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“T.I.P.S.” for Buffs v. Bruins

In three of the past four seasons, Colorado and UCLA have played games which were decided by less than a touchdown.

In each of those three games, the Bruins came out with a victory:

— 2014: No. 25 UCLA 40, Colorado 37 (2OT)

— 2015: No. 24 UCLA 35, Colorado 31

— 2017: UCLA 27, Colorado 23

You don’t have to strain your memory for too long to remember those three “woulda, coulda, shoulda” games. Even in the one game in which the Buffs did prevail in the past four years – in 2016, when the Buffs won, 20-10 – it was a late punt return for a touchdown by Isaiah Oliver which made it more than a one score game.

At 5Dimes, Colorado is listed as a ten-point favorite over UCLA.

History suggests, however, that the game this weekend will be a closer than that.

 

This week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU v. UCLA … Friday, 7:00 p.m. MT, FS1

 

T – Talent 

Don’t head into Folsom Field Friday night without a program in hand.

Why?

With a program, you might be hard-pressed to figure out UCLA’s starting lineup.

As you know, the Bruins have issues at the quarterback position. Wilson Speight, a graduate transfer from Michigan, got the starting nod for the opener against Cincinnati. Speight injured his back against the Bearcats, however, leaving the starting job the last two games to true freshman, Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Speight may or may not be available for the game against Colorado, though there are reports that he was participating in all of UCLA’s drills this past week.

To complicate matters further, there was the Twitter rants by Thompson-Robinson’s father after UCLA lost to Fresno State, going on about Chip Kelly’s “lousy coaching and play calling”. All this could put head coach Chip Kelly in an awkward position if he sits Thompson-Robinson … and Speight doesn’t play well.

Oh, and backup quarterback Devon Modster announced this past week that he was transferring.

But the quarterback position is not the only backfield question mark for UCLA.

UCLA running backs were sprinting all over the field last Saturday at the Rose Bowl against Fresno State. The only problem was that it was mostly between plays.

During their 38-14 loss to the Bulldogs, the Bruins put four different running backs on the field in their first four offensive plays. Senior Bolu Olorunfunmi started the game and immediately gave way to Soso Jamabo, who then tagged off for freshmen Martell Irby and Kazmeir Allen. A single running back rarely stayed on the field for more than three consecutive plays.

Yet with the revolving door of running backs, UCLA had just 119 total rushing yards on 31 carries.

“There are certain things that all those guys do well and we’re just trying to play to their strengths,” head coach Chip Kelly said of the running back carousel.

Blocking for the carousel of running backs are three underclassmen, including a true freshman at center.

On the other side of the ball, five underclassmen are listed atop the depth chart for the CU game, including a sophomore and a true freshman along the front of UCLA’s 3-4 defense. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Moore moved from defensive line to outside linebacker last week during practice, in part to alleviate thinning depth at the position, and is now listed as a co-backup behind Keisean Lucier-South.

Suffice it to say … there are plenty of talented players on the UCLA roster, but the depth chart is a work in progress.

 

I – Intangibles

1-10.

Put those numbers before a long-time Buff fan, and you’ll probably hear about the dismal years of 1980 and 1984, when the Buffs posted 1-10 records both of those seasons.

In 2018, however, 1-10 represents … the combined record of CU’s first three opponents (CSU is 1-4, while Nebraska and New Hampshire are both 0-3).

The Buffs are 3-0, but with each passing weekend, the value of those victories are being diminished. Colorado State, with the exception of the win over Arkansas the Rams had no business winning (the Rams were down 18 points, 27-9, with 18 minutes to play, but won, 35-27), has been abysmal. Last Saturday, CSU lost 35-19, at home, to the FCS Illinois State Redbirds. Nebraska, meanwhile, followed up its loss to Colorado with a home loss to Troy and a meltdown 56-10 road loss to Michigan.

Compare 1-10 to …

10-1.

That’s the combined record of UCLA’s first three opponents. Cincinnati and Oklahoma are both 4-0, while Fresno State is 2-1. While impressive, the records are a bit misleading. The only Power Five win for the Bruins’ opponents outside of their wins over UCLA belongs to Oklahoma, which beat Iowa State in Week Three (but then struggled to beat Army in overtime last Saturday).

So what does this all mean?

Is CU not as good as its 3-0 record suggests, and/or that UCLA is not as bad as its 0-3 record suggests?

Probably a little bit of both.

I’m sure … or at least I hope … that the CU players have been getting an earful this week about how talented the Bruins are, and how the Buffs absolutely cannot take this game for granted.

And … It probably doesn’t hurt that the Buffs have at least two other means of motivation this week:

— Last season, the Buffs had a golden opportunity to steal a win over the Bruins in the Rose Bowl, but came away empty-handed in a 27-23 loss. “It’s real frustrating, actually,” said quarterback Steven Montez, after the game. “I thought there were a lot of plays out there that could have gone our way. Obviously they didn’t … I thought that we played a good game. We’ve just got to finish”. The loss to UCLA ultimately was the difference in 2017 between a bowl invitation and losing record. Hopefully, the Buffs who were on the field last year against the Bruins remember how that game finished.

— Colorado rose up from No. 29 to No. 26 in the latest Associated Press poll. Even without any upsets, the battle between No. 19 and No. 24 California will open up at least one spot in next week’s Top 25. While I doubt a poll ranking is at the top of the motivational chart for most Buff players, I can’t imagine that there are many Buffs who would not like to see CU getting some national recognition.

 

P – Preparation/Schedule 

When the 2018 schedule was first released last winter, I was dismayed at the timing of Colorado’s bye week.

Granted, the bye week after three games was certainly better than last year. In 2017, the Buffs inexplicably got a week off in November, with only the season finale in Salt Lake City left on the schedule.

Still, if given my druthers, I would have probably put the bye week either before, during or right after the back-to-back road trips to USC and Washington. A break to prepare for – or recover from – those tough two games seemed to make the most sense for a team looking to re-establish itself as a player in the Pac-12 conference.

Mike MacIntyre, however, embraced the bye week coming between the end of the non-conference slate and the beginning of Pac-12 conference play. While 0-3 UCLA, which also had a bye last week, focused on “improvement week”, the Buffs last week went “back to camp”.

The Buffs returned to the fields below the stadium for last week’s practices, rather than utilize the Franklin field and in the indoor practice facility. “I thought we bonded really well during our preseason camp down (on the practice fields) and the things we did,” MacIntyre said. “I wanted to say this is our preseason practice for the Pac-12. Get back to that work mentality, that this week was going to be a work week, not a vacation week … I think walking down the hill and walking back up the hill make them think a lot and realize how important it is.”

It may have been better to play UCLA last week, with the Bruins still reeling from an 0-3 start. Now, however, I’m with coach MacIntyre. The week off after starting the season 3-0 is good timing for the Buffs. Instead of heading straight into conference play, where an over-confident team may have overlooked the Bruins, the Buffs got a chance to reset. The Buff coaches – undoubtedly – have been reminding the players that they haven’t won anything yet, that they are 0-0 in Pac-12 conference play, that they went 3-0 to start last season and then went south, and that they are still at least three wins away from bowl eligibility, much less a championship.

The 2018 Buffs, unlike their 2017 counterparts, seem to have the right amount of focus, and the right priorities. They are taking one game at a time, and are building confidence along the way.

That’s a good combination.

 

S – Statistics

Several Buffs are ranked highly nationally in a number of significant categories:

— Laviska Shenault is 1st in the nation in receiving yards per game (151.7) and receptions per game (8.7); 5th in the nation in receiving yards (455); and 10th in the nation in all-purpose yards (155.0 yards/game);

— Steven Montez is 5th in the nation in completion percentage (73.4%); 16th in the nation in quarterback efficiency rating (173.6); 18th in the nation in passing yards (285.0 yards/game); and 25th in the nation in total offense (294.0 yards/game);

— Nate Landman is 3rd in the nation in tackles for loss (2.3/game); 15th in the nation in total tackles (11.3/game); and 18th in the nation in solo tackles (6.0/game);

In terms of team statistics, the UCLA numbers are, as you might expect, gruesome. The Bruins are ranked 100th or worse in almost every major offensive measurement:

  • Rushing offense – 103rd (130.7 yards/game)
  • Passing offense – 101st (189.0 yards/game)
  • Total offense – 118th (319.7 yards/game)
  • Scoring offense – 120th (17.3 point/game)

Granted, three games is small sample … but, yikes!

On the defensive side of the ball, the numbers are better for the Bruins … but not that much better. UCLA ranks 75th or worse in almost all of the defensive categories, and is 90th in total defense (403.0 yards/game) and 114th in scoring defense (37.7 points/game).

For Colorado, there are a few 100+ national rankings, but not that many:

  • Tackles for loss allowed – 114th (8.0/game)
  • Quarterback sacks allowed – 107th (9)

Meanwhile, the Buffs are ranked in the top 25 nationally in a number of categories:

  • Total offense – 24th (494.0 yards/game)
  • Tackles for loss – 10th (8.7/game)
  • Quarterback sacks by – 10th (10)
  • Net punting – 24th (41.2) (even with starter Alex Kinney out since the first quarter of the Nebraska game)
  • Kickoff returns – 15th (27.3 yards/return)
  • Turnover margin – 18th (+1.00/game)
  • Red zone scoring defense – 5th (60%)

So … if they allow the game to be played on paper, the Buffs are the clear favorite …

 

Prediction …

History tells us that Colorado and UCLA tend to play close games.

History also tells us that Colorado doesn’t play well after a bye week under Mike MacIntyre (1-4, with the only win coming in the 20-10 win over UCLA in 2016).

Chip Kelly is also undefeated against Colorado.

But 2018 is a new season.

When Chip Kelly took over as head coach at Oregon in 2009, he was moving up from the offensive coordinator position. Kelly retained the defensive coordinator, Nick Aliotti, who had been in Eugene for 12 seasons.

When Chip Kelly took over as head coach at UCLA, it was a fresh start. The coaching staff – with the exceptions of the running backs coach and wide receivers coach – are all new to Westwood.

It’s not a complete surprise that the Bruins are still finding their way (although it may come as a surprise to all of the preseason magazines, which universally hailed the Chip Kelly as the best hire of the off-season).

When I look at UCLA, I see a team which is in disarray … but also a team which has had a bye week to get its act together. I expect the Bruins will come out firing on all cylinders, and with a few trick plays and new formations to try and upset Colorado on its home field.

My watch word for the opener against Colorado State was “patience”. CU clearly had the more talented team, and, if they could withstand the emotion of the first quarter, they could take care of business as the game progressed. The Buffs did just that, shrugging off a long touchdown pass by the Rams in the first quarter (to make it a 14-7 game), slowly but surely pulling away the rest of the game.

I see the UCLA game much the same way. The Buffs are clearly the better team right now. The Bruins will throw in everything but the kitchen sink to try and give their season a jump start in the Pac-12 opener.

I foresee a nervous first quarter, and perhaps even a nervous first half. But … there’s always a but … if the Buffs can stay out of their own way, they have an offense which can score on the Bruins defense, and a defense which can take advantage of a work-in-progress UCLA offense.

… Colorado 30, UCLA 21 … 

Previous predictions … 

Prediction: Colorado 48, New Hampshire 10 … Actual: Colorado 45, New Hampshire 14

Prediction: Colorado 31, Nebraska 24 … Actual: Colorado 33, Nebraska 28

Prediction: Colorado 41, Colorado State 24 … Actual: Colorado 45, Colorado State 13

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12 Replies to “CU v. UCLA – A Preview”

      1. Oh, it’ll happen. Most likely in Seattle…

        Seriously, I think CU should handle UCLA, but? That’s my nature. I also don’t think UCLA will look as bad as their record has shown them to be. Although I was in the “let’s see if Kelly can recreate the OU magic” camp, I do still think he can coach. And, he’s got a seasoned QB back, along w/ two weeks to prepare. Should be a fun game. And, if recent history is any guide, it’ll be close.

        I still say CU wins. Heck, I think they’ll beat ASU too, and roll into LA at 5 and 0, which would sure be nice. Then? Steal a win there. Then it gets real.

        Go Buffs

          1. Good man. I grew up in Pullman. My brother, brother-in-law (sister by marriage) and a ton of friends are Huskies. I went up to the debacle a handful of years ago. Still fun despite the loss. Seattle’s always a good time, and Husky Stadium’s a great venue. Have fun. And? Honestly? The Buffs have a shot to stun the Huskies. If our guys (Mustafa, et al) can get some pressure on Browning, and they can contain Gaskin, at the same time (’cause those things are easy) I like our chances.

            Go Buffs!

  1. I agree with Buffnaustin it would benefit the offense a lot to not have Evans pound the inside when you have a sledgehammer on the bench. Not degrading Evans, we need his talent too… in the open where he’s a threat. Bisharat has proven he can pound for 3-4 yards, even when the defense knows he’s a-comin’. And…. he can bust it outside at the drop of a hat. MM don’t let your son’s high school friendship get in the way of using your talent to its best advantage.

    1. All well and good he picked up chunks of yards against two, horrible defenses and I agree with him being able to pound inside and all that; but a lot of times it comes down to which guy you think is better at picking up the blitz, or blocking the right guy or being where he is supposed to be on a play. You only get that by film study and practice which fans hate to hear (along with the old coachspeak “we have to execute better”) but which is true. Once a guy you think is a better runner misses an assignment and gets your QB killed and he is out for several games or for the year then everyone sings a different tune. That’s why Evans is out their more than you think he should be early on and as Beau gets better in that phase I would bet you would see less of Evans and more of Bisharat as the season progresses.

  2. Well I guess I see more disparity than the rest. But I also see an offense which has yet to open the full playbook, saving for Pac-12 play. UCLA is going to be a hot mess the entire year
    CU-41 UCLA-20

  3. I would like to see more of Bisharat to pound the ball between the tackles. I think the Buffs have too much offense for the Bruins to handle. but still another close game . CU 38 UCLA 31.

  4. Buffs still have not yet proven it in Pac 12 play and the Rams are beyond horrible and the Huskers are awful so the competition has been suspect. Regardless of stats, UCLA has talent. Last year, everybody talked about how terrible their D was and how our O would take advantage of that. Didn’t happen. I feel that Buffs will not cover the spread on this one but will prevail in the end. So far my predictions this season have been close. I hope I am way off, in a positive way, on this one.

    CU 31 UCLA 27

    Go Buffs!!!

  5. One factor not mentioned in this article is the altitude. Coach Chev does a good job of running play after play with the up tempo offense. I think you will see UCLA’s defense with hands on their hips toward the end of the 2nd and 4th quarters. We should add to our score during those periods. GO CU!! 34-17 CU WINS!!

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