Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, October 31, 2013

2013 UCLA Football Preview

There's no doubt about it, last weekend's loss to Arizona hurt.  It was a prime opportunity for the program to grab a statement win - homecoming, Folsom at night, blackout game - but a series of poorly executed possessions squandered too many first half opportunities.  Once momentum flipped, there was no coming back, and the Buffs had to stand and watch as the Wildcats dominated the second half of the game.

It would be understandable, in the wake of that letdown, for the team to fracture.  We've certainly seen it in the past, as many a CU team disintegrated from within over the last few years. Coach Mike MacIntyre, however, swears that isn't the case under his watch:
"I really think we're a together team, and I really think they're trying hard and playing hard [...] We've just got to play a little better. We've got to do a few more things [...] I don't see factions, I don't see people pointing fingers at each other, I don't see guys not coming to work, I don't see guys not going to class. I see them all doing the things that you see a good football team maturing doing. Now, it takes a process to get it done against good teams." -link
In that vein, I've generally viewed this team as being more together than those from the previous regime.  To this point, I've seen them be genuinely excited when positive things happen, and quick to pick a teammate up - rather than point fingers - when the run of play goes the other way.  You know, like a team who actually cares about sharing the field with one another.

With bowl hopes brain-dead and on life support, however, we'll just have to see if that impression, and MikeMac's comments, stay true over the final weeks of 2013.


This week, the Buffs travel to sunny southern California to take on a reeling UCLA squad.  Over all team sports, CU only has one win against the Bruins since the start of the Pac-12 era - coming just over a month ago on the hardwood of the CEC, as the women's volleyball team upset the then-#11 Lady Bruins on September 27th.  To get a second win in 2013, this time in football, would take an upset of a nearly unfathomable nature.

Kickoff from the historic Rose Bowl is set for 5:30pm MT on Saturday.  Those of you who have struggled to find the Pac-12 Network on your television package are in luck!  The game will be shown on FOX Sports 1 this weekend, marking the first time since the RMS that the Buffs have been on anything other than P12N.  For those still left in the dark by the new channel, the radio call can be heard on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Last season's preview can be found here.

I wasn't in town for this one.  I was, in fact, back home in Chicago, enjoying the last few days of the AJ Pierzynski era on the South Side.  I did make an honest effort to catch the game at a North Side bar, but was rebuffed by logistical issues.

In retrospect, I didn't miss much.

Returning to Folsom a week after their stunning come-from-behind victory over Washington St, CU couldn't stay with a much stronger UCLA squad.  The Bruins raced out to a quick 14-0 lead, and efficiently poured on 28 unanswered points after the Buffs had reached the endzone mid-way through the second quarter.  A late Colorado score did nothing but slim the margin, as the Buffs fell 42-14.
UCLA methodically carved up the Buffs in 2012.  From: the BDC
It wasn't a necessarily explosive pasting, like you usually see when CU plays a Pac-12 opponent.  UCLA only averaged 5.9 yards per play, including only 281 yards passing.  Still, this one was never close, and I get the feeling, while looking at the game reports, that the Bruins were playing with their food a little bit.  QB Brett Hundley spread the ball around, almost at will, as 11 Bruins hauled in catches that day.  That astonishing total, alone, signifies that UCLA was just trying some things out.

For the Buffs, the run game posed a particular set of problems, as the troika of Tony Jones, Christian Powell, and Donta Abron took 19 carries to get 93 yards.  Overall, CU could only muster 2.8 yards per rushing attempt against UCLA, and starting QB Jordan Webb (21-32, 184 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) wasn't nearly explosive enough to overcome the rushing malaise.

The Bruins in 2013 - 

Things on the field had been going swimmingly for the Bruins before their nationally-televised trip to Palo Alto two weeks ago.  They entered that game 5-0, having run through non-conference and the beginnings of Pac-12 play with relative ease.  This run, of course, included an emotional 41-21 comeback victory over Nebraska.
The Bruins carved up the vaunted 'Blackshirts' earlier this year.  From: BruinsNation
Once faced with the Stanford Cardinal, however, the season turned on a dime.  The UCLA offense, which had been putting up 547 yards per contest, was suddenly thrown into neutral, only gaining 266 yards on 66 plays.  There's no real shame in this, as taking the high-flying offenses of one of the nation's most effusive leagues and turning them to stone is what the Cardinal excel at.  Still, that bitter pill is difficult to swallow when taken with a sleepy 24-10 loss.

The result wasn't much better the following weekend in Eugene, though they held the might Duck offense in check over the first 30 minutes, and hit halftime tied 14-14.  Unfortunately, as is often the case with playing Oregon tight in the first half, the only thing gained is pissing the Ducks off.  Out of the locker room, UCLA could do nothing to stop the Oregon onslaught, as the new-age power roared to 28 unanswered second half points en route to a demonstrative 42-14 victory.
UCLA just couldn't catch Oregon when they turned it on. From: ESPN
As in the Stanford game, the offense was the problem in Eugene, as Oregon held them to 219 total yards, only 87 of which came in the game's final 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, the Ducks did as they do, roaring to 555 yards of their own, and only once failing to record a drive of fewer that 10 yards

I don't know how or if things would've been different had the Bruins had the Cardinal and Ducks at home, rather than on the road, but, certainly, the schedule makers did them no favors.  It also didn't help that starting running back Jordon James has been sidelined with an ankle injury since the Utah game in early October (his status for Saturday is still up in the air).  Without him and star offensive tackle Torian White, UCLA has only managed 123 rushing yards per game, over 135 yards per game off their pre-injury pace.
It's in the wake of those two horror-show road trips, and saddled with some major injuries, that the Bruins entertain the Buffs this weekend, desperate to get back on their feet, and get the offense flowing once again.

Star Players - 

Under center, the Bruins are lead by sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley. The 6-3 Arizona native had been having a strong year prior to last weekend when he passed for only 64 yards against Oregon.  Still, the duo-threat QB is an efficient field general for UCLA, and accounts for 298 yards per game between the air and ground.
Hundley should be one of the conference's best in future years.
With Jordon James out the last few weeks, rushing duties have fallen to the duo of Malcolm Jones and Paul Perkins.  While they found their feet last week, combining for 151 yards against the Ducks, there is a definite drop-off from James, who had been 5th in the nation in rushing when he went down the the ankle.  Regardless of who ends up carrying the rock, they'll be the offensive focus, as the Bruins still run the ball nearly 60% of the time, even without James on the field.

The primary receiving threat is Shaquell Evans.  The 5th-year senior has hauled in five scores on the season, by far the most on the team.  He averages less than 50 receiving yards per contest, however, as UCLA likes to spread the ball around.  In total, 22 Bruins have caught passes this fall.  Compare that to Colorado - who is far more reliant on the passing game - where only 12 have made it into the book with a catch.
Evans is athletic target.
One of the brighter stories on defense has been the rise of freshman linebacker Myles Jack.  The 6-1 Washington product has stuffed the stat sheet with 45 total tackles (four for loss), an interception, a blocked kick, and a team-leading seven passes defended.  But Jack isn't the only linebacker of note in the Bruins active 3-4 scheme.  On the edge is nasty senior Anthony Barr.  Just recently, it was announced that Barr is a semifinalist for this year's Bednarik award, and with good reason.  A 6-4 NFL prospect, he has already recorded 13 tackles for loss and six sacks on the season. 
Few in the Pac-12 are better than Barr.
Supporting them behind the line is sturdy LB Eric Kendricks.  The junior from Fresno leads the team with 65 tackles, and usually finds an excuse to get near the ball, even if he's suffering through kidney pain.

Also of note on defense is corner Ishmael Adams.  The sophomore leads the team with three interceptions to go along with his five passes defended.

Coaching - 

I'm starting to think I may have been wrong about Jim Mora.  Last year I called him a 'lame retread,' and pooh-poohed his hire while whistling at his less-than-loyal past.  After a successful 9-5 start to his UCLA career in 2012, and his honorable management of an emotionally traumatic situation earlier this fall, I've been given more than enough reason to rethink.
Mora has the Bruins on the upswing through tragedy.
In early September, the entire Bruins community was stunned by the tragic death of redshirt freshman wide receiver Nick Pasquale.  The 20 year old was struck while on foot by a car, and was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.  Mora, to his credit, did an exemplary job in the following weeks, bringing the team together in the face of overwhelming grief, and handling the press with more grace then I could possibly have managed.

Coach Mora has proven in the wake of tragedy to be a venerable leader of men, and a more than capable head coach.  UCLA has a good one on their sideline.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 7-0.  Against the spread: 4-2.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +4.86 pts/gm)

Lines as of Wednesday @ 8pm - CU +28, M/L + 2500, O/U 58

It was always going to be a daunting challenge for CU to go into the Rose Bowl, and hand the Bruins their third straight loss.  Now, with star wide receiver Paul Richardson still uncertain for Saturday's game, the Buffs are an even longer shot to win in LA.

Even in the rosiest of circumstances for CU - P-Rich plays, and Bruin RB Jordon James stays on the sideline - I can envision no scenario where Colorado manages to stay within reach of the Bruins.  The Buffs continue to be garbage outside of the state, and I see no reason why that changes this week.  UCLA may be wounded, but they must be looking at the CU game as an opportunity to 'get right.'  They should do just that, even covering the four touchdown spread.

UCLA 49 - CU 13


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