Despite Colorado's abjectly poor showing in Los Angeles last weekend, they still stand a decent chance at posting an upset and gaining their first Pac-12 win of the season at the UCLA Bruins' expense. Here are three areas that will be crucial to a Buffalo victory.
Last week in Berkeley UCLA fumbled the ball away twice deep in their own territory leading directly to two Cal touchdowns. The Buffs are probably going to need to force a few giveaways themselves to keep pace on Saturday. If the Bruins are moving the ball at will on the ground it becomes even more crucial that CU kill a couple of drives with fumble recoveries or interceptions. They'll need to capitalize on those turnovers as well, UCLA's offense has too much explosive potential to waste opportunities to gain ground or move ahead. Conversely, the Buffs absolutely can't afford an early Sefo interception or multiple fumbles by their backs. Liufau knows his misreads and forced decisions have critically wounded his team's chances in each of the past three games, I expect him to be a little more patient and cautious in this one.
It's no secret that penalties, or the lack thereof, have played a significant role in CU's season. It's not pleasant to talk about but it is something that's holding this team back and can at least be corrected to a certain degree. The Buffs have already been flagged more times through seven games than they were over the entire course of the 2013 season. In 2014 they've seen yellow 57 times for a total of 559 yards. Players on both sides of the ball need to be sharper and have the discipline to avoid putting themselves in situations where the ref is challenged to make a decision. For example, don't even go within 5 yards of the punter. Chances are that you're not going to block it and nothing good is going to come of that gamble. The Buffs defensive backs and linebackers were put on a bit of an island last weekend causing a few interference and holding penalties. This weekend it would behoove them to disentangle and try to avoid those touch-and-go calls that keep the defense on the field. Tough, aggressive coverage is great but it also needs to be smart and efficient. They don't need to be handing UCLA yards when it will be difficult enough just to stop the Bruins from gaining them on the ground.
Two words: Ishmael Adams. The man is fast and it's not a stretch to imagine him piercing through CU's kick coverage and winding up in the end zone seconds later. The Buffs are going to have to be fundamentally sound (something that hasn't occurred all too often of late) in both their kickoff and punt coverage. A slip or two and Adams will be making house calls. They can't afford to spot UCLA quick and easy points on special teams. They also can't be leaving points on the board. Will Oliver, should he be presented with the opportunities, will need to convert each time he puts the boot to the ball.
The Buffs' margin of error was remarkably thin to begin with and it's only going to get thinner from here. The Cal and Oregon State games showed how agonizingly close this team is to winning, and then the USC matchup showed how quickly things can unravel after only a few mistakes when facing a much more talented team. UCLA falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, they can be beaten but it will take a nearly mistake-free four quarter effort in all facets of the game. Here's to the Buffs putting it together and finally finding a way to finish off a quality win, on Homecoming Weekend no less.