, all generally being effective in doing so. After a pretty solid recent history of UCLA struggling against it, you would expect Lubick to at least attempt to stack the box and make UCLA beat Colorado State through the air. The problem, though, for Colorado State, is that Lubick might not have the personnel to pull it off. Their defensive line is just okay, and their DBs, which are left alone in pass coverage for the most part in a stacked box, are questionable. But if Colorado State can disrupt UCLA's offensive initially it might keep it off-balance for the entire game.
UCLA has been practicing its short passing game all of fall camp. Short drops, moving the pocket, less play-action. In other words, its stacked-box breaker of an offense. With a talented group of wide receivers and tight ends, especially Mike Seidman, Craig Bragg, Ryan Smith and Marcedes Lewis who are particularly tough to defend on short routes, and Colorado State's DBs being questionable, watch for UCLA to use a short passing game to also soften up Colorado State's defense. This is not to say that UCLA will come out gun-slinging. It will probably test Colorado State's line early with the run. But you can expect UCLA to throw more often and earlier in this game.
The question then comes down to Cory Paus (pictured above), and whether he can execute the game plan. He's looked good in the last week of practice – not only throwing the ball, but more agile and quicker at getting off a pass. Paus has a history of starting out seasons well (when he didn't get injured), and going against the suspect passing defense of Colorado State and a short-passing attack in the arsenal, look for Paus to get his rhythm.
Advantage: UCLA, slightly. The fact that Colorado State has played a couple of games and given its young and inexperienced defense some confidence narrows the margin here. But UCLA's offense generally has solid experience, including that of a fifth-year quarterback. It won't be wide-eyed. UCLA will try to minimize the effectivness of Colorado State's linebackers by throwing quickly past them or over them.
COLORADO STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
Even though much has been said about the threats that Colorado State's quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt (pictured below right) and running back Cecil Sapp present running the ball, if Colorado State is going to be effective against UCLA it might have to find an edge in its less-hyped passing game.
First, let's go over the running game threat. Sapp has looked very good in the Rams' first two games, particularly against Virginia, when he ran for 178 hards. He was controlled more by Colorado's defense last week, but he's very much a formidable weapon for the Rams.
Perhaps the bigger danger is Van Pelt's ability to run the ball. Colorado State has designed running plays for him, and then there's always a chance that he'll take off on a scramble. In fact, the Rams coaching staff almost prefers that he scramble sometimes rather than throw. He was particularly damaging against Colorado, gaining 74 yards on the ground in key moments. He's big and shifty, and pretty hard to bring down.
The Rams, though, will be facing probably the best defensive line its seen in its first three games in UCLA's. With Rod Leisle and Dave Ball leading the charge, it could be a big challenge for Colorado State's offensive line. Most significant is the fact that the Rams lost a senior starter last week. Senior starting tackle Aaron Green is out for the season with a broken leg. Filling in for him is a redshirt freshman, Mike Brisiel. Suddenly Colorado State's o-line is very young, with only one senior joined by a junior, one sophomore and two redshirt freshmen. That's not good going up against the strength of UCLA's team, which is its defensive line.
If there is a soft spot in UCLA's defense, it is possibly the inexperience and lack of depth at linebacker. Colorado State will do everything it can to try to exploit that, trying to get Sapp or Van Pelt out in the open field, away from UCLA's d-line. UCLA's backers are quick, though, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of this offense/defense matchup will be whether the quickness of UCLA's Brandon Chillar (pictured below left), Marcus Reese and Spencer Havner will be enough to contain Colorado State's threats.
Now, to the passing matchup. As stated above, if Colorado State is going to be effective, they'll have to throw. UCLA will be doing almost the equivalent of a stacked box defense, keeping its linebackers and safeties tight, trying to contain Van Pelt and Sapp. Colorado State is going to have to pass effectively to move the ball. Van Pelt has an average arm, and Colorado State's wide receivers have yet to prove that they're big-time threats. Senior Joey Cuppari has been waiting his turn to start, and he's joined by another new starter in junior Chris Pittman. You'd have to give an edge to UCLA's defensive backs here, with all-conference Ricky Manning and talented safety Matt Ware drawing coverage.
Advantage: Even. But that's all UCLA would want. If they can keep Van Pelt and Sapp to average days and not let them go off, you would chalk it up to a win. UCLA will try to make someone else on Colorado State's offense beat them, because they lack big-plya makers besides Van Pelt and Sapp. Sapp, though, is so good that he'll get his, but UCLA is hoping that that isn't enough.
The fact that Colorado State has played two games has led many to believe it will give them an advantage. In some aspects it's true. The fact that UCLA hasn't played yet could delay UCLA's offense in getting going. But UCLA's players are fresh, without the usual bumps and bruises from two games. They're also pretty hungry, wanting to prove something after the fall from grace last season. Look for UCLA to start off fairly slowly, as it gets up to game speed. You can probably expect UCLA to give up some points through turnovers, too, because of first-game jitters. But the Bruins have too much talent, and by the second half that talent and fresher legs should prevail.
Colorado State 24