The Colorado Buffaloes (3-5, 1-3 Pac-12) find themselves all alone and stranded at the bottom of the Pac-12 South standings as they enter the home stretch of the 2019 season. Their strong start in non-conference play is a distance memory after dropping a fourth straight game and 14th all-time against USC.
Saturday night Colorado hits the road to take on the UCLA Bruins (3-5, 3-2 Pac-12). They’re similar teams with similar records, but in different stages of rise and decline.
Not everything has been roses in Chip Kelly’s return to the college game. He holds a 6-14 record since taking over at the start of last year in Westwood. Under Kelly, the Bruins started 0–3 in non-conference play the past two seasons for the first time since 1920–1921. It was the worst start for a UCLA football coach in nearly a century and a huge disappointment for a team with 10 returning starters on defense and seven on offense.
Despite a rough start, the Bruins have improved enough to win back-to-back games at Stanford and against 24th-ranked Arizona State by an average two-score margin. The difference has been a change in offensive direction and Kelly relying more on running back Joshua Kelley. It’s not hard to see how his production is paying off for UCLA either. In the first five games, Kelley averaged 20.2 carries for 79 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Over the last couple games his average went up six carries to 26 per game, along with nearly 100 more yards at 170 per game and five total touchdowns. Kelley is the biggest reason why the Bruins have rushed for 200+ yards in the past four games.
Kelly provided some insight into why the Bruins have struggled saying earlier this week, “You just can’t write the narrative before the season starts.” He went on to say, “ Maybe if we played easier teams before we got into league play then our record would be different. But I don’t look at it that way or compare it that way or say ‘how come it took awhile to get going?’ Every season expresses itself in a different manner.”
Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been more productive under center this season for the Bruins, doubling the amount of touchdowns thrown compared to his freshman season. The Las Vegas, Nevada product has moved from being a run-first dual threat passer to focusing on his work in the pocket this season. UCLA has allowed opponents three or more sacks four times this season and Thompson-Robinson has been taken down eight times in the past three games.
The Bruins are in desperate need of more Pac-12 wins for a possible bowl berth. Not only to go forward as a program, but for Kelly’s and the programs momentum going into next year. It won’t be easy after Saturday with UCLA hitting the road for a back-to-back swing at 9th-ranked Utah and at the Coliseum vs. USC.
As for the Buffaloes, Mel Tucker’s first year has been riddled with injuries and miscues.
The Buffs offense surged back from historic lows over the past couple weeks and still came up short against an injured Trojans squad at home. It was the best opportunity to beat the once storied college football powerhouse In years. Steven Montez tied a season-high in passing attempts with 43 last Friday, while throwing for 324 yards and four touchdowns. Over the course of the four losses, Montez completed 90-of-149 passes for 883 yards, four touchdowns to six interceptions.
For all the work Montez did to bring the offense back, the defense couldn’t construct an answer to Kedon Slovis and USC’s offensive attack. To date, the Buffs are second-to-last in the Pac-12, allowing 34.9 points per game (116th-FBS) and are last in the conference in yards allowed with an average of 486.9 per game (125th- FBS). Colorado has yet to hold an opponent under 400 total yards this season and has eclipsed the 500-yard total three times (CSU- 505, at Oregon- 527, and USC-518). Add that to giving up 30+ points in 13 consecutive games going back to last season and you have the recipe for a team to be on the precipice of a losing season.
News and Notes
From the desk of Dave Plati:
Shenault’s Back- “CU’s preseason All-American is just about at 100 percent after suffering a core muscle strain early in the Arizona State game. Against USC, he caught nine passes for 172 yards (19.1 per), including a 71-yard touchdown catch and run; it was the seventh 100-yard receiving yards game of his career, tying him for the sixth-most at Colorado. He also rushed for 17 yards on his only attempt – on a 4th-a-2 in the third quarter; he is now 7-of-7 in earning a first down on third and fourth down rushing attempts this season. He has earned 32 first downs on 47 offensive touches this season.”
CU’s Mel Tucker has coached one time against UCLA back in 2001 as a member of Ohio State’s staff. The Buckeyes lost at No. 14 UCLA, 13-6. UCLA’s Chip Kelly is 2-1 against CU from his days at Oregon. Both wins came from leading the Ducks in 2011-12. The 22-point loss for Kelly came last year in Boulder.
Colorado is going to California for the only time this season to face UCLA on Saturday, Nov. 2. Kickoff from the Rose Bowl is scheduled at 7 p.m. MT. The Buffs have won two of the past three over UCLA, despite being down 10-4 in the all-time series since 1980. Colorado’s lone win in Pasadena came in 2002— a 31-17 win over the 20th-ranked Bruins behind 188 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Chris Brown.
TV: Pac-12 Network (National; except DirecTV)
Radio: 850 KOA (Regional) Mark Johnson (play-by-play)/ Gary Barnett (color)
Weather Forecast: 82°, clear at kickoff
Odds: -6.5 UCLA