As ridiculous as it sounds, our Colorado Buffaloes have a two game conference win-streak going right now. Not only that, but it's a two game ROAD win-streak. That's a little bit nuts.
But the Buffaloes are going to have a whale of a time keeping this little "streak" going when the Bruins come to Boulder this weekend. UCLA was ranked and rolling until Oregon State beat them this past weekend. That means they're going to be on a mission to even up their Conference record and they should feel pretty confident about their ability to do so after whooping up on this Buffs team at the end of the 2011 season. I was at that game, and it was a lot like the Fresno State game of two weeks ago: it got out of hand quickly and CU wasn't able to get anything going. And very much like last year, the Buffaloes followed up the road stinker (UCLA in 2011, FSU in 2012) with a solid performance on the road and a conference victory.
But that gives us no inclination of how this game will go, because the season ended after the Utah game, and also, that's not even remotely how football works.
So let's take a look at what needs to happen on both sides of the ball for the Colorado Buffaloes to have a chance to beat the UCLA Bruins:
- CU's Offensive Line, TEs & FBs vs. A tough UCLA Front Seven - Despite the fact that they gave up too many sacks and too much pressure, there were some positives out of the offensive line against Washington State. Daniel Munyer played much better (besides that one truly bad snap) and looked more natural at Center than he has at guard. Same for Jack Harris, who looks like a good fit at guard instead of tackle, and both Alex Lewis and David Bakhtiari played better on that left side. And at right tackle, Stephane Nembot got the start. He has as much potential as anyone on the team, and even though they rotated him there with Ryan Dannewitz and even though he made some mistakes, he's just too athletic and exciting to not get most of the time there. This group, with help from an improving group of tight ends and an under-appreciated Alex Wood, needs to keep Jordan Webb off of his back and to give our tailbacks some running lanes. At times they can make things happen, but we need the frequency of those times to increase a ton. UCLA has an active group of linebackers and are getting improved play from the linemen, and it took a pretty impressive effort from Oregon State up front for them to get the victory. But there's a roadmap there, so hopefully Coach Bieniemy and Co. can follow it.
- Jordan Webb vs. Wearing down in the 2nd half - This isn't entirely on Jordan, as a lot of the blame for his decreased effectiveness as the 1st 3 games wore on was because he was getting hit on every other play. Somehow he fought through it last week, and he'll need to continue to fight though it for our offense to have a chance. But he can help himself with how he moves around in the pocket. It's tough to blame a guy for getting happy feet when his offensive line was protecting him like it did during the first few games of the season, but he needs to calm down and do a better job of moving away from pressure in the pocket. He stepped right into it a handful of times against WSU, and it got him hit more than he needed to be.
- The Colorado Running Backs (& their Coach) vs. The Rotation - While you don't want to be rotating QBs, it is fine to rotate tailbacks, as long as you use them to the best of their abilities and you have a plan. We saw a little of that against WSU, with Christian Powell being used to wear the defense down before giving the ball to Josh Ford and Tony Jones. If Powell can handle the load, let him get in their first, and let those smaller, faster guys be those change-of-pace backs. It worked out just fine in Pullman, with Jones running for that 84 yard TD. Here's to hoping Bieniemy is figuring out how to use these guys effectively.
- The CU Defense vs. Brett Hundley - Even though he's been a little banged up, he's still a true dual-threat QB, and we've had trouble with that. If we can get pressure on him without blitzing extra guys (something we started to do last week) and we can keep containment (something we've struggled with), we may give our DBs a chance. Otherwise, he is going to pick our defense a part, either through the air or with his feet. We're going to need all of that additional speed at linebacker with improving players like Paul Vigo, and we're probably going to have to give a little less help to our freshmen CBs in order to keep track of Hundley. The best thing for us would be if Will Pericak, Josh Tupou (provided he comes back from his concussion), Chidera Uzo-Diribe & Co. can do a solid job of keeping a lid on the pocket, allowing us to mix some coverages and keep guys in to spy the UCLA QB. That won't be an easy task, but the UCLA offensive line had some troubles against Oregon State, so we may have a shot.
- Colorado Defenders vs. Tackling - Jonathan Franklin is a good running back. He's tough to take down, so arm tackles and going for the 'big hit' won't get the job done this week. I'm looking at guys like Parker Orms and Terrel Smith, who both played pretty well this past weekend, but have been known to miss tackles. If those two and our Linebackers can do a better job of wrapping up, that will give us a much better chance of slowing them down.
- Buffs in New Places vs. Getting Comfortable - We have a number of players on defense especially at new positions or who are new to college gootball (Actually, this applies on Offense as well), and we need them to grow up quickly. Will Pericak has made some strides at defensive end, but his recognition still needs some work since you see things differently out on the edge. Vigo made strides last week (let's hope his concussion isn't an issue), but guys like Kyle Washington have been slower to adjust. We could really use him, Yuri Wright (who may start to give way to Greg Henderson more), Marques Mosely, Jered Bell and Kenneth Crawley to make some strides after their first taste of conference play at their spots. Crawley is getting there and had a great pass breakup late in the game and Bell came up with that early interception, but they still have a ways to go.
- That was not the best game from our special teams in any facet, but we did see Will Oliver bounce back from his miss and looked very comfortable kicking the game winning PAT there at the end. Field position is going to be huge against the best team we've faced all year, so we're going to need our returners (hopefully Crawley on punts much more than Abron or Mosely on KOs) to make things happen and PROTECT THE BALL.