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Colorado v. USC – “T.I.P.S.” for CU’s trip to Pasadena

A cold splash of reality.

No, I’m not talking about how the Buffs let a ten-point fourth quarter lead slip away against USC … though that is depressing in and of itself.

Rather, I am talking about a sentence contained at the bottom of a Daily Camera story posted Monday entitled, “Reeling CU Buffs searching for answers“. At the end of the article, following a blurb about the Stanford game next weekend being set for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff, there was this:

” … Dating back to last season, the Buffs are 3-12 in their 15 games … ”

Wait! What?

That can’t be right! … Except that it is.

The Buffs are 3-5 this season, and finished off the 2018 campaign on a seven-game losing streak. While it is also true that Colorado is also a not-as-shocking-to-the-system 8-12 over its last 20 games, the 3-12 reference threw me.

Has it really been that bad over the past 13 months?

Yup.

It’s easy for us as fans to write off the 0-7 finish to the 2018 season as Mike MacIntyre’s legacy, and an irrelevant to what is taking place in the 2019 season. The fact remains, however, that over two-thirds of the current CU roster has walked off the field of play on the losing end 12 of the last 15 times they have played in a Buff uniform.

It’s hard to create a new normal of winning … when a program is so used to losing.

“I was brought here to change the culture and to win games,” coach Tucker said Monday. “We’re not going to stop until we get that done.”

It’s just taking longer than Buff fans might have hoped …

This week’s “T.I.P.S.” for CU at UCLA … Saturday, 7:00 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks

T – Talent 

Here come the “Baby Bruins”.

“The baby Bruins are growing up,” an unusually buoyant UCLA coach Chip Kelly said after the Bruins defeated No. 24 Arizona State, 42-32, posting another strong showing from an offense that has averaged 38.2 points over its last five games.

UCLA’s defense registered another strong showing and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson appeared to be on his way to another big game before departing with an apparent left leg injury early in the fourth quarter (Thompson-Robinson returned to practice Monday). DTR ended his day against Arizona State completing 16 of 23 passes for 176 yards with two touchdowns.

While Thompson-Robinson is a burgeoning threat, the UCLA offense revolves around not the quarterback, but around one Joshua Kelley. The senior running back, who had 1,243 yards rushing last season, has 735 yards and eight touchdowns this fall. In the last two games, both UCLA victories, Kelley has posted 176 yards (on only 18 carries) in the Bruins’ 34-16 win over Stanford, then 164 yards and four touchdowns in the 42-32 takedown of No. 24 Arizona State last weekend (the game wasn’t that close. It was 42-10 at the start of the fourth quarter).

Stop Kelley, and force the still inconsistent Thompson-Robinson to beat you … and you have a better chance at success.

The offense has led the way as the Bruins have gone from a 1-5 disaster-in-the-making to a 3-5 team on the rise (believe it or not, UCLA, at 3-2 in Pac-12 play, controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 South race. Granted, the Bruins have road games at Utah and at USC left to play … but still). The defense, meanwhile, is still a work in progress.

UCLA is 112th in the nation in total defense, giving up 450.1 yards/game, and 114th in scoring defense, surrendering 34.3 points per outing.

This just in … if the Buffs are going to pick up their Pac-12 win No. 2 on Saturday, it will likely be by way of a Rose Bowl shootout.

I – Intangibles 

— UCLA cancelled classes earlier this week due to fires in the area of the school’s campus (the game will be played in the Rose Bowl, 18 miles from the Westwood, and so the stadium is not in the path of the Getty fire. Smoke, however, could still be an issue).

How will this disruption affect the Bruins’ preparation for their game against the Buffs?

From one perspective, the time without classes will give the UCLA players more time to study film and ready themselves for the CU game (UCLA practices were not cancelled).

On the other hand, any disruption of routine is, well, a disruption. The Bruins had to alter their practice routine, and, if you have ever been around a fire, you know that even if you are not in the path of the fire, smoke can still become an issue. Plus, college football is not played in a vacuum. There may be players who are living in the path of the fire, or they may have friends or family members who have been affected.

Not to be out-done … CU cancelled classes on Tuesday due to adverse weather conditions (re-opening the campus Wednesday morning).

Will these alterations to the normal routines for the teams have any impact on the players and their preparations?

Who knows?

But with the Bruins on a two-game winning streak, and the Buffs on a four-game losing streak, any alteration of the status quo is good.

— A question worth asking: Where is the psyche of the Buff locker room?

It’s a different coaching staff, but it’s not as if most of the players in the CU locker room haven’t been down this road before … out of the Pac-12 South title race (and all but out of the chase for a bowl bid) before Halloween.

“We talked about that in a locker room after the game,” Tucker said of building on a solid performance against USC. “I said, ‘Hey look, you can look at this two different ways. You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself and kind of a woe-is-me type of deal, or you can look at it and say, look at the type of team that we can have.’ You take care of the ball, you’re able to take it away, you run the ball, you finish in the red zone, defensively you stop the run and get off the field on third down, you’ve got a really good chance to beat anybody.’ ”

While up-beat coach-speak from Mel Tucker is always welcome, I found a tweet posted Saturday afternoon by SMU graduate transfer Mikail Onu, who is the starting safety, even more reassuring: “This is my 4th year in college, and my 3rd coaching staff. This coaching staff is excellent and knows what it takes. They will get this turned around, don’t give up.”

Onu has four of CU’s seven interceptions, and is second on the team in tackles (with 49). Hopefully, Onu knows of what he speaks, and that his fellow Buffs are keeping the faith.

P – Preparation/Schedule

— If you win a few, they will come.

That remains to be seen for UCLA.

Attendance at Bruins’ home games in the Rose Bowl remains slack. After a high of 52,578 for the Oklahoma game (about half of that crowd being Sooner fans), UCLA slid back under 40,000 for last week’s home game against No. 24 Arizona State. The crowd of 39,811 represented 44% capacity for the 91,136 Rose Bowl.

Having the home team on a two-game winning streak may help bring in more casual fans for Saturday night’s game, but that boost may be offset by the number of fans who stay away due to the fires and associated issues (smoke, transportation, accommodations, etc.).

Long story short, the Buff shouldn’t be using the crowd as an excuse for poor play.

— Two-thirds of the way through the season, any extra time to heal is welcome.

The Buffs played USC on Friday night, so they were able to watch the UCLA/Arizona State game on Saturday from the comfort of their own homes. The game this weekend is not until 6:00 p.m., Saturday night (local time), so the Buffs won’t have to leave early on Friday for their trip to Los Angeles.

Not a huge advantage for the Buffs, but if it will help some of CU’s walking wounded to be better able to function Saturday night by having an extra day of rest, so much the better.

Looking ahead … Next weekend, the Bruins get their second bye weekend, while the Buffs return home to face Stanford. Both teams are 3-5, and are trying to figure out a way to go 3-1 the rest of the way and qualify for a bowl bid.

For UCLA, the competition ratchets up after the CU game. The Bruins get a bye, but then face road games in back-to-back weekends against Utah and USC. The Bruins are going to have to win one of those two road contests (in addition to beating CU and Cal at home) to get to six wins. The Buffs, meanwhile, will have to figure out a way to beat either Washington at home or Utah on the road (in addition to beating UCLA and Stanford) to get to six victories and a bowl bid.

A tough journey to six wins lay ahead for both teams … but it becomes an impossible journey for the team which loses this Saturday.

S – Statistics

— How young are the “Baby Bruins”?  Very young.  A whopping 64 players on the UCLA roster are freshmen (43 true; 21 red-shirt), the third highest total in the nation. Granted, this total is from UCLA’s 120-man roster, not their 85-man scholarship team, but the point is well taken … Chip Kelly, in Year Two of his stint at UCLA, is reworking the Bruin roster.

— Encouraging news for Buff fans … In Pac-12 play, home teams only have a 16-14 record;

— UCLA has rushed for over 200 yards in four straight games, a feat not accomplished by the Bruins since 2014. UCLA ran the ball an eye-popping 57 times last weekend against Arizona State. In their last five games, the Bruins have run an average of 82.8 plays per game, to only 62.8 for their opponents;

What to watch for – Part I … While the Buffs are focusing on Joshua Kelley, they may lose track of Kelley backfield mate. Junior running back Demetric Felton had a pair of receptions against Arizona State last week, giving him 36 on the season. He has already matched George Farmer’s school record for catches in a season by a running back (1969);

What to watch for – Part II … UCLA is minus-four overall this season in turnovers, while Colorado is a plus-three. In their five losses, the Bruins are a combined minus-seven in turnovers … No brainer here, but if the Buffs are to defeat the Bruins, being on the plus-side on turnovers will be a factor.

Prediction … Mel Tucker instituted a 24-hour rule with his team when it comes to rehashing the latest game.

Win or lose, the Buffs were to put the previous game behind them after 24 hours, and begin preparation for the next game.

But the USC game has been hard to shake, even for the CU head coach.

“Quite frankly it’s still very painful, even a couple days later,” Tucker said on Monday. “We see one play here, one play there, on both sides of ball and special teams. It’s still very disappointing.

“We’re extremely close. Take care of the football and take it away, score points in the red zone and we’re going to have a chance to win.”

The Buffs are close. But close doesn’t count. The Buffs are posting losses, and, at the end of the day, wins and losses are all that anyone pays attention to.

“I’m not into any type of moral victories,” Tucker said after the Buffs’ Monday morning workout. “There’s a saying, ‘If you could’ve won, you should’ve won.'”

CU should have won last weekend, but are finding ways to lose. The Buffs have already lost two games this season in which they held a two-score lead (Air Force; USC).

One of these days, the Buffs will put it all together, and find a way to win … This weekend may be the last best chance to do so in 2019.

I actually have a good feeling about this game … but … I said I couldn’t pick the Buffs to win until they showed us on the field that they could actually get over the hump.

C’mon, Buffs, get ‘er done.

Prediction … UCLA 34, Colorado 31 … 

Previous predictions … 

USC 38, Colorado 20 .. Actual: USC 35, Colorado 31

Washington State 35, Colorado 24 … Actual: Washington State 41, Colorado 10

— No. 13 Oregon 33, Colorado 17 … Actual: No. 13 Oregon 45, Colorado 3

Colorado 38, Arizona 31 … Actual: Arizona 35, Colorado 30

No. 24 Arizona State 27, Colorado 17 … Actual: Colorado 34, No. 24 Arizona State 31

— Colorado 34, Air Force 24 … Actual: Air Force 30, Colorado 24 (OT)

Colorado 37, No. 25 Nebraska 31 … Actual: Colorado 34, No. 25 Nebraska 31 (OT)

Colorado 38, Colorado State 20 … Actual: Colorado 52, Colorado State 31

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14 Replies to “CU at UCLA – “T.I.P.S.” for the Rose Bowl”

  1. One thing not being talked about is those early UCLA losses to Cincy and SDSU. Those teams are both now in the top-25 rankings and looking much better than once thought. Yet another brick in my wall of doubt. C’mon Buffs prove me wrong!

  2. That’s a fair assessment, Rob.

    To me, it’s as much about the Pac 12 having a lot of decent teams, most of whom can step up on any given day and take down pretty much anyone else.

    Seems like in a battle for mediocre, CU can prevail this weekend. Plus, like many others have said, I just cannot pick against CU. If they play like they did last Saturday, I think they can win handily. I just have no idea which team’s going to show up for which side.

    CU wins. 45-38.

    Go Buffs

  3. I have recently come to think of Tuckers first year much like Kelley’s first year. In Kelley’s first year he inherited all of the talent recruited into UCLA by the previous staff but he had a fundamentally different approach to the game than the previous staff and he required players that could do different things. This led to 2 things: 1. The differences in schemes and techniques led to significant struggles for his team as they learned. They were “thinking” too much on the field, they were learning in live games how the techniques they were being taught actually worked, etc. 2. The type of athlete Kelley wanted was different and so he ended up starting a ton of young kids more suited for his schemes.

    Now in the Tucker era at CU I think we are seeing some of the same components. Some of the youth movement was driven by injuries and transfers but I do think a lot of those transfers were driven by Tucker having honest conversations with kids about the type of athlete he wanted in those roles. That sort of honesty is commendable and letting those kids that may not fit his scheme move n is likely why the kids will respect him even during the hard times. I have also seen a ton of signs of kids still learning. Most notably for me was Landman. This season he has looked a step slower. I think he has very different responsibilities and techniques and he is still thinking through those instead of just playing downhill. I also see it in others like Taylor, who is flat out switching positions and the D line, who is both youthful and inexperienced.
    So from all of that I see a team that may struggle this year in those coin flips but hopefully will begin to be more consistent next year. We just have to weather this year trust in the process as fans and encourage the young men on the team to stay bought in. That means showing up in the stands for home games.
    As for this specific game. I think Mora did a pretty good job trashing the UCLA team and Kelley had a much bigger project on his hands than Tucker did. I also think that for some reason CUY matches up well against UCLA. I also think that CU was not supposed to win the last three games so a three game loosing streak is ok. CU should be in the game against UCLA. The only question is which side of the coin flip will they be on?

  4. The consistent factor in all close losses for the Buffs this season is the alarming amount of penalties, particularly on the O line. Forget all the coulda shoulda made this or that play. We’re 2/3 through the season and no improvement. Play clean games and the Buffs would instead be 5-3 now, and these comments would have a much more upbeat theme. So with that in mind, I predict the Buffs play pretty good but rack up the negative penalty yardage and lose a close gut wrencher like the USC game.

  5. 35, 41, 45, 35, 31, 30, 31, 31………JESUS!!!!! Would someone pleezzzz tell coach Summers that rushing 3 on almost all defensive plays isn’t cutting it. 5,6,7,8,9,10 seconds for our opposing quarterbacks to find their receivers is not cutting it. Hell if I had all that time to find an open receiver I would be an All American Quarterback and I didn’t play college football.
    Our backend doesn’t stand a chance when the opposing quarterback has all that time! Blitz, blitz blitz…….rush 4, rush 5…..mix up the defensive front dammit!, Make the opposing quarterback uncomfortable.
    Does anybody else feel the kind of pain I feel watching this defense?
    I’m out.

  6. The beatings will continue until morale improves. This is how I feel being a Buffs fan since the day Barnett was fired. I can’t predict a loss so Buffs 42, ucla 38.

  7. How could you call it any other way than Stu already has. Same pattern. We all knew from the beginning of the season, even before the secondary injuries it the Buffs would have to outscore the others for a chance to win. Maybe without a concussion no call and OC brain freeze in the 4th the Buffs actually win?
    Probably not. Obviously the UCLA O line is opening holes for the running back. The last time I saw them on TV they also appeared to be giving their QB enough time to go through his reads.
    Summers is going to have his hands full playing chess with Kelly. When to blitz? When not to? When to stack the box? etc.

  8. If Buffs would have beaten USC last Saturday, my prediction would be a win here and a close game versus Stanford. However, I’m tired of the overused, by many CU coaches, word “close”. That may be the case in score and another overused word, “details”, but the mental gap between a winning mentality and a losing mentality is not close at all. It is a chasm and makes all the difference. Again, I’m waiting to be proven wrong and will be happy to eat crow. UCLA 38 CU 28.

  9. Football is a weird game where small sample sizes get inflated to huge effect. If you look at the “close” games this season, CU beat Nebraska (+1), lost to Air Force (-1), beat Arizona State (-1), lost to Arizona (-1), lost to USC (-1). Coin flips say the buffers should have another win or two. And wouldn’t being a 5-win team at this stage feel a ton better than being a 3-win team at this stage? I figure that the buffs are better than their record indicates.

    UCLA had bad losses to Cincinatti, SDSU, Oklahoma, and Oregon State. They won a “no way they should have won” game at WSU and lost a toss-up at Arizona before beating up on Stanford (without a functional QB) and ASU (???). If anything, they are worse than their record indicates they are…except that their best game was last week.

    SP+ computer picks have UCLA as a 62% favorite, but picks Colorado to cover the spread. Sagarin rankings have UCLA at #55, Colorado at #77. General theme: the advanced stats *hate* CU’s defense.

    But that said, Dorian Thompson-Robinson is one of the worst QBs in the conference. That kid simply does not know how to throw a football. Plus, CU has been solid against the run. The matchups are actually kind of in CU’s favor!

    CU pulls their head out of their ass, UCLA fans realize that last week was an “any given Saturday” game, and CU wins 31-28.

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