Preview – UCLA
Colorado v. UCLA.
Colorado head coach Jon Embree takes on his son, a wide receiver end for UCLA … on Senior Day at the Rose Bowl.
Former Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel takes on his former team with his job in the balance. Two wins away from a Pac-12 South title, yet two losses away from unemployment.
Former Buff Josh Smith, the only Colorado player to ever post over 1,000 yards in kickoff returns in a season (1,276 in 2008), and now the 2nd all-time leading kick returner in UCLA history (in less than two full seasons), takes on his former team.
Former Bruin Paul Richardson, a UCLA signee before an off-field incident led him to CU’s doorstep on the eve of fall camp in 2010, and finally healthy enough to return to his former explosive form, suits up to play in the Rose Bowl against his one time teammates.
Oh yeah, and Jon Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy were once assistants at UCLA, while Bruin secondary coach Tim Hundley coached at Colorado (1996-98).
You just can’t make this stuff up.
The fact of the matter is, however, that once the game starts, most, if not all of the above drama will fade away. Asked if he would watch his son play this weekend, Jon Embree replied, “As we get going in the game, I really don’t pay attention to particular players, so I don’t know how that will be. I’m on the headsets a lot conversing about certain situations coming up. I’m not really in-tuned of what is going on out there from a personnel standpoint.”
So, while the fans of both teams will feed on the sub-plots this week, the real issue is which team will seize the moment in a game crucial – for very different reasons – to both schools.
Which leads us to this week’s “T.I.P.S.”
T – Talent
The past month or so, Colorado has gotten used to game planning for quarterbacks who are Heisman trophy candidates and future NFL draft picks.
That’s not the issue this week.
The question for the Colorado coaching staff is not so much the talent of the quarterback they will be facing, but which quarterback will break the first huddle.
Junior Kevin Prince started in the opener against Houston, but went out with a concussion in the second quarter. In his place, junior Richard Brehaut stepped in, and was the starter until he suffered a fracture in his lower left leg against Stanford. Prince then returned, and has started the last three games.
This week, for really the first time all season, both quarterbacks are healthy and ready to play. Their numbers in 2011 are remarkably close: 63-of 117 for 977 yards for Prince; 66-of-119 for 935 yards for Brehaut.
And the starter for UCLA this Saturday against Colorado will be …
“There is no question about that,” said UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel on Monday.
After rallying the Bruins to victories over Cal and Arizona State at home, Prince struggled last weekend in a 31-6 loss to Utah. Prince had 163 yards rushing against California, but then finished with 10 yards rushing against Utah. After completing 11 of 17 passes for 196 yards against Arizona State, he was 12 for 24 for 146 yards, with two passes intercepted, against Utah.
Prince is more effective than Brehaut in running the ball, a necessary talent in the Bruins’ pistol offense. Prince has 306 yards rushing this season – the most for a UCLA quarterback since 1995 – while Brehaut has managed 169 yards on the ground.
Whichever quarterback is behind center, they will have a pair of quality backs to hand off to. Junior Johnathan Franklin has 695 yards rushing, with 100-yard games against Houston and Washington State, while senior Derrick Coleman has 505 yards this fall. (For comparison’s sake, CU’s Rodney Stewart has 742 yards rushing, but the Buffs’ number two rusher, Tony Jones, has only 214 for the year). Overall, UCLA is 35th in the nation in rushing, with 186.7 yards per game (CU is 104th).
While UCLA would rather run the ball than pass, the Bruins are more than adequate in the passing game. At the receiving end is one deep threat, to go with not one, not two, but three names which will make many Buff fans cringe just a little.
The primary receiver has been senior Nelson Rosario, who has 42 catches for 788 yards (but, surprisingly, only one touchdown). Against Arizona State two weeks ago, Rosario caught five balls for 151 yards, his fourth career 100-yard receiving game.
The three names which will be familiar to Buff fans are Taylor Embree, Joseph Fauria, and Josh Smith. Embree and Fauria both have relatives who played for Colorado (Taylor’s father; Joseph’s uncle, Christian), with Embree a bona fide threat to do damage against his father’s team. The senior wide receiver is 7th on the all-time list at UCLA in receptions, and 14th in receiving yards. (In case you are wondering, Taylor Embree wanted to play for Colorado. As his father put it, Taylor knew the CU fight song before he knew the Star Spangled Banner. The younger Embree, though, was not offered a scholarship by Dan Hawkins).
The third familiar name, Josh Smith, did sign with the Buffs, and smashed the school record for kickoff return yards in 2008 (no Buff had ever posted 1,000 yards in a season, Smith went for 1,276). In less than two seasons with UCLA, Smith ranks second all-time in kickoff returns, including 36 returns for 868 yards this season.
Overall, the UCLA offense is just about as mediocre as its 5-5 record would suggest. The Bruins are averaging only 23.3 points per game, not a great deal higher than the 21.3 the Buffs’ struggling offense has generated this fall.
The UCLA defense is mediocre as well. The Bruins are 95th in rushing defense, 87th in total defense, and 92nd in scoring defense. The Buffs can – and should be able to post some numbers against a defense which has given up 38 or more points four times this season.
UCLA is giving up over 31 points per game overall, and the numbers suggest that the Buffs may be able to use a balanced attack – as they did against Arizona last weekend.
If the Buffs can control the ball, and put up over 200 yards in both rushing and passing again (Colorado is 43-2 in games when doing so, dating back to 1981),
then the Buffs will finally post a road victory.
I – Intangibles
Colorado head coach Jon Embree has been the head coach at Colorado for 11 months, or about 330 days.
Which means that he has been asked about coaching against his son about 330 times … and has been game planning for UCLA since the schedule was announced.
It is certainly true that, once the game starts, the focus of the players and coaches will be on the next play, the next series, the next opportunity. But in terms of game planning, Jon Embree would be forgiven if he admitted that he spent a little extra time this summer reviewing UCLA game film.
This time, it’s personal.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that Jon Embree loves his son. He talks about Taylor in glowing terms, and said this week that he talks with Taylor four or five times a week (how many of us can say that about our out-of-state kids?), but Jon is also a competitor. Jon also knows that this is a game which he and his family will be discussing for the rest of their lives. For someone who is stuck with results of the 2006 Colorado/Montana State game for the rest of his life (the Bobcats are the No. 1 ranked 1-AA team in the nation this week, BTW, with the “Brawl of the Wild” game against No. 7 Montana this Saturday) I know how important this game is to both members of the Embree family who will be participants.
Will that make a difference in the outcome? Perhaps not.
Or perhaps it will.
Another intangible, this one working in favor of the Bruins, is UCLA’s need to win this game. True, UCLA, at 5-5, can still salvage a winning season and a bowl bid with a victory over USC next weekend, but this weekend is really the make or break game. Win, and the Bruins will head down the road to face the Trojans with a Pac-12 title berth on the line, a bowl bid already in their back pockets. Lose to Colorado, however, and the Bruins will have to take on USC with the chance of a losing season and the loss of a bowl bid hanging in the balance.
The fate of Rick Neuheisel as the head coach in Westwood could also be decided Saturday. If the Bruins win, Neuheisel probably keeps his job. Even with a 6-6 record (assuming a loss to USC), it would be hard to fire a coach who was one win away from a conference title berth. On the other hand, it was “bowl bid or else” for much of the season for Neuheisel. When the Bruins lost on national television to a 1-6 Arizona team (whose only win in its past 12 games was over 1-AA Northern Arizona), and lost badly, 48-12, to fall to 3-4, the vultures were circling.
Neuheisel, though, as Jon Embree put it this week, is a survivor. The Bruins quickly turned things around after the Tucson debacle, defeating both California and Arizona State to not only climb back into the race for the Pac-12 title game, but take control.
Then, just as quickly, the Bruins lost it. A 31-6 humbling at the hands of Utah had the critics back in full voice … until Arizona State inexplicably lost to Washington State that night. Once again, the Bruins were back in control of their own destiny. The survivor was given another chance.
The UCLA coaching staff – and the players – know what is at stake this Saturday. There will be no overlooking Colorado. This is the Bruins’ “must win” game. Just as the Colorado players, with their backs against the wall of infamy, came through in their final home game of the season, it would not be a surprise if the Bruins came out and played well against Colorado.
P – Preparation / Schedule
The schedule makers did not do Colorado any favors this season. Saddled with seven road games, the Buffs are on the road for the final two games of the regular season for the first time since 1989, and only the second time in the last 38 seasons.
Did the Buffs get themselves up for Senior Day against Arizona? The statistics seem to show that they did.
Well, welcome to the first of two road Senior Days.
UCLA will parade 18 seniors out before the home crowd, including, of course, wide receiver Taylor Embree.
While the Bruins look at the Buffs as their best shot at six wins and bowl eligibility, the Buffs are probably looking at UCLA as their best chance to end the road losing streak. After starting 3-4 this fall (and 0-4 in Pac-12 play), the Utes have rattled off three straight victories. Surprisingly enough, if the cards fall correctly, and UCLA and Arizona State continue their mediocre play, Utah is still in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title.
Utah has taken down, in succession, Oregon State, Arizona, and UCLA. Not exactly a murderer’s row, but, if the Utes can take care of business against Washington State at home this weekend (wasn’t it nice of the Pac-12 to give the Utes two home games to finish the year – after giving them a schedule with five home games to the Buffs’ four, and giving Utah a pass on playing either Stanford or Oregon?), it is not inconceivable that Colorado will, for the next two weekends, be playing on the road, on Senior day, against teams vying for a Pac-12 title game berth.
Best to get the road streak yoke removed this weekend, Buffs.
S – Statistics
– Colorado, as everyone knows, has not won on the road since 2007. This stat will hang over the team until it no longer applies;
– UCLA, unfortunately for the Buff Nation, is a much better home team than road team. UCLA 1-4 on the road this sason, and have looked bad at times in getting there. The Bruins are 4-1 at home, however, and have played some of their best football in the Rose Bowl. This season, UCLA is 3-0 at home in Pac-12 play, including a 29-28 win over No. 20 Arizona State;
– Colorado is 50-10 against unranked opponents in November games, dating back to 1985;
– UCLA leads the series, 4-2, but Colorado has won the last two games, including the only game in the series played in the Rose Bowl (a 31-17 win in 2002) and the last game played in Boulder (a 16-14 win in 2003);
– In the 1980 game between the two teams (my first game as a freshman at CU), UCLA was ahead of Colorado 56-0 … at halftime. The Bruins then went on to cruise to a 56-14 victory.
– The 2011 season marks the 30th year that the Bruins have played their home games at the Rose Bowl, moving over from the Coliseum. In 30 seasons in Rose Bowl, UCLA has posted a 123-56-2 record, including a 3-2 record in Rose Bowl games;
– UCLA has qualified for a bowl game in nine of the last 11 seasons, though the two seasons in which the Bruins did not qualify have come under Rick Neuheisel (2008 and 2010).