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Colorado Buffaloes vs. UCLA Bruins: Keys to the Game

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Colorado faces their first ranked team of the season in the Rose Bowl. Can they avenge last year's heartbreaker?

The signature Chido sack move.
The signature Chido sack move.
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffs arrive in Pasadena as decided underdogs, even after their decisive and dominant victory over Oregon State that was heard and seen 'round the nation.

So maybe they are deserved 'dogs but after last year's double overtime defeat at the hands of the Bruins, a run at a win in the Rose Bowl may not be entirely out of the question.

CU will need a lot to go right to keep this weekend's contest as close as last season's and to give themselves another chance at triumph. Here are the three most critical factors in Colorado's efforts to establish their first Pac-12 winning streak. (Two is a streak.)

Colorado_mediumTurnovers

Any bid at a road upset requires takeaways. As they say, turnovers are the great equalizer and they're the most important avenue available to CU in attempting to overcome the gap in ability between themselves and the Bruins. To this point, both teams have given away only 10 turnovers, placing them in the upper half of the nation (43rd to be exact) in terms of ball protection.

The difference, at least statistically, is that Colorado has forced 14 turnovers (13 if you take out the OSU game) while UCLA has come away with 9 through 7 games. Jim Leavitt has gotten his unit to play opportunistically and aggressively, and it doesn't hurt that this season continues to progress to the mean after the dearth of turnovers last year. With two Bruin freshmen handling the ball for a majority of the time it's a fair bet that the Buffs will come away with one or two UCLA giveaways. Josh Rosen is the real deal, at this point the "Chosen Rosen" hype was warranted, but he is still a freshman and could be forced into miscues if the Buffs are able to apply...

Colorado_mediumPressure

Colorado has done a much better job of putting opposing quarterbacks under duress in 2015. Through 8 games this defense has recorded 20 sacks (47th in the nation) and 42 official quarterback hurries. This is largely due to the arrival of Leavitt and his defensive wizardry, but it's also due to the improved play of the Buffalo defensive line. Justin Solis has had himself a solid senior campaign, quietly making a difference up front and disrupting protection. He's been aided by the arrival of the two junior college linemen, Leo Jackson III and Jordan Carrell, who have played 400 and 494 snaps respectively. They'll be attempting to occupy and get past a veteran UCLA offensive line that is allowing just 1.3 sacks per game.

On offense, the pass protection has left a lot to be desired this season. The Buffs have allowed 20 sacks and 51 recorded hurries. Beyond the numbers, the play of the offensive line has often led to the demise of plays before they even got a chance to get off the ground. How many calls have been broken within seconds of the ball being snapped due to overwhelming pressure? Sefo Liufau simply doesn't have the accuracy or the quicks to make great things happen consistently when a play goes south.

To be fair, CU is without their best lineman and has been forced to shuffle the line around to an uncomfortable extent. They have recently shown some positive signs, and this group continues to do well enough blocking for the run. UCLA's defensive front will be the best the Buffs have seen since facing Arizona State's pass rush, so it will be critical that Sefo receive the kind of protection he's enjoyed over the past two games, and even more critical that it gets sustained well into the 4th quarter if the Buffs somehow find themselves within striking distance.

Colorado_mediumChidobe Awuzie

Are we officially calling this a Flight Sack now? If that's a thing then I'm on board because I can't think of a better term to describe that maneuver. Many of the plays Chidobe Awuzie makes defy description, and he really only gets beat when the opposition makes an indescribably great play of their own.

It's time to begin talking about Awuzie in terms of all-time great Colorado defensive backs. He currently ranks third in all-time quarterback sacks by a defensive back with 5, behind only Michael Lewis and Rashidi Barnes, two of the best to ever do it in the Black & Gold. By the end of this season he'll likely top that list. Chido is also the only CU defensive back to record a sack in three straight games and currently sits in 98th place on the school's all-time tackles chart with 172. This season, he's played the most snaps of anyone on the defense (554) and is second on the team in tackles with 49, to go along with 6 passes broken up and 2 interceptions.

When asked about what Awuzie has meant to his unit, Jim Leavitt had this to say: "He has been a real key player for us, he has allowed us to do some things. I wouldn't be doing some of the things I am doing now [if it weren't for him.]"

The wins have been few and far between during Chido's career but in his time in Boulder he has proven himself to be one of the most exciting, most versatile, and most impactful defenders to have donned a Colorado uniform in some time. Players like Chido don't come around all that often. He will again play a pivotal role this weekend against UCLA's high-powered offense. Enjoy your Halloween festivities and enjoy watching another Chidobe Awuzie performance.

Prediction: UCLA 44 Colorado 31