A relieved feeling settled over Folsom Field last weekend when Cole Becker’s 43-yard field goal iced Oregon State for the 37-34 overtime victory. Colorado (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) now heads to Southern California for a meeting with UCLA to try and keep their own postseason hopes intact.
That will be easier said than done as the Buffs have a tough road ahead to round out the 2021 football season. They have a trip to the Rose Bowl on Saturday followed by the home finale against Washington before ‘The Rumble in the Rockies’ with No. 24 Utah on Black Friday. If CU can win out, they’ll be in contention for a bowl game for a second consecutive season— a first since Gary Barnett’s Buffs did so in 2005.
They’ll first have to get through UCLA (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12), who has under-performed this season, especially after starting 5-2 and knocking off then No. 16 LSU in week two. Losers of two straight, the Bruins look for a momentum boost to keep Chip Kelly out of the hot seat going into the off-season.
The one-time Oregon turned NFL coach came back to the Pac-12 hoping to turn around UCLA’s program. And so far, he hasn’t been successful with three straight losing seasons and the possibility of a fourth for Kelly’s tenure in Westwood. On the bright side, five wins are the most for Kelly over the past four seasons— a somewhat positive sign that things could be turning around. However, it’s still a far cry from the lofty expectations expected by UCLA’s faithful when Kelly was hired to replace Jim Mora Jr.
Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson missed last week with a thumb injury and gave Ethan Garbers the start vs. Utah. The freshman passer doesn’t quite fit the mold of a typical Kelly-driven offensive system but still put up respectable numbers with 265 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. UCLA needs DTR healthy as he remains the best option to compete. The senior dual-threat has completed 60.0% of his passes in 34 career games with 7,704 yards of total offense, 67 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions. He’ll be a game time decision and admitted his hand wasn’t 100-percent earlier this week.
The combo of DTR’s leadership, along with UCLA’s other offensive weapons has them as one of the better teams in the nation with 415.7 yards per game (57th, FBS). Zach Charbonnet leads the team’s one-two punch out of the backfield with 797 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. The Michigan transfer is joined by Brittain Brown with a steady 558 yards and six scores on the ground. The Bruins are 5-0 this season when rushing for 200+ yards.
As for Thompson-Robinson’s primary targets, Kyle Phillips has 39 receptions for 528 yards and six touchdowns. Not far behind is tight end Greg Dulcich with 31 catches for 477 yards and four TD grabs. The Glendale, Calif. native is on pace for a career year in his junior season with the Bruins. He already set the mark for receptions last week against Utah and needs 40 yards and a touchdown in the final three games.
Colorado’s defense is familiar with DTR’s ability to spread the offense and has done an outstanding job of preventing him from taking over. The Bruins are 1-2 all-time with him under center against the Buffs including a 42-48 season-opening loss in Boulder last year. He has gone 58-of-103 (56.3%) with eight total touchdowns and two interceptions against CU since 2018.
As a whole, the Buffs defense are second to last in the Pac-12 in total defense (408.8 ypg), but a lot of garbage time yards have pushed that average up significantly. They’ve allowed 25.7 point per contest, which is middle-of-the-road for the conference and slightly better than UCLA’s unit this year (28.2 ppg). Nate Landman is eighth in total tackles with 63, along with four pass deflections and a forced fumble.
On the other side of the Ball, Colorado will see if Brendon Lewis continues to improve for a third week in a row. The Melissa, Texas freshman has played mistake-free, but mostly ineffective football with only two interceptions this season. He has completed 40-of-57 passes (70.1%) for 394 yards and six touchdowns in the past two games. The Buffs offensive line allowed Lewis to be sacked just one time during that span, compared to a total of 12 sacks in the three games prior.
The Buffs face a Bruins defense that is dead last in the Pac-12 against the pass with 278.6 yards per game (120th, FBS), and lead the conference as a run-stopping unit by allowing 116.6 yards per game (18th, FBS). A stark contrast overall which has weighed them down throughout the season.
From the desk of Dave Plati:
Turnover-Free Part 2. Colorado had no turnovers in the double overtime win over Oregon State – the second straight game without one and the fifth this season – the latter setting a school record for the most games in a single season without one (four had been done seven times). CU has just six turnovers in nine games – tied for the third-fewest in the nation behind only Coastal Carolina and Kent State (each with five).
Extra: Buffs in the NFL “234. When PK Mason Crosby (’06) appears in Green Bay’s next game, he will tie OT Stan Brock (’79) for the most NFL games played by a Colorado alum in the league with 234 (the same number that John Elway played with the Denver Broncos.) That will tie for the 97th-most all-time when it occurs.
Colorado goes to the Golden State for the second-to-last road trip of the year against UCLA. Kickoff is scheduled at 7 p.m. MST from the Rose Bowl.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: 850 KOA (Mark Johnson & Gary Barnett)
Odds: -17.5 UCLA
Weather: 73°, clear