Homecoming week is upon us. CU has been pumping out history for six days, making us remember the good ol' days and the days older than that. The fastest way to CU fan's heart is talking about history, and the campus is ready for a win on Saturday. In come marching UCLA, fresh off a disappointing win, if that's possible. The Bruins are walking into a trap game, but they have talent to coast on by the Buffs on the way to Arizona. Last week was an aberration of the season overall, hopefully it stays that way and UCLA at least has a scare in Folsom.
Everyone who kept watching after the 1st quarter deserves to be commended as a true friend of the University of Colorado. The first taste of football after weeks of none could not have been more bitter. Defensive breakdown? Check. Sefo opening drive interception? Check. Flashbacks to prior years and crying? Check. This game had it all. CU settled down in the 2nd half, when most of the backups were in, but those first 15 minutes were ugly. I'm not going to talk about this game as much as others because, quite simply, there isn't much to talk about. Tony Jones proved he should be the starting running back, Bryce Bobo somehow survived one of the more vicious hits I've ever seen, and Jordan Gerkhe looked exactly how a backup quarterback should: tantalizing enough to generate hope, but erratic enough to make the starter look better. On defense, McCartney looks like a future stud, Tedric Thompson had a significantly worse game than the Cal one, and the secondary had the worst game of the season so far. Also, Kenneth Olugbode showed flashes of what Coach Mac was talking about during summer camp. This game needs to be flushed out of the psyche, on to the next one.
This side of the ball is where UCLA brings home the bacon. Brett Hundley is a dynamic signal-caller that is going to make some NFL team very happy next year. He can run, throw, and with this offensive line, does both at the same time. He leads college football in completion percentage at 72%, and while a lot of that is scheming (great scheming), he has all the natural talent in the world, and he has a lot of talent to throw to. Jordan Payton, Devin Fuller, and Thomas Duarte (TE) make up his top 3 pass-catchers, and all 3 are ridiculously athletic. The Buff secondary will have their hands full with this unheralded crew. The running game is a great compliment to the UCLA offense. Paul Perkins is one of the more underrated backs in the country, mostly because he's overshadowed by the bigger names for the Bruins. While Myles Jack shows great potential, he can't play 30 snaps both ways and he's reserved for special occasions. Perkins is an engine that won't stop running, and he is more than capable of gashing the Buffs if they aren't careful. He has carried a heavy workload this year, and is only about 200 yards from 1000 on the season. That becomes even more impressive when you consider UCLA's offensive line troubles. This group of young men have been struggling mightily thus far. Giving up 10 sacks to any team in one game is never fun, and while Hundley doesn't make their job easier with his scrambling, the O-line needs to do a better job protecting their team. The anchor of the line, center Jake Brendel, has performed well thus far, and CU's defensive tackles will need to work hard to get any sort of push against him.
This has been a vastly disappointing unit for the Bruins thus far. With the amount of talent and team speed on this side of the ball, they should not be giving up as many points and yards as they have. As I say this, I know they are preparing to have their most complete game against the Buffs and make me eat my words. In terms of raw ingredients, UCLA should be one of the best defenses in the country. They mix an imposing defensive front, led by "The Name", Odighizuwa Owamagbe at defensive end, with a speedy linebacking corps and Erick Kendricks in the middle (a great leader who tackles very well), and finally a ballhawking secondary that can run with anybody. The defensive line has done some damage to opposing quarterbacks this year, but it is a step below the USC's and Utah's of the world. It just isn't dynamic enough to completely change a game. They do, however, do their job well, which in this case would be to occupy blockers for the linebackers. Almost all of the roamers in the middle are able to make plays in coverage and in the run game. Erick Kenricks and Myles Jack lead this unit. The problems Sefo Liufau encountered with the USC secondary will still be there with this back four. Every time he floats his deep balls or his sideline passes, they have the speed to run under the pass and break it up, or even worse, intercept the duck. As mentioned previously, this unit has the raw potential to be great, but mental errors have largely held it back this year. Myles Jack is a star in the making and he may not even be the best player in his position group, but they still give up big play after big play. Expect the Buffs to pass early and often to try to capitalize on the most shaky part of UCLA's defense. Communication is key for the Bruins, and if they act as immaturely as they have in the past, they could be in deep trouble on Saturday.
CU's Oline vs. UCLA's Dline - Advantage: Push. The Buffs' offensive line has been surprisingly good this season, especially at protecting the quarterback. They face another fearsome front this week, though it is slightly less physically opposing. I expect them to hold up reasonably well against the Bruins.
UCLA's Oline vs. CU's Dline - Advantage: Slightly CU. This may be the first time that Colorado's defensive line has an advantage, and that speaks to their improvement as well as UCLA's devolution. IF they can generate consistent pressure with a 4 man rush, a big if, this game will be a lot easier to win. Expect Derek McCartney to show out for the Homecoming crowd that certainly remembers his last name. CU needs to get consistent pressure to make Hundley uncomfortable, which greatly increases the chances for a win.
CU's QB vs. UCLA's DB's - Advantage: Push. Sefo Liufau had his worst performance of the year last week, but everything we know about the young man suggests a big comeback game more than a continued slump. He should be solid, if not spectacular on Saturday and back to the Sefo we know and love. These defensive backs know they can get interceptions off of him, though. Expect a lot more middle of the field action than usual for the Buffs, as they will do everything they can to ensure that Sefo gets the ball out quickly and hits his mark.
UCLA's QB vs. CU's DB's - Advantage: Slightly UCLA. Hundley is a playmaker, through and through. He can and will make plays that you scoff at, and will make the defense look silly seemingly at will. He will also force throws on occasion, and if his first read is not there, there is a point in time where he's prone to mistakes. Plain and simple, the CU secondary needs to make life complicated for Hundley, and their job becomes easier. Also, a spy should be on him at all times.
CU's Skill Players (WR, TE, RB) vs. UCLA's Back 7 (LB's and DB's) - Advantage: Slightly UCLA. While I'm convinced that the Buffs' wide receivers can win their matchups outside, like every other week, the running backs are out matched here. Myles Jack and Co. will stop any runs that get to the 2nd level pretty quickly, and now that the bruiser Powell is questionable for the game with concussion symptoms (hope he gets well soon), the diminutive backfield will have to work hard for any extra yards. T.Y. McCulloch should have another big game as the biggest mismatch on the roster.
UCLA's Skill Players vs. CU's Back 7 - Advantage: UCLA. While there are no real stars, there is plenty of athleticism to make plays. This offense goes as Hundley goes, and this team is set up as such. All of these skill players were recruited to put Hundley in the best position to succeed as possible. Underrated back Perkins should do well against CU's linebackers, who desperately need healthy Gillam back ASAP. Expect another gashing in store for the Buffs.
Special Teams - Advantage: UCLA. Finally, a mention of the Bruins' secret weapon, the always threatening Ishmael Adams. he could take it to the house any kickoff, and he is one of the most dynamic return men in the country. More than almost any other home game, Will Oliver really needs to boot it out of the end zone, or else it could be a long day. Kickoff coverage has been improving, but not enough for the #TobyNeinasHotSeat to get colder.
Looking above at the individual matchups, there is very little chance that CU does well this game. They appear outmatched at almost every group and Hundley is a huge threat that should go off against the Buffs. However, there is a chance that CU controls the line of scrimmage, and as has been shown to the Buffs all year, when you control the line of scrimmage, you control the game. There is no rational reason to feel good about Colorado's chances this game, and they might get crushed. Maybe it is the fact that they got stomped last week, or maybe it's the fact that my Chargers have dropped 2 games in 5 days. Dammit, I'm ready for a win. With this in mind, I'll say that Buffs pull out a shocker, 37-30. Rationally, UCLA should score in the 40's and CU in the 20's, but it's homecoming week. There's magic in the air, and CU is tired of losing. A win is bound to happen after so much slamming of heads into walls, why not this week? Bring it home, boys.