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Colorado Buffaloes vs. UCLA Bruins: Week 5 Preview

Buffs and Bruins open Pac-12 conference play after a bye week

Colorado v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It’s a Friday Night Lights special for the Colorado Buffaloes (3-0) and UCLA Bruins (0-3) to open up Pac-12 play tonight at Folsom Field. Colorado hasn’t played any team closer than UCLA since realigning with the Pac-12 in 2011. The four previous contests were decided by an average of five points and the largest win came two years ago in Boulder as Colorado’s 20-10 victory was sealed by Isaiah Oliver’s 68-yard punt return for a touchdown

Last year, UCLA was taken down to the wire in a 27-23 win over the Buffs. Josh Rosen threw for 372 yards and a touchdown to help break the Bruins two-game losing skid at the time. Colorado botched a fake field goal at the end of the first half on fourth and seven at UCLA’s 11-yard line, taking points off the board. Mike MacIntyre stood by his decision to have kicker James Stefanou as the intended receiver of holder T.J. Patterson’s pass.

”Yeah, I’d do it again 100 times if I had 100 more chances,” MacIntyre said. “Everything we saw set up exactly the right way. It just didn’t work out, but we had that planned, and we knew we were going to need to score more points to beat these guys, and we thought that was a good way to do it. Just didn’t work out exactly like we hoped, but I would do it again 100 times after what we’ve watched for four games on film.”

Chip Kelly’s rebuild is off to an rough start in Westwood, with the Bruins winless after three and plenty wondering when the wins are going to come. One of the people most vocal about Kelly is the father of UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who called out the former NFL/Oregon coach for bad play calling, saying he’s a “million-dollar coach who bares no responsibility.” A bye week gave the Bruins some time to regroup and provides Kelly time to refocus. However, this is all new territory for Kelly, who has never lost the first three games of any prior season as head coach either college or pro.

The story gathering the most attention this week is the status of Michigan graduate transfer quarterback Wilton Speight. After being named starter before the season the pro-style passer was taken out of action with a back injury during his UCLA debut against Cincinnati. Thompson-Robinson has struggled to come up to speed after replacing Speight over the two weeks, completing 41-of-75 (54.7%) passes for 522 yards, along with a pair of touchdowns and two interceptions. Speight had a prior outing against CU as a sophomore at Michigan, a 45-28 second half rout of the Buffs with Steven Montez playing in place of an injured Sefo Liufau. An initial report on Sunday by Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times listed Speight as probable for Friday as he’s waiting to be cleared to return.

Kelly’s high-flying vision is grounded on the tarmac with UCLA’s offense ranked third from last in the nation for total offense (128th- 959 yards) and dead last in the Pac-12 for overall efficiency averaging 17.3 points per game (T-121st). Kazmeir Allen and Bolu Olorunfunmi have combined for over half of UCLA’s rushing yards (237) and all five touchdowns on the ground, but both are in need of more production to be successful. Thompson-Robinson is also considered a dual-threat and will be relied on to make plays as a runner as a supplemental option. Theo Howard leads all Bruins receivers with 11 receptions for 185 yards and a touchdown. This is not the same talent that Kelly was handed at Oregon years ago.

Colorado’s defense can do what they’ve done best this season by mixing up coverages. Thompson-Robinson is still learning a complicated offense with little prep time, and it presents ripe conditions for mistakes to dictate the outcome. The battle will be over open space, with CU needing to clamp down early, not allowing the true freshman to get in a rhythm. The less time he has to improvise on broken plays the more likely third and long situations will present themselves down the stretch. It will also push Thompson-Robinson to try and open up the field, which might lead to turnovers.

That’ll allow several opportunities for Montez and the Buffs offense to churn and burn UCLA’s defense, who has allowed an average of 403 yards per contest and 15 total touchdowns thru three games. Travon McMillian becomes valuable in keeping drives rolling down the field, but don’t be surprised if Montez often tests the vulnerability of UCLA’s secondary to start out. One key is the Bruins’ inconsistency to stop the run and Montez’s ability to exploit that. He’s going to take the best option to pick up yards and can become a nightmare for UCLA’s defenders to tackle in the open field. The extra week of preparation will show how both teams made adjustments going into this one.

Colorado is one of three remaining undefeated teams in the Pac-12 (Cal and Stanford). It’s the first time the Buffs have gone 3-0 in back-to-back season since 1994-95. UCLA is 0-3 for the first time since 1971.

News and Notes:

From the desk of Dave Plati:

“Historic First? Unless it happened in the 1930s when we don’t have records, Colorado has accomplished a historic first this season: the Buffaloes have scored on all three opening drives and all three first second half drives in each of the first three games of the year. CU has scored a touchdown to open all three games, and has two touchdowns and a field goal to open the second halves. In 2016, the Buffs opened the first four games with TDs on their first drives, otherwise you have to go back to 2006 (FG-TD-FG) and then 1989 (TD-TD-TD). CU scored on three straight opening second half possessions in 2015 (FG-FG-TD), which was the first time since 1995 (TD-TD-TD).”

“The UCLA game will be assistant coach Darian Hagan’s 250th as a Buff, his 104th as an assistant coach (with 97 as a staff member and 49 as a player) ... Through just three games, 41 players have seen their first action in a CU uniform, easily passing the 35 in 2015 and 33 in 2013, previously the most on record.”

Drew Litton/University of Colorado

Colorado opens conference play against UCLA on Friday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. MT from Folsom Field. The Bruins lead the all-time series 10-3 over the Buffs going back to 1980.

TV: Fox Sports 1

Announcers: Brian Custer (play-by-play), Ben Leber (color), Jennifer Hale (sidelines)

Radio: 850 KOA

Announcers: Mark Johnson (play-by-play), Gary Barnett (color), Andy Lindahl (sidelines)

Odds: Colorado -11.5

Weather forecast: 52° Clear