At this point it's safe to say that UCLA hasn't lived up to the hype that surrounded them early this season. The Bruins certainly have talent on both sides of the ball but they've sustained a couple of critical defeats that have exposed fatal flaws. One of the biggest reasons that they've lost twice and looked less than convincing in four of their five wins is the offense's inability to provide consistent pass protection. The Buffs are going to need to press that issue on Saturday afternoon to have a shot at a much-needed victory.
Colorado's Defensive Front vs. UCLA's Offensive Line
Talk to any guy who's seen time on the offensive line and he'll likely tell you that continuity is one of the most important factors for success. To this point the Bruins have trotted out four different lineups comprised of eight different starters. This rotating group has allowed 26 sacks through 7 games, good for 8th most in the nation. It seems that every defense they've faced this season has been able to produce an effective pass rush. Jim Mora and his offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone have been trying every combination possible to help better protect the Bruins' MVP Brett Hundley, with varying results.
Hundley does have a familiar anchor in front of him in redshirt junior center Jake Brendel. After missing the season opener against Virginia Brendel is back at full strength and trying to hold this line together, in all of its forms. Three sophomore linemen and a junior who are in turn backed up by three freshmen and a junior flank him. In another example of how far Mora is reaching, freshman left tackle Conor McDermott made just his second career start against Cal last Saturday. I'd expect him to continue to see action against CU along with senior Malcolm Bunche who can also fill in at guard and has been playing better of late. Sophomores Scott Quessenberry and Alex Redmond have also both seen time at the guard positions but have not stood out to this point. The Bruins have been struggling to win the individual battles both inside and outside and Mazzone's blocking schemes have come under fire from fans and media.
For all of their faults, the Bruin offense actually grades out fairly well. They rank 19th in the country in total offense and 29th in Football Outsiders' S&P+ offensive ratings. This is a direct result of having a Top 5 quarterback talent in Hundley and big, athletic playmakers at wide receiver and tailback. Sophomore Paul Perkins has been a force out of the backfield, amassing 816 yards rushing while Hundley has totaled 305 yards on the ground himself mostly out of zone read looks. It will be critical that the Buffs hold these two in check on Saturday and that begins with the defensive line.
Last weekend CU sold out to stop the run and then failed to get significant pressure on Cody Kessler, this turned out very poorly. This weekend, facing a more athletic signal caller, they'll need to bring a more balanced look and assign a spy to track Hundley. UCLA's offense runs primarily out of zone reads and the Bruin quarterback has severely gashed the Buffs on foot in their two previous meetings so it will be crucial for the defensive line to get off their blocks fast and try to get a hand on him as quickly as possible.
Colorado's defensive front is not exactly a model of consistency itself but a steady core of four players has emerged after seven games. If Derek McCartney and Jimmie Gilbert can both get around the edge and into the backfield consistently the defense stands a much better chance of forcing a mistake, an incompletion, or possibly a turnover. The linebackers will have to be quick to recognize when Hundley is keeping the ball on a read, the line can only cover so many gaps, because this is where the Bruin offense can do the most damage to CU's defense. Josh Tupou and Juda Parker, who it feels have been invisible of late, will need to break down the strength of the Bruin line and contain handoffs to Perkins through the middle.
For as poor has UCLA's offensive line has looked at times, the explosive spark that this offense possesses remains very potent. Even when pressured Hundley is able to deal crushing blows by creating plays out of seemingly no where with both his arm and his feet. The defensive line can swing this game in CU's favor by forcing effective pressure and getting timely sacks but if Hundley and Perkins are able to ramble through the middle of the field again the Buffs are in for another long afternoon and they'll find any chance at an upset growing slimmer by the yard.