Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, October 30, 2015

2015 CU vs UCLA Football Preview

Last week was a solid step forward for the Buffs.  No caveats, no 'well at least they competed' jibberish. They fought, they won. Simple as that.  Far too few nights like that have been seen recently, so I hope you enjoyed it.

Unfortunately for Colorado, the schedule only gets more difficult from here on out.  Still slogging on without the respite of a bye week, the team will rue the opportunities missed against Oregon and Arizona as they play UCLA, Stanford, USC, Washington State, and Utah the rest of the way - only five of the best teams in the Pac-12 this year.  Bowl eligibility may be a silly fantasy at this point (they'd need to win three of those five, which... yeah, no), but that doesn't mean the season's over.  A win or two against that slate would mean extensive momentum headed into 2016. Time for the Buffs to go hunting for some upsets!


Hype Music for the Week: "California Love" by 2Pac, feat. Dr. Dre.

What better song to call up for CU's one and only trip to Cali this season than this iconic collaboration. You got one of the great troll lines of all time "Out on bail fresh outta jail, California dreamin'" where Pac relishes in his recent release from prison, and one of the greatest beats of all time from the master, Dr Dre.  Simply put, one of the best songs ever. Enjoy!


Kick off from the historic Rose Bowl is set for 1pm MT on Saturday.   Shoutout to all the West Coast Buffs making the trip to Pasadena!  Finally off the graveyard shift, all of BuffNation can bask in the sunshine of Southern California (thank God!).  Television coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks.  The radio call should be on 850 KOA, but you never can tell with those guys.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

On a picture-perfect Homecoming Saturday, 2014, the Buffs played one of their better games of the past year, pushing #25 UCLA to the brink.  However, as has repeatedly been the case in the MacIntyre era, the heart and effort the team showed throughout the contest was not enough to overcome critical errors to edge them into the win column. As a result, the Bruins were allowed to escape Boulder with a 40-37 double-overtime victory they did not deserve.
CU played well, but still ended up on the wrong side of the scoresheet.  From: the BDC
Poor starts to each half hurt Colorado as UCLA out-scored them 20-0 in the first and third quarters.  All told in those frames, CU only notched 107 of their 500 total yards, punted eight times, and threw an interception.  It wasn't much better on defense, where UCLA moved the ball freely, including a 92-yard run on their first official play from scrimmage.  The devil of it is that they played particularly well in even-numbered quarters - especially the 4th, there they scored 17 unanswered to wind their way into overtime. Even a slight improvement on either end of the odds would probably have been enough to get the Buffs the statement win they were looking for.

Still, in those even quarters clock management was a bothersome issue.  At the close of the first half, DD Goodson (remember him?) failed to go forward out of bounds after a first down grab, allowing the clock to run unabated.  The Buffs failed to recognize that the still draining seconds were an issue, and never managed to get a play off (let alone a spike of the ball). Instead, they drew a 10-second runoff (thanks to a false start penalty), voiding a should've-been 1st-and-goal situation.  In the waning seconds of second half, the Buffs played conservative and for the tie on their final drive of regulation, yet still left more than enough time for UCLA to march down for a potentially game-winning field goal.  Had CU not been bailed out by a holding penalty, there wouldn't have even been an overtime.  In a tight ballgame, those management mistakes loomed large.
So close, yet still so far away.  From: the BDC
This wasn't the first or the final instance where Coach Mac's conservative tendencies hurt the product on the field. Last weekend's tilt with Oregon State was almost another case of pedantic play costing CU a chance at victory. The 3rd-year head coach has shown a penchant to play for check, rather than checkmate -- something I imagine he picked up in the hyper-risk-averse NFL.  Continuing to string out the final possessions into overtime may be the textbook answer, but, on a team that finished the season without a single conference win, a few more risks taken to end the game on Colorado's terms would've been more than welcome.  By kicking field goals on their final three possessions, all the Buffs did was give senior UCLA QB Brett Hundley and his fellow Bruins three chances to steal a game they did not deserve to win.  If, on any of those drives, Mac instead put the pedal down, maybe the Buffs still lose, but they at least they would've done it trying to win the game, rather than just extend it.  MacIntyre turned to the old adage of 'play for the tie' at home, and probably cost his team a shot at a defining win, in the process. At this point, it is what it is.

And so we come to this.  Colorado, on the road for a second consecutive week, looking for their first back-to-back road wins since the original Mac era, once again face off against a UCLA Bruins squad in the fringes of the top-25 who have shown a penchant for letting weaker teams frustrate them.  If put into the same position again, will the Buffs still be so conservative with the football.  History and #TheScript would shout a resounding 'yes,' but an ever emotional Mike MacIntyre might just finally give in to his demons and go for the jugular.   If only the team can put him in another position to put his gumption to the test...

The Bruins in 2015 - 

Their NCAA statistical profile can be found here.

Like so many 'good' teams this year, and really any year, the Bruins have proven to be a rather inconsistent bunch.  They started out the season like they were shot out of a cannon, sweeping non-conference play, and earning what, at the time, appeared to be a huge 56-30 win in the desert over Arizona.  At that point, they were solidly in the top-10, and had the inside track to a College Football Playoff berth.

Then, the wheels fell off.  A surprising home loss to Arizona State, followed by a dismantling on national television at the hands of Stanford, had everyone with UCLA stock selling like it was Black Tuesday.  A primary culprit in each: shaky QB play and penalties.  The Bruins threw three picks and drew 16 flags over those back-to-back losses. You aren't going to get anything done against quality competition while shooting yourself in the foot like that. Overall, the Bruins are damn near the bottom of the national rankings for penalty yardage (113th, 75 per), and are under water for the season in the turnover department (-.14, 78th nationally), making you wonder just how composed this bunch really is.
Uh oh, there goes that man again. From:
This is why last week's effort - against the #20 Cal Bears in the Rose Bowl - wasn't as impressive for me. It was a big win for UCLA, who desperately needed it to stay competitive in the Pac-12 South, but it simply wasn't a pure performance. The QB play improved, sure, as the team threw for just under 400 yards against zero turnovers, but the penalties remained an issue (nine for 74 yards), and they still coughed up a fumble.  If not for an exceptional game under center, and an off-kilter one from their opponents (only 5.6 yards per completion and five sacks taken), there's a good chance this game would've looked like those last two.  Don't let the win over Cal fool you, the Bruins are still a flawed team, and one that better opponents (read: not CU) should be able to take advantage of.

One of the biggest issues, and one that has nagged them throughout the season, has been injuries... big ones, too. They've effected all aspects of play, but have hit the hardest on defense. Headlining stars in the backfield (Fabian Moreau), linebacking corps (Myles Jack), and front line (Eddie Vanderdoes) each saw their seasons end early, leaving the Bruins short handed heading into conference play.  All were All-Pac-12 caliber, and certain pro prospects; the anchors of a defense that was supposed to be one of the better groups in the league.
The loss of Vanderdoes is massive.  From: BleacherReport
The latest, the meniscus tear suffered by Myles Jack, probably hurts the most, as, while the other two still hope to return to the Bruins team next fall, Jack has already left school to prepare for the NFL Draft (in a hurry, too). The multi-faceted 'backer, who featured on both sides of the ball for UCLA over the last few years, suffered his injury in practice a few weeks ago, and is a huge loss, particularly against the run.  In his wake, along with the holes left by messrs Vanderdoes and Moreau, the Bruins are scrambling to keep pace in the rough-and-tumble Pac-12.

In the four games played since Jack completed the injury-trifecta, UCLA has been allowing 37 points per, after only giving up 14 per through their first three games of the season. Caveat for caliber of opponent applied (those injuries all occurred over non-conference play), but the numbers speak for themselves, as the Bruins have allowed about an extra 125 yards per contest in their absence.  As a result, UCLA comes in as one of the weakest sides in the country against the run, allowing over 200 yards per game (104th nationally). They're a little better against the pass (top-35), but still prone to getting lit up.  It won't be this week, but I'd keep my eye on that visit from Washington State in a few weeks, if I were you.
The loss of a number of star players, like Jack, has really hurt on defense. From: BleacherReport
On offense, the outlook is much better, with the unit featuring in the top-25 nationally (over 475 yards per game).  It's mostly done through the air, where they get the vast majority of their yards and first downs. Scoring is more balanced, they just get to the red zone on the strength of their passing attack.  Nine interceptions thrown, however, show they're prone to mistakes there, too.  Regardless, this bunch will press the at times inconsistent CU secondary.

Star Players - 

Replacing a three year starter under center is never easy, and doing so with a freshman can often be a recipe for disaster. Not so, at least so far, for the Bruins, who are still enjoying life after the graduation of former Pac-12 super star Brett Hundley.  They're able to do so thanks to the efforts of power frosh Josh Rosen. The #1 QB and #2 overall player in the 2015 recruiting class, as ranked by Rivals, has, mostly, lived up to the hype, earning the starting job in year one, and putting up impressive numbers despite the usual college 'distractions.'  He stands at a proto-typical 6-4, 210, and seems destined for the NFL.
Rosen is starting to come into his own. From: BruinsNation
What's more, Rosen may finally be getting used to this whole 'college football thing,' as he's really starting to find his rhythm in a season that's already seen him throw for just under 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. This has allowed offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to open up the playbook and the Bruins to take advantage of over-aggressive defensive schemes - like they did against Cal last week.  When the Bears stacked the box, Rosen just knifed them on the edge, throwing for 399 yards and three scores.  That performance last week could be a very scary vision of things to come in the blossoming career of one of the West's young stars.

He's got a strong receiving corps to throw to, as well.  They're headlined by the tandem of Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte, who have already combined for 1,035 yards and 10 scores on nearly 15 yards per catch each.  They pose serious downfield threats, and stand as some of the best wideouts in the conference. Overall depth on the edge has been hurt by the recent injury to Devin Fuller, but the surprising play of redshirt sophomore Darren Andrews seems to make up for it.  Between the quality both under center and out wide, this will be CU's toughest test in the secondary to-date.
Payton leads a talented corps of receivers.  From:
Luckily for the Buffs, while the passing game will really challenge, there are some questions in the backfield, especially when it comes to who we will see toting the rock for UCLA this week.  Normative starter Paul Perkins, the reigning conference leader in rushing yards, took a knee injury last week against Cal.  Add to that backup Nate Starks already sitting with concussion symptoms and the talented Craig Lee off the roster due to academic issues, and the Bruins were forced to turn to freshman Soso Jamabo last week to finish off the Golden Bears.  The Texan played well, logging 79 yards in the win, but still made some freshman mistakes.  Indications are that Perkins and Starks are back in the mix for playing time against Colorado, and would both do well if they see the field, but don't be surprised if Jamabo gets more than his typical share of carries on Saturday.  Perkins is the real star here, though.  He's been getting six yards per carry this fall, and stands to be an early entrant into the NFL at season's end.

Over on defense, the best of those who remain are still struggling to deal with injuries. Leading tackler Isaauko Savaiinaea is potentially out after hurting his leg against Cal, which only limits their linebacking corps further.  Senior Aaron Wallace makes up for it, however, with his team-leading four sacks on the season. Along with sophomore Kenny Young, the pair brings enough talent to the table to keep this from turning into an outright linebacking disaster, like the one Arizona was dealing with a few weeks ago.
Kenny Young is disruptive. From: CBS LA
In the backfield, junior speedster Ishmael Adams is back from suspension, and constantly looms in both coverage and on special teams.  Playing alongside sophomore Jaleel Wadood and Randal Goforth, their defensive backfield is a little under-sized (all under six-foot), but still dangerous.  Up front, the loss of Vanderdoes is crippling, as he was truly one of the best in the country.  Mountain-of-a-man Kenny Clark (6-3, 310 lbs) does a decent job picking up the load, however (five tackles for loss, 40 total), as does Eli Ankou (just as big - 6-3, 305 lbs).  These players have been pushed to the forefront a little sooner than anticipated, but they can still make an impact.

Finally, a special shoutout to senior placekicker John Christian Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'a Fairbairn, better known as Ka'imi, who not only wins the all-time greatest name ever contest, but is also a pretty damn good kicker (41-42 on all kicks this fall, including a 60-yarder last week).  If only he were a Stanford Cardinal, there'd be hope he'd get popular enough to earn the endowed-position-coach treatment, so that someone, til the end of time, would be the 'John Christian Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'a Fairbairn Director of Special Teams.' But, alas, he chose UCLA. Opportunity missed.

Coaching - 

Jim Mora returns for his fourth spin at the helm of the Good Ship UCLA, having become well-received in Los Angeles for leading the Bruins to 29 wins and three major bowl berths over his first three seasons. Those three seasons haven't been quiet, per se, but far more successful than their crosstown rivals, a rarity in the life of UCLA/USC football relations.  It's no small note that the Bruins have won each of the last three meetings with the Trojans, after losing the previous five (four of those under Rick Neuheisel).  In other words, barring something stupid (always an open possibility in the City of Angels), the man is entrenched on the Rose Bowl sideline.
Jim Mora has gotten some good results out of UCLA the last few years.  From: the LA Times.
I have to admit, I'm a big Mora fan.  Sure, the stupidity surrounding his NFL tenures boggles the mind, and something colorful always seems to pop up while he's around, but he seems to get a lot out of his players, and attracts a lot of talent.  The Jack exit notwithstanding, his players seem to like him, and they play hard for him in return. He even has his team playing with a vocal 'us-against-the-world' mentality, despite being favored most weeks. A solid coach, he has the Bruins in position to be a major player in the South for the foreseeable future.

Prediction - 

My 2015 record: 7-1. Against the spread: 5-2. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +1.72 pts/gm
Line as of Wednesday @ 7pm - CU +22.5, O/U 64

That loss last season doubly hurts, as the return trip to the Rose Bowl this Saturday doesn't project to be nearly as *ahem* rosy for the Buffs as their near miss from last fall.  The Bruins were a better football team last year, and the Buffs are capable of putting out a stronger product in 2015 than in 2014, but I just don't like the look of Colorado right now.  They're still reeling from key injuries on both sides of the ball, and road trips against competent opponents have rarely ended in a positive fashion.  Honestly, I'm thinking big loss.

I'll say the Buffs collect enough turnovers to make the Bruins think for a bit, but, without a developed rushing attack to lob body blows at the soft underbelly of UCLA (and keep the clock moving), this one will be well out of hand by the end of the 3rd quarter.

UCLA 47 - CU 17


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