The Colorado Buffaloes got their first conference win (and conference road win) in some time against Oregon State last week but the competition takes a very noticeable step up this week when the Buffs head to Pasadena.
To find out more about the Bruins we sat down with the UCLA blog, Bruins Nation. You can see our answers to his questions here.
Josh Rosen has lit the world on fire as a freshman quarterback, something very few people have been able to do. He seems to pick apart defenses with ease and favors Thomas Duarte over the middle. What makes him so good at such a young age and is he ever going to have a freshman meltdown (please say on Saturday)? Who does he target the most outside of Duarte?
The thing that really sets Rosen apart as a freshman is the thing that should keep him from having a major meltdown, and that's his poise. He has a great handle on the offensive system and he looks very cool and collected in the pocket. He is also able to shrug off mistakes well. He threw 3 picks against BYU in a really poor first half in his 3rd game out, but came back with a very calm and sensible and well managed second half to lead a come from behind win.
Rosen is fortunate that the Bruins surprisingly solid pass protection (just 9 sacks so far this season) has taken a lot of pressure off of his shoulders, a luxury that his predecessor Brett Hundley never enjoyed. He also has an excellent ground game to help share the load for the offense. The surrounding parts have really allowed Rosen to simply make the plays he can, rather than forcing to make every play just to keep the offense moving. Jordan Payton is his favorite receiver with 37 catches for 547 yds and 4 TDs so far. Payton isn't a game breaker, but he runs great routes and is Mr Reliable with his hands, so he's the perfect outlet for a young quarterback who is still learning the ropes of D-1 football.
The Bruins have been hit even harder with the injury bug than the Buffs, a feat within itself. Who exactly is going to be out this weekend and how has the absence of starters like Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes affected this team?
Man, don't injuries suck? It's really strange. We're seeing high profile players lost all over the conference, more than I can ever recall. The Bruins lost Vanderdoes, their second best DL in week 1, their best CB Fabian Moreau in week 3, their best LB/player Myles Jack in practice 2 days after that, and have since lost reserves OL Tavita Hallilo and WR Mossi Johnson - all for the season. Last week the Bruins were also missing or lost LT Conor McDermott, their best rush LB Deon Hollins, their top two RBs Paul Perkins and Nate Starks, Jack's replacement ILB Isaako Savaiinaea, and their #3 WR/slot Devin Fuller. Even I injured my wrist just blogging about it all.
It sounds like Perkins, Starks, McDermott, and Hollins could all be back for Saturday. Luckily, the Bruins have had enough depth to keep things moving, but it's hard to replace All Pac-12 stars like Vanderdoes and Jack. The combination of Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark on the defensive line was incredible. Either of them demand a double team, so opposing offensive lines were really in a bind how to handle the both of them. Clark is still making a lot of plays, but the DL isn't what is could have been. Myles Jack was so gifted athletically that he played ILB in base and was the leading tackler, he could move outside to his former OLB spot, he covered the slot and tight ends in nickel, and he even lined up wide at corner against receivers and shut them down (he allowed 2 catches for 22 yards against Southern Cal's Nelson Agholor last year). There's no way to replace that type of outstanding-do-it-all player. Savaiinaea is a solid replacement at ILB but he can't shut down tight ends or slots like Myles could, and defensive backs playing nickel can't stop the run the way Myles could. It's made defensive substitutions difficult and allowed opponents to target specific personnel. For instance, early against Stannford, the Cardinal converted two separate 3rd and 13s early in the game with passes to their tight end up the seam over the LB. I guarantee there's no way they complete those passes against Jack. Now, there were plenty of other problems against Stanford, but if that drive gets stopped early, that game changes complexion, too. So even though everyone deals with injuries and you have to fight through them, losing those players hurts.
Kenny Clark has been a one-man wrecking crew up front for the Bruin defense and Deon Hollins has been doing some good work. How has Tom Bradley done with this defense? Will CU be able to run the ball on them? I thought he was a fantastic hire.
Bruin fans had really high expectations for this defense based on Bradley's history at Penn State, but to be honest, it's been a bit underwhelming so far. The injuries have played a little bit into that, but we were really expecting to see a more dynamic unpredictable defense with a lot of exotic blitzes and stunts and people coming from all over, and that really hasn't been the case, no matter what personnel were on the field. The Bruins have spent most of their time in nickel or their base 3-4, and much of that is a product of the offenses they've faced. The high tempo spread offenses that are so common in the Pac-12 weren't a staple of the Penn State opponents of the last couple decades, so I think Bradley's familiarity with the west coast game and the rate of development of his defense has been slower than what we expected.
The defense frankly looked really poor against the read option plays that Arizona and Arizona State used on consecutive weekends, and the Bruins got pushed all around by Stanford's power pro style offense, so if Colorado can replicate either of those designs, they should be able to run the ball with some success. Still, there have been signs of improvement, as the Bruins came up with 5 sacks against Cal when they were much better with using some new formations to disguise what was still a basic 4 man rush. Fortunately, the Bruins are blessed with talent, and DT Kenny Clark and OLB Deon Hollins are at the top of that list (of those that are still on the field), and that's allowed the defense to make its share of plays as the players and Bradley continue to develop.
Who are some names to watch for on offense? What about on defense?
If Perkins isn't carrying the ball, look for running backs Nate Starks (a Cherry Creek HS product) and true freshman Soso Jamabo to get the bulk of carries. Jamabo carried most of the load while Perkins and Starks were both out last week. He is a big player (6-2) for a running back and runs a bit upright which makes people think of Eric Dickerson. He is super smooth in the open field which belies his good speed and shiftiness.
Another player to watch on the outside is Darren Andrews who is becoming a bigger weapon for Rosen from the slot position. On defense, keep an eye out for for OLB Aaron Wallace. He's a good all around player who had 2 sacks filling in for Hollins last week and he'll get more snaps just because of his production and confidence. Tahaan Goodman is playing safety in base, linebacker in nickel, and covering receivers in dime, so he'll be around the ball a lot, too.
Do you have a prediction for the game on Saturday?
It depends which UCLA team shows up. If it's the motivated and focused team we saw against Arizona and Cal, the Bruins should be in good shape. If it's the unfocused and unprepared teams we saw against ASU and Stanford, then the Bruins will be in trouble. Bruin fans saw just how capable Colorado is in the game at Boulder last year, and the Buffs aren't going to be satisfied with getting that nice conference win last week and stopping there. But as for a solid prediction, the good news for both Buff fans and Bruin fans alike making the trip to the Rose Bowl is that it should be a beautiful day in Pasadena on Saturday. It's a bit uncharacteristically cool and windy along the coast in the mornings right now, but people should be in for a perfect fall afternoon on game day.
Would you rather eat a hot dog with a hamburger bun or a hamburger with a hot dog bun?
I would have opted for the hot dog, but now everyone says processed meats cause cancer, so I'd go for the hamburger next, but some are already saying that any red meat is unhealthy. Geez, pretty soon they'll tell us that football itself is bad for your health! I guess we should all just go sit quietly in the corner under a quilt and read Jane Austen. But how the hell are we gonna blog on that? "The top 5 moves Mr Darcy needs to score with Elizabeth". Ugh...forget it. Kill me quickly. Gimme that hot dog.
Three Key Stats
Adjusted Sack Rate- UCLA Offense- ranked 1st. CU Defense- Ranked 83rd.
Turnover Margin- UCLA- minus 1. CU- Plus 4.
Rushing Success Rate (how often a run play gains the required yards)- UCLA offense- 49.2%, ranked 19th. CU defense- 47.1%, ranked 109th.
This game does not look pretty on paper for Buff fans. The Bruins are the best in the country at keeping their quarterback clean, and CU is not that great at getting consistent pressure. They will need to change those trends for 60 minutes to have a chance in the Rose Bowl. Rosen is still a frosh QB, so pressure may rattle him harder than most, especially because he isn't used to it. Another key to winning revolves around making Rosen uncomfortable- turnovers. This goes hand in hand with the pressure. Force Josh Rosen to make bad decisions and then make him pay. The Bruins have been hurt by this before (see: BYU game) and the Buffs need to limit UCLA's chances as much as possible. CU has done great work so far, with 10 interceptions and a positive turnover ratio. Leavitt needs to inspire these guys to play out of their mind and keep this trend going.
Finally, I leave you on an ominous note. The Bruins are a very successful running team when they want to be. They don't run as often as they probably should, but when they do, good things happen. On the other hand, the Buffs have the worst run defense in the conference for what seems like the 5th year in a row. One of these days the run will be stopped. But that day is not Saturday. Paul Perkins may be out, which will help depress their attack, but they have capable backups everywhere, and even more at running back (what good recruiting will do for you). The Buffs will need to play crazily well up front to stop both the run and pass, and I don't know if these guys have that in them. This game would be a big step forward in many ways. Consecutive road wins, win against a ranked team, consecutive conference wins. But, more likely than not, it will be the 4th conference loss.