Colorado Preview

The battered Buffaloes come to the Rose Bowl Saturday trying to redeem themselves. They should be fired up and loaded for Bear, er, Bruins...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- UCLA is 4-0 against Colorado. The last time they met was in 1984 with the Bruins winning, 33-16.

-- It's Colorado's first time playing in the Rose Bowl. It's not the first time for their head coach, Gary Barnett, who coached Northwestern in the 1996 Rose Bowl game.

-- Barnett, of course, was offered the UCLA head coaching job in 1996, ultimately turned it down. The job was offered to then-UCLA offensive coordinator, Bob Toledo.

-- Colorado has not allowed a team to score in the third quarter in its first three games of the season.

-- Colorado's loss against USC last week, 40-3, was their worst loss in 10 years.

-- Colorado's offense against USC gained 61 total yards and only four first downs. It was one for 14 on third downs and punted 10 times.

-- Colorado's punter Mike Mariscal leads the nation in punting with a 51.3 average. Last week against USC, he averaged 57.4 yards a punt.

-- Colorado is beset by injuries. Seven players in their two deep are out for the game. In addition, many of the players that more than likely will play are banged up. Cornerback Donald Strickland has a cut foot and limped around practice all week. Colorado is saying it's a game-time decision, but he's expected to play. Their standout linebacker, Drew Wahlroos, had a sprained neck this week, but is expected to play. A backup linebacker, Joey Johnson is questionable with a bad back, and backup cornerback Lovell Houston, the former Bruin, is questionable with a bad shoulder. Freshman punt returner Jeremy Bloom is questionable.

-- Cory Paus is only six touchdown passes away from tying Troy Aikman for third on the all-time UCLA career list. Paus has 35 career TD throws. The all-time leader is Cade McNown with 68, followed by Tom Ramsey with 50.

-- Paus has completed a pass for longer than 40 yards in 9 of his last 12 games.

-- UCLA's defense has allowed opponents into its redzone more than any other Pac-10 team so far this season. UCLA's opponents have been in UCLA's redzone 11 times in its first two games, for an average of 5.5 game. UCLA has also allowed the opponent to score more often from the redzone than any other Pac-10 team, 8 times total, for an average of 4 times a game.

-- While UCLA's Nate Fikse is second among Pac-10 punters, averaging 45.9 yards per punt, his net-yard efficiency is 8th in the Pac-10 at 35.2 yards a punt.

-- Colorado is scoring a low 17 points a game (104th in the nation) and gaining an average of 277 yards a game (104th).

-- Colorado's quarterback, Robert Hodge, replacing injured starter Craig Ochs, who is out due to concussions, struggled against USC, to say the least. Hodge went 1 for 9 for 20 yards before being benched.

-- Colorado was ranked in the top ten pre-season but has since fallen out of the rankings. UCLA was unranked to start the season but is now ranked 20th and 22nd, respectively.

-- Colorado's freshman punt returning sensation, Jeremy Bloom has a broken toe, but it's believed he'll play.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. COLORADO'S DEFENSE

Colorado made a move to a 4-2 this year, from Barnett's traditional 4-3. Colorado's defense gave up a lot of points toward the end of the 2001 season, and Defensive Coordinator Vince Okruch thought that the defense needed to increase its speed, and inserting an extra defensive back might do the trick.

So far this season, the move hasn't really helped that much. The Colorado defense is giving up 382 yards and 24 points a game.

The former linebacker, Kory Mossoni, is now the fifth defensive back, becoming the team's strong safety. He is around the ball a lot, and shoots in through gaps to make tackles for loss.

Cornerback Donald Strickland (pictured right) leads the team in tackles. As stated above, he has a cut foot that could limit him.

The Colorado defense perhaps revolves around one of their inside linebackers, junior Sean Tufts. He's talented and quick, with very good size. In fact, Colorado has two good, big linebackers, with Tufts joined by longtime starter Drew Wahlroos.

Colorado's defensive line is okay but nothing spectacular. Perhaps the biggest talent up front on defense is emerging sophomore tackle Brandon Dabdoub. The other tackle, Tyler Brayton, a senior who is starting for the first time, is considered good against the run. He also had 4 ½ sacks last year. At one defensive end is Marques Harris, who at 6-2 and 225, is really a linebacker meant to improve Colorado's line speed and pass rush.

The secondary, hit by a few injuries and banged up a bit, has been exploited through the air so far this year, especially last week against USC. They're giving up 257 yards a game passing, Against USC they gave up 277 yards and 458 total.

UCLA, with its passing game getting on track last week to a degree, will not hesitate to go to the air against Colorado. Cory Paus had a solid game against Oklahoma State and has seemingly got the jitters out. Look for UCLA to spread the wealth to its receiver, continuing to look for Mike Seidman regulary and Craig Bragg. Sure-handed Ryan Smith might get the ball thrown more his way. Freshman tight end Marcedes Lewis will probably be used more, and you can probably hope to see Junior Taylor more also. With Paus feeling more comfortable, returning home to the Rose Bowl, and Colorado looking vulnerable through the air, UCLA could possibly throw the ball more in this game than it did in its first two.

It's going to be a hot day at the Rose Bowl, with the game starting at 12:30. UCLA's usual strategy is to wear down the opposing defensive line and you can expect it to do so early. UCLA's offensive line has had two good showings in its first two games. While Colorado has a reputation for being fairly good against the run and being physical, even USC's usually anemic running game tore up Colorado last week. Manuel White (pictured at left) will probably get the ball in his hands more often early, both running right into the line and with little swing passes out into the flat. He's definitely a jack hammer when it comes to pounding a defensive line.

Also, watch for UCLA to throw some surprises offensively at Colorado quite often in this game. The theory would be that, with Colorado reeling a bit, but then emotionally up for this game, if the UCLA offense can get the Colorado defense off-balance and down quickly, it could knock them out.

Advantage: UCLA. It appears you have two units going in opposite directions here. UCLA's is improving and getting in a groove, while Colorado's is hurt by injury and scrambling. But, even so, it more than likely won't be a walk, especially early. Colorado's defense, after being humiliated last week against USC, will be pumped. UCLA's offense has shown a tendency to come out flat and out of sync. It could be another case where it takes UCLA's offense some time to get moving, but it should wear down Colorado and the ground game should be rolling over the Buffaloes by the 4th quarter.

COLORADO'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

While it's pretty plain that UCLA's defense should have the obvious advantage here, and it does, it might not be as overwhelming as you might think.

Colorado's offense is not near as bad as it looked against USC. It was still adapting to a new quarterback and in shock that it lost its starter, Craig Ochs. Robert Hodge isn't a star, by any means, and the third stringer, Zac Colvin, isn't better.

But you can expect the Colorado quarterbacks to improve on their performance from last week. Wow, that's a shocking prediction, isn't it? You couldn't realistically get worse that how they did last week, going collective 2 for 13 for 24 yards and an interception. Watch for Hodge to have settled down a bit. Watch for Colorado to give him easier throws, ones he can complete and get into a rhythm with. He has some pretty good receivers. Derek McCoy is more or less their go-to guy, and is a big target at 6-3. John Donahoe is a solid receiver, their tight end, Beau Williams, is a dependable target and backup wideouts Ron Monteilh and D.J. Hackett have some game-breaking ability.

Probably what the Buffaloes have done the best so far this season is run the ball. They're averaging 157 yards a game on the ground. Some of that might be padded since they haven't thrown the ball much, but it's pretty well accepted that the Buffs can run. Colorado is a smash-mouth type of team, and at this point, they have to be. They have a good offensive line which is senior dominated, led by right guard Wayne Lucier. Watch for the Buffaloes to run over the right side of their line frequently, since it's the strength.

The Buffaloes also have a nice stable of running backs, featuring junior Chris Brown (pictured above). Brown is big, at 6-3 and 220, and might remind you a little bit of Manuel White. He's averaging 107 yards a game and 5 yards a carry. Behind him is a guy with one of the best names in college football, Bobby Purify, and is good back in his own right. Brian Calhoun, a freshman, is a speedster. Marcus Houston is injured and won't play.

Again, you might think that UCLA's defense would dominate here, but you can expect the Bruins to get tested. UCLA really hasn't faced a team that can run as well Colorado, with a big, good offensive line. It wasn't bad, but didn't look dominant against a shaky Oklahoma State offensive line last week. It's really time for UCLA's defensive line to step up and live up to the hype, particularly Rod Leisle. Leisle, you have to concede, is getting double-teamed all day, but still, most good defensive linemen are. Watch for Ryan Boschetti to get more time and impact the game even more. UCLA will have to shore up the hole it had in its running game on the left side of its line, facing the right side of Colorado's offensive line, which is its strength. UCLA needs to really step up its pass rush this week and put pressure on Hodge. The concept of just banging him around is all well and good, but sacks are needed now.

A big factor here will be the return of UCLA's starting linebackers. Marcus Reese could be UCLA's MVP. Brandon Chillar is all over the field. UCLA needs these two guys to lift them to the level of being a good defense.

UCLA's defensive secondary, again you would think, might be able to dominate Colorado's passing game. But you have to expect that Colorado, with nothing to lose in its passing game at this point, will throw a few surprises at UCLA this week. UCLA's defensive backs have to be up for the challenge. Safety Ben Emanuel (pictured at left) has been UCLA's best defensive back through three games. He's shown great quickness and instincts for the ball. He also returns fumbles and punts incredibly well.

UCLA's defense has been able to create turnovers extremely well through its first two games. It has a +5 turnover margin so far, with five interceptions. Colorado, on the other hand, has been prone to turnover, averaging one interception and a fumble per game. UCLA's team is shaping up into a big-play kind of team, on both offense and defense, and you'd expect that UCLA getting a couple of turnovers in this game is worth some points.

Advantage: UCLA. But not by as much as you might think. Colorado will come out fired up and should be able to run the ball on the Bruins. Hopefully UCLA won't underestimate Hodge. He's not a star, but he can execute well enough to move the Buffaloes down the field. UCLA's secondary has something to prove after last week. But Colorado's emotion and their running game is worth some points.

PREDICTION:

It's not going to be a re-enactment of last week for Colorado against USC. Colorado will be fired up, angry and wanting to redeem themselves. Many players on Colorado's roster are from California and will be playing in front of friends and family. They're not going to be embarrassed again. UCLA could be a little complacent now, being 2-0 and having watched USC trample the Buffs. It's a good test of the coaching staff and this young team to see if UCLA comes out fired up themselves. It will be a hot day, and both offensive lines are big and relentless, and should pound on each other's defensive line until things loosen up even more in the second half. But UCLA's offense has more point-scoring ability than Colorado's.

UCLA 34
Colorado 24


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