CU v. UCLA Preview: “T.I.P.S.” for the Long-Awaited First Game

Related … If you prefer your predictions verbally, “CU at the Game Podcast: Pac-12 Division Races / ‘T.I.P.S.’ for CU v. UCLA” can be found at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or pretty much wherever you download your favorites. Or, if you would prefer, you can listen to the podcast here or here.

Quick, name the last two seasons when CU opened the year against an opponent other than Colorado State.

It doesn’t happen that often …

The Buffs were scheduled to face the Rams to open the 2020 season, with the September 5th game to be played in Ft. Collins. Instead, Colorado will be participating in a seven-game, conference-only campaign, opening at home against UCLA on November 7th (5:00 p.m., MT, ESPN2).

With no lead-in from a non-conference schedule, new CU head coach Karl Dorrell, together with his new starting quarterback, senior Sam Noyer, and new starting running back, sophomore Jarek Broussard, will have little margin for error against the Bruins and head coach Chip Kelly.

Despite the fact that UCLA finished the 2019 season with a 4-8 record (compared to CU’s 5-7 final tally),  with the Bruins losing their final three games by a combined score of 129-54 (an average of 43-18), UCLA opened as a six-point favorite.

Can CU overcome an off-season of unprecedented adversity? Can the Buff defense make enough stops to create enough opportunities for the Buff offense to pull out a victory for the new coaching staff?

After 11 months without CU football, we’re about to find out.

… Oh, and by the way, to answer the initial question … The last two times CU opened the season against someone other than Colorado State? Both games were on the road … in 2015, a 28-20 loss to Hawai’i, and in 2011, a 34-17 loss to Hawa’i.

The last time the Buffs opened the season at home against someone other than CSU? That would be 2006, when the Dan Hawkins’ era at Colorado opened with an inauspicious 19-10 loss to Montana State.

Not great precedents … but then again, pretty much everything about this campaign will set new standards.

So, without further adieu, here are the inaugural “T.I.P.S.” of the 2020 season …

This Week’s “T.I.P.S” for CU v. UCLA – 5:00 p.m., MT, ESPN2

T – Talent

The last time UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson left the field of play in victory, it was over a full year ago, back on November 2, 2019 …

… and the opponent was Colorado.

In that game last season, Thompson-Robinson completed 21-of-28 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown, leading the Bruins to an easy 31-14 victory over Colorado. Taking advantage of a Steven Montez interception and a porous Colorado defense, the Bruins raced to a 17-0 first quarter lead … before the Buff offense could muster its first first down.

While Thompson-Robinson had a field day against the Buffs, that was a rarity for him on the season. Year Two was supposed to be breakout year, but in some areas, Thompson-Robinson regressed. He threw 21 touchdown passes, but also threw 12 interceptions.

Joshua Kelly, a 1000-yard rusher for the Bruins last year, is gone, replaced by senior Demetric Felton. Backing up Kelly, Felton rushed for 331 yards last year, but, significantly, was the second-leading receiver (55 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns), so he is a weapon as a receive which the Buffs will need to account for. Felton scored touchdowns of over 75 yards by rush, reception and return last year. He has been described as “the closest thing they have to an Oregon-era showstopper”.

The Bruins also have three of their top receivers back, including Kyle Phillips, who led the team in receiving (60 receptions for 681 yards and five touchdowns) as a freshman.

If Dorian Thompson-Robinson is on, and CU’s young secondary plays confused (CU is starting true freshman Christian Gonzalez at cornerback) … the Bruins will be able to score.

On the other hand, it would be a surprise – make that a disappointment – if the Buffs can’t score as well.

The UCLA defense was horrid last year, and there is no obvious reason to believe it will be significantly better this fall.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro (a long-time friend of Chip Kelly) was retained, despite the fact that the Bruins gave up 34.8 points per game (116th nationally). To make matters worse for the Bruins, only three starters from last season’s team return.

UCLA plays a 3-4 defense … and all four starters at linebacker are gone. Of the 12 players listed as linebackers on the Bruin roster, ten have never played a down of college football (I’ll pause for a moment to let you re-read that last sentence).

Some young defensive backs return, but this is from a unit which gave up 310.8 yards per game passing (129th – second-to-last in the nation).

While it would make sense for the CU coaches to keep the game plan simple for first-time starter Sam Noyer, there should be opportunities against the UCLA defense.

The Bruins are bound to try and blitz and confuse Noyer with their coverages, hoping he will make novice mistakes … mistakes Karl Dorrell and Darrin Chiaverini feel he is not as likely to make as Tyler Lytle or Brendon Lewis.

I – Intangibles

You could make the argument that Karl Dorrell has a little extra incentive to defeat the program who fired him.

As the head coach for UCLA, Dorrell (who notably had Jon Embree and Eric Bieniemy as assistant coaches) was the Bruin head coach from 2003-07, accumulating an overall record of 35-27. He led UCLA to five bowl games in his five seasons in Westwood, but was fired for, basically, not being Pete Carroll, who was busy leading USC to championships at the time.

Arguably, Dorrell would really want to beat his former employer … but I’m not buying it.

We are just getting to know coach Dorrell, but it would seem contrary to his nature to hold grudges, or give a “Win One for the Coach” pre-game speech to his team.

On the other sideline, however …

As noted in an article posted on the BruinReport website, “It Might be a Mulligan Season, But Not For Chip Kelly“, UCLA’s third-year coach was taken to task.

Kelly has lost historically at UCLA in his first two seasons. With Kelly going 3-9 in 2018 and 4-8 in 2019, his total of 7 wins in his first two years is the worst winning percentage for a coach’s first two seasons at UCLA since James Cline went 2-10 in 1923 and 1924.  

It’s just not that difficult to win at UCLA, and history bears that out. So Kelly’s lack of success in his first two seasons focuses the spotlight on him unlike other college coaches.

… The 2020 season very much needs to be on the record — not a mulligan — for Kelly. No hall passes. Kelly needs to be fully accountable for the 2020 season. 

If this were the last game of the shortened season, with both teams coming into the contest with a 2-3 record, you could say that Chip Kelly and the Bruins would have more to play for.

But, with both teams coming off of losing seasons, and with both teams having losing trends (CU has posted three straight losing seasons; UCLA has had four straight losing seasons), it’s hard to believe that either team will not be well motivated.

For the opener, you would have to see the Intangibles as a wash …

P – Preparation/Schedule

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”Aristotle.

If I were a head coach, I would have this posted in my locker room.

The problem for Karl Dorrell and his coaching staff is that it’s been difficult – no, make that next to impossible – to instill a habit of excellence. The Buffs did not get any spring practices (UCLA got in all of three), and Fall Camp was canceled just days before it was set to begin in August. Dorrell was on the job for over six months before he was able to take the field with his team for the first time.

True enough, the Buffs do have both coordinators – Darrin Chiaverini and Tyson Summers – back, but that is not the same as having the head coach and both coordinators returning.

And then there is the “home field” advantage.

Colorado is the designated home team for the November 7th matchup, and there certainly is something to be said in playing on your home field, even if the stands are virtually empty.

Earlier this month, Pac-12 conference leaders approved the provision for guests of football players and staff provided each individual university could gain approvals from their local public health officials.  Players suiting up for both teams will each receive four complimentary tickets in line with NCAA guidelines.   The Pac-12 has mandated that 400 of the 920 seats are to be allotted to the visiting team.

With traveling often a concern this fall, you might think that UCLA would not be bringing 400 to cheer for its team.

That might not be correct.

A bid by parents of USC and UCLA players to health officials to be allowed to attend games has been denied.

Translation: If UCLA parents want to see their children play, they’ll have to do it on the road. “This is huge!” Melva Thompson-Robinson said after learning she would be allowed to go to the CU game to watch her son play. “I’m so excited that I get to watch him in person. I have friends who are going to see their sons play. I just want to see him in person on the field doing his thing.”

Here’s hoping that the 520 CU fans can out-yell the 400 UCLA fans …

S – Statistics 

You want ugly? We’ve got some ugly for you (2019 statistics) …

— Total defense … CU – 441.9 yds./game (104th nationally) … UCLA – 456.3 yds./game (113th nationally);

— Scoring defense … CU – 31.8 pts./game (96th nationally) … UCLA – 34.8 pts./game (116th nationally);

— In the “havoc” stat (tackles for loss; pass defended; forced fumble), CU was 117th in the nation, creating a “havoc” play on only 13.13% of the defensive snaps;

— The UCLA defense allowed 32 passing touchdowns, while posting only five interceptions. The 1.16% interception rate was last in the Pac-12, and 129th nationally.

Okay, you get the idea.

These are two very bad defenses. Still, the Buffs have seven returning starters on defense, while UCLA has only three. You would think that some continuity on the CU side of the field would lead to some improvement, giving an advantage to the Buffs.

Meanwhile, the Bruins have a three-year starter coming in at quarterback, while the Buffs have a quarterback who hasn’t taken a snap in two years.

Which team has the greater advantage?

You tell me.

Prediction … 

I have wrestled with this one.

On the one hand, Colorado has struggled on defense, and last season UCLA – with Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback – toyed with the Buffs.

On the other hand, UCLA has struggled on defense, and has played poorly to open the season the past two years under Chip Kelly (the Bruins lost the first five games of 2018; their first three games of 2019).

If you look at the game objectively, with two mediocre offenses and two awful defenses, who would you go with? A team with a third-year quarterback and an established dynamic player at running back, or a team with a quarterback and running back who are both making their first career starts?

The rest of the planet is going with the established talent.

Las Vegas has put the over/under on CU wins for the seven-game season at 1.5.

Pat Rooney of the Boulder Daily Camera has the Buffs posting a 1-6 record this fall.

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, similarly, has CU posting one win this fall.

While they don’t know our Buffs as well as we do … they can’t all be wrong.

In a sense, UCLA is about as a opportune an opponent as CU could have hoped for, with a defense which has many questions as does the CU offense.

With a game this close, the game may come down to special teams.

Here, the Buffs have the experience advantage, with senior placekicker James Stefanou v. a freshman kicker for UCLA making his collegiate debut.

Perhaps it will come down to the kicking game …

I can’t say that I feel good about picking CU to win a game when they are almost a touchdown underdog – at home – with a quarterback who hasn’t started a game since his senior year in high school … in 2015.

But let’s give Karl Dorrell and his staff the benefit of the doubt for at least the first week.

Fingers crossed …

Prediction … Colorado 21, UCLA 20. 


20 Replies to “CU v. UCLA Preview: “T.I.P.S.” for the Long-Awaited First Game”

  1. Stuart,
    Overall the CU defense was very porous last year. But the last 3 games showed significant improvement. Do you discount that improvement? Think it was a mirage? What are your thoughts?

    1. Rob,
      I’m not discounting the two good games the defense played against Washington and Stanford. Well, okay, maybe I am.

      To highlight those two games, and ignore the rest (recall that in the finale, Utah won 45-15, completing 14-of-17 passes and gashing the Buffs for 207 yards rushing) is looking at the 2019 season through black-and-gold colored glasses.
      Am I hopeful that the stalwart efforts by the defense last November will carry over? Certainly.
      Am I skeptical that the stalwart efforts will carry over? Yes.
      I can envision the defense playing consistently better … but we’ll have to see it actually happen …

      1. Clearly you are struggling with the:

        It is painful and works on the brain and the heart and the eyes.
        Once you have succumbed it only gets worse.
        You can pretend/deny/lie about not having it but you do ( A lot of us do)
        The virus won’t cause you death, but it will immobilize you (as you know) at any time and on certain days as it floods your mind and vision with memories long gone while making them seem real once again. It is a viscous disease.

        At this time there is no known cure.

        But there has been a new team assembled in Boulder that has been working on a vaccine . They will be starting “testing” on Saturday November 7th, 2020.
        Hopefully the first tests will be positive and they will continue on that path.
        Also this is the first testing period so do not be discouraged if the first one does not come out perfect.
        This is risk for you cause you already have the virus.
        Inside Note: You have it bad.

        Well Stu, I too will be hoping for the first step of testing on the vaccine to be a success.
        But just in case I have some videos keyed up of the Mighty Buffalo Golden years just in case. Just in case I need that “Slow the pain” drug called Da past Da past.

        Okay Be Happy Be Buff and Be Safe

        VKB of the Western Highlands…………(a wonderful way to live)

        Use: noun, verb, adverb, adjective
        Pronunciation: No one knows the answer

        Bad Experience Non-recoverable Deep Pain No Brain Colorado Buff Alumni Football Fanatic Who No Matter What Cannot Or Will Not See The Light Cause The Hole Is To deep And Getting Old Doesn’t Help Either

  2. T.I.P.S. is finally BACK! (Thanks Stuart)

    Win or lose I’m excited to watch CU football and have some sense of “normalcy”. I don’t know how the Buffs will perform, but with all the negativity in the world I’m hoping for some positivity on Saturday…CU 24 UCLA 21


  3. Has the plague of the Buffs been removed?
    Is Dorrell the long awaited cure?
    Are the Buff youngsters ready to take the next step after only a few weeks to get ready?
    Is the old buff football team spirit and attitude going to resurface?
    Can the Buffs play past their potential? Finally?

    I believe this is the first step

    4 and 3

    1. Here here! I have to say I have a better feeling for Dorrell than I did about Mel. I really like Dorrell focus on execution. Mel focused on physicality and we were definitely a more physical team last year. But man we got out executed by so many teams last year.

  4. Not sure why score prediction is such an apparent thrill. If anyone here comes close it will be by luck only. Most are picking the Buffs by just a few points. I see the game being decided by more. Vegas may be half right with UCLA a 6.5 point favorite but I think the Buffs have an equal chance as well.
    If Sam Noyer can play like Sam Ehlinger the Buffs win going away. The Buff secondary has to be well upgraded from last year but is it enough? and will first game jitters play in as a factor?
    I just HOPE the Buffs dont fall behind quickly and PRAY that Chev and KD show us a diverse offense with opportunistic play calling. Be brave Buff coaches. Dont play chikenpoop.

  5. RobO’s fearless prediction with thoughts…..
    The o line will be better. I have recently been watching a lot of last years games specifically focused on the o line. Kutsch is a real solid lineman last year and they say he got better, Pursell is an upgrade of Lynott, Sherman remains, Roddick was very solid when I saw him in the game, that just leaves Fillip replacing Hambright. Fillip was a starter his freshman year and I am hopeful the year redshirting has helped. The o line says the techniques are the same so they were not learning anything new. I am betting we are a little bit better on the o line front.

    D line – we finally have some legit depth. I really like how Lang developed over the year, Johnson is healthy. Sami is a year older…… I expect good things.

    The game is won in the trenches. I like our trenches for the first time in a long time.

    I am a little concerned with Fontenot out, but we have been told how deep this group is. I expected to see Mangham #2, the fact that Broussard jumped him is interesting…. not enough to dampen my enthusiasm.

    On Noyer, I was surprised like everyone else, but I have a feeling we are going to finally see a Cu an run with some guts. I think we lost 1-2 games becuase Montez was taught to run with fear. Having spent some time on D perhaps, Noyer will actually run with some authority and make people truly respect the read option….

    Db’s – so long as we don’t get hurt I think we will be ok. For this game we should be……

    Execution – Dorrell has been emphasizing this and the players have been repeating it. If we can play disciplined football the athletes we have on this team can absolutely compete with the athletes on UCLA.

    27-24 CU. Game stays close until the 4th quarter where the altitude and discipline of KD’s team shines through.

  6. Also reading/skimming some Bruin stuff thought I saw they were changing D’s to a 4-2-5? Make sense esp. if they lost all their LB’s from last year.

  7. 31-27 Buffs..we run for 250+.
    Loved the team staying together (though some of those rooms are worse than the dorms…).
    Only thing I’d counter to the above is I think we have the clear Intangible edge…UCLA feels the pressure to perform, our guys can’t wait to perform.
    Go Buffs

  8. I’m worried our offensive line wont do much protecting or run blocking. I am worried That DTR will attack our corners. And I am worried that we wont score many points.
    CU 10 UCLA 28

  9. Love it!
    Now, let’s pretend Noyer doesn’t really need to do anything and we use our stable of running backs and Noyer’s legs to just pound UCLA’s horrible defense into submission. Keep the ball away from DTR.

  10. There is a lot of bad news on defense (both teams) to unpack, and yet, CU did really well defensively for their last four games so I’ll go with Stuart with CU winning by 3…

    Now if Noyer & the RBs can execute a few plays & their variations better than expected the Buffs could do much better then expected; UCLA has no real experience behind their d-line, that’s a lot of holes to fill on their first game, it took the Buffs 8 games last year to get their young players up to speed; during a normal year too, not a shorten one with less prep time.

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