Colorado vs. No. 25 UCLA – A Preview – “T.I.P.S.” for CU’s 100th Homecoming

It’s not too much of a stretch to state that CU’s Homecoming game against No. 25 UCLA this Saturday (noon, Pac-12 Networks) can be seen as a defining moment for the 2014 Colorado football team.

Prior to the blowout loss to No. 22 USC, every game this fall had been competitive. True, Colorado fell behind No. 16 Arizona State, 17-0, early in the second quarter, but the Buffs fought back, and made it 17-14 before halftime. In every other game on the 2014 calendar, the Buffs, despite the losing record, were competitive, with a chance to win every game (including the ASU game) in the fourth quarter. That fact, in an of itself, signaled progress was being made by the CU program under Mike MacIntyre.

Then came the game against USC, and suddenly it was 2012 again.

Falling behind 28-0 in the first quarter, the Buffs put themselves – and their fans – back in the position of being concerned as to whether the USC game was an aberration … or an indication of how the remainder of the 2014 season will play out.

CU head coach Mike MacIntyre, for one, does not see any quit in his team. “They came out ready to practice Monday, they came out ready to practice (Tuesday),”, said MacIntyre. “They were there in the morning ready to go, focused. These young men are doing everything we ask as hard as they can. That one (the USC game) kind of just snowballed on us. I don’t like that to happen, I don’t want it to happen again, I hope I never see it again”.

MacIntyre’s quarterback, sophomore Sefo Liufau, has a similar mindset. “We want to go 1-0 each week. We haven’t been doing that recently and it’s frustrating, you can’t hide that”, said Liufau. “But, the guys are self-motivated this year compared to last year and we just want to win. The guys are putting in the preparation this week to go out there and we just have to perform on Saturday. The preparation has been good each week, it’s always just a matter of going out there and executing.”

Last season against UCLA, with the Bruins ranked No. 17 nationally, Colorado actually took 3-0 and 10-7 first half leads against the Bruins, and were down only 21-13 at halftime. The Buffs stayed within two scores for most of the second half, eventually falling 45-23. Despite the 22-point loss, Buff fans were actually encouraged by the team’s play. Colorado had been competitive for most of the game, something which hadn’t been seen often in the previous few seasons.

A 22-point loss to UCLA this weekend, though, will not be seen as a step forward.

It will be seen as another step back.

Such is the nature of expectations. Colorado fans understand that the 2014 season is about showing that the program has progressed, at least to the point where it can be competitive with the elite teams in the Pac-12 conference.

Buff fans are looking for the home team to make a statement this weekend.

Another 28-0 first quarter deficit will not be tolerated. Another 56-28 rout will be seen as regression.

It’s time to surprise some people …

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.” for the game:

T – Talent

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley entered the 2014 season as one of the contenders for the Heisman trophy. The Bruins were coming off of a 10-3 season in 2013, and Hundley was coming off of a two-year run in which his arm and legs had accounted for 73 touchdowns. A run to the Pac-12 title and the national playoffs might be just enough, it was thought, to propel Hundley into the Heisman conversation.

The Bruins are 5-2 on the season, however, and are realistically already out of the hunt for the national championship. Hundley, while not spectacular, has been more than effective. Hundley is No. 1 in the nation in completion percentage (.725), and 6th in the country in passing efficiency. “He’s just very, very explosive,” MacIntyre said. “He’s very, very accurate in his passing game. Even when you make him move his feet, he’s still very accurate.”

Hundley was exactly that against Colorado last season, going 19-of-24 for 273 yards and two touchdowns. Hundley also led the Bruins in rushing in the 45-23 victory, with 11 carries for 72 yards and two more touchdowns.

This just in … it would be helpful if the CU defense could keep Hundley in check.

One way to do that is to have a successful pass rush. Hundley has been sacked 25 times this season (by comparison, Sefo Liufau has been sacked ten times). Teams which have been successful against UCLA have been successful in getting to Hundley.

Hundley’s favorite receiver is Jordan Payton, who has had at least five catches in all but one game (four vs. Texas). Payton had 151 receiving yards against Arizona State, the most by a Bruin in a single game since 2009. Thomas Duarte, meanwhile, is averaging 18.3 yards per reception, Eldridge Massington 17.2 yards per catch (no Buff receiver is averaging as many as 13 yards per catch).

The rushing attack is led by Paul Perkins, who was injured in last weekend’s game against Cal (wrist), but is expected to play against Colorado. Perkins has run for at least 50 yards in all of his 13 career games, with a best of 190 yards against Oregon. Perkins is 14th in the nation in rushing, with 816 yards in his first seven games (meanwhile the leading CU rusher, Christian Powell, has 285 yards so far this season).

On defense, the Bruin name heard most often is that of linebacker Myles Jack, who like CU’s George Frazier, plays on both sides of the ball. Jack was not only named the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman-of-the-Year last fall, he was also named the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman-of-the-Year. Jack had a career-best 13 tackles against Virginia, and already has eight career rushing touchdowns to his credit. Jack’s partner on defense is senior linebacker Eric Kendricks, who has 36 career starts, and is 13th in the nation with 11 tackles per game.

One name Buff fans do not want to hear on Saturday is that of Ishmael Adams. The Bruin defensive back already has two interception returns for touchdowns this season, and is leading the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 25.1 yards per return.

“There aren’t very many circumstances [where you want to kick it to Adams]” MacIntyre understated. “He’s excellent. On kickoff returns, Ishmael is really special.”

I – Intangibles

Saturday marks Colorado’s 100th Homecoming. The Buffs have a good winning percentage in their previous 99 Homecoming’s, going 61-33-5.

The grand marshal for the Homecoming festivities is CU’s lone Heisman trophy winner, Rashaan Salaam. It is the 20th anniversary of Salaam’s 2,055-yard run into the Colorado record books.

This month also marks the 90th anniversary of Folsom Field, a place where Colorado has won almost two-thirds of all its games since 1924.

For Saturday’s game against UCLA, all of the above means … nothing.

Once the game starts, the history of success of the University of Colorado football program won’t have any bearing. If any history will enter into the consciousness of the players on the field, it will be that, since CU joined the Pac-12, UCLA has won all three contests … and won them handily.

The scores of the UCLA/CU games since 2011 have been 45-6; 42-14; and 45-23. (If you want to denote a trend, UCLA’s point total has remained fairly static over the past three seasons, while CU’s point total each year continues to climb. So the Buffs have that going for them, which is nice …).

In fact, Mike MacIntyre came closer to beating UCLA when he was the head coach at San Jose State than he did last year in his first season with the Buffs. In 2011, MacIntyre led the San Jose State Spartans to Pasadena, and gave the Bruins a game, falling 27-17 in a game which was tied at 17-all going into the fourth quarter.

P – Preparation / Schedule

It used to be that Colorado was very good at defending its home turf. Over the 90 years of play at Folsom Field, the Buffs have won about two-thirds of its home games (301-162-10). The home record in conference games since joining the Pac-12, however, is a miserable 2-12, with only home wins over Arizona and California to show for three-plus years of play.

UCLA, meanwhile, has little trouble adjusting to the road.

The Bruins have won seven straight road games, including all four road games this season. UCLA dominated then No. 15 Arizona State, 62-27, four weeks ago, but struggled in its other road games against lesser opponents, coming away with one score victories over Virginia, Texas, and, last weekend, Cal.

Perhaps the only thing going for the Buffs in terms of preparation this weekend is the kickoff time. The noon start translates to an 11:00 a.m. start for the UCLA players. The Bruins faced a similar difficulty in the season opener, playing against Virginia. The game was also a noon kickoff, but it was played in the Eastern time zone, which was the equivalent to a 9:00 a.m. start for the Bruins. UCLA struggled offensively against the Cavaliers, needing three defensive touchdowns to escape Charlottesville with a 28-20 win.

On the one hand, the adjustment of one hour instead of three for a morning game will be easier for the Bruins. On the other, UCLA coaches had the entire month of August, plus the full week leading up to the Virginia game (UCLA did not start its fall quarter until September 29th) to get their team ready for the early start.

We’ll take what we can get.

Looking forward, next weekend UCLA has a home game (the only one in four weeks) against Arizona. The night game on ESPN will certainly attract more attention nationally than the early afternoon Colorado game on the Pac-12 Networks. Buff fans can only hope that the Bruins are looking forward to the Pac-12 South showdown against the Wildcats, and will be looking past the Buffs …

S – Statistics

While some quarters are calling for quarterback Sefo Liufau to be replaced by fellow sophomore Jordan Gehrke, the numbers are on Liufau’s side. Liufau currently has a streak of ten games with at least two touchdown passes … the longest such streak in the nation. Liufau has also thrown a touchdown pass in all of his 15 career games, already six games better than the previous school record (and a streak which is currently the fifth longest in the country).

Nelson Spruce, meanwhile, continues to lead the nation in receptions (71) and touchdowns (11), and is second in the country in receiving yards (801). The opposition, though, is keying more on Spruce, with the junior held to only 104 yards and one touchdown  in the past two games, after posting four 100-yard games in the first five contests (and 97 in the other).

“The other guys have been getting open and have been making plays, which has been nice to see,” said MacIntyre of the opposition’s taking Spruce out of the offense more than before. “That takes some of pressure off Nelson and will hopefully force the (defensive backs) to play us more honest from now on.”

Some stats of note:

Success through the air? … Colorado is 18th in the nation in pass offense (307.6 yards/game); UCLA is 102nd in the nation in pass defense (267.9 yards/game);

– Don’t look Ethel! … Colorado had better do a good job of keeping the UCLA offense “between the 20’s”, because once the Bruins get inside the red zone, there won’t be much drama. UCLA is No. 1 in the nation in red zone offense, converting opportunities into points on every one of its 24 trips inside the 20-yard line this fall (18 touchdowns; six field goals). Colorado, meanwhile, is 121st in the country in red zone defense, allowing a conversion rate of 96.9%. Ouch!;

Meet you at the quarterback … As noted, above, UCLA is lousy at protecting their principal asset, quarterback Brett Hundley. The Bruins are 118th in the nation in sacks, having given up 25 already this season. Colorado has posted 15 sacks to date, 62nd nationally;

Hanky alert (again!) … It’s a Pac-12 conference game, so, once again, it is not a surprise that the two participants rank very poorly in penalties. UCLA is 90th in the nation in penalties per game (7.0); Colorado is 108th (8.1). Both are in the 100’s in penalty yards per game;

Key to the game … Keep the ball, and be successful in finishing drives (duh!). Colorado is averaging 88.0 plays per game, a full four plays per game greater than any such total in Colorado history (84.0 plays per game in 1970). The Buffs are also 15th in the nation in time of possession, hanging onto the ball 33:03 per game. If the Buffs can sustain drives, and keep the ball away from Hundley and his playmakers, the Buffs have a chance.

P.S. It would also help if this week Colorado went from the negative in turnover margin (minus-three for the season) to the positive.

Go Buffs!



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