After a bye week for both teams, the No. 15 Colorado Buffaloes (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) welcome the UCLA Bruins (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12) into Boulder for a Thursday night conference meeting.
Both teams have trended in opposite directions after the Pac-12 preseason media rankings had UCLA in the conference championship vs. Stanford and Colorado was picked to finish last in the South division. CU’s on the rise as the sole leaders of their division and UCLA has reached the lowest point in Jim Mora’s tenure since taking over in 2012.
The Buffs have played the Bruins close in the past two seasons, losing by a combined seven points, including blowing a fourth quarter lead in last season’s 35-31 defeat. CU rallied from 17 points down to force overtime in 2014, before losing a 40-37 double-overtime heartbreaker against then No. 25 UCLA. The Bruins have won the last five games in the series since Colorado joined the Pac-12.
Colorado’s Offense vs. UCLA’s Defense
Sefo Liufau has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in FBS this season. He’s the only passer with no interceptions with over 100 attempts and his 67.4 completion percentage is 14th best in the nation. Overall, CU’s offense is ranked 20th for total yards with 3,966, averaging 35.4 points per game. The 10 points scored two weeks ago against Stanford is the least amount in a winning effort since a 6-0 shutout at Missouri on Oct. 8, 1992. The Buffs and Cardinal combined for the third-lowest scoring game in FBS this season.
UCLA’s 4-3 defense continues to be the bright spot this season for a team that has struggled. Bruins defensive end Takkarist McKinley's is one of the nation's best with seven sacks, equalling his total from the previous two seasons and tied for second among pass rushers in the Pac-12.
The Bruins lead the conference in defensive pass efficiency, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 50.5 passing completion percentage with an average of 5.4 yards per pass. By the numbers, Colorado will be UCLA's toughest opponent to date. The Buffs "Air Raid" hybrid offense averages over four touchdowns and 216 yards rushing per contest, racking up 500+ yards in five of the eight games this season
Liufau’s ability to exploit the Bruins defense could be a huge key for CU’s success. UCLA’s ranked 58th in the nation for points allowed with an average of 26.8 points per game. Another contributing factor will be the Buffaloes’ offensive line's protection of Liufau. CU allows opponents an average of just over two sacks per game.
Colorado’s Defense vs. UCLA’s Offense
At the start of the season, the Bruins were ranked No. 16 with a highly touted offense behind quarterback Josh Rosen. Eight games into the season and UCLA have a single conference win as things have gone from bad to worse. Mora announced this week that Rosen would be out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury requiring surgery.
Mike Fafaul has stepped in the starting role, leading UCLA’s offense with an even TD to interception ratio on the season at 8 each. CU’s defense reigns as the best in the Pac-12 with one of the best secondaries in the nation, allowing 18.1 points and 307.8 yards per game.
UCLA’s offense has a solid passing game with the worst rushing attack in FBS. The Bruins average 85.5 yards per game on the ground compared to 422 yards through the air.
Colorado defensive backs Tedric Thompson, Ahkello Witherspoon, Afolabi Laguda and Chidobe Awuzie will be directing traffic against Fafaul, who averages a pick every 15 pass attempts. The Buffs are tied for 13th in the nation for most interceptions with 11. Quarterback pressure from Jimmie Gilbert and Kenneth Olugbode will allow the Buffs secondary to capitalize on miscues from Fafaul and the Bruins offense.
CU leads the nation for most consecutive games with a turnover at 21 games.
Odds and Ends
Colorado’s favored by 13 points, according to most major Las Vegas sports books.
Sefo Liufau needs five touchdowns and 26 points to pass Cody Hawkins, becoming CU’s all-time leader for career TD’s thrown and overall points.
Most Touchdown Passes, Career (56); Record: 60, Cody Hawkins, 2007-10.
Points Responsible For, Career (382)—408, Cody Hawkins, 2007-10 (67 TD, 3 2Pt.-PAT).
No. 15 Colorado and UCLA meet at Folsom Field on Thrusday, Oct 3 for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Tickets are still available for the blackout affair with the Bruins.
The projected weather forecast shows a nice 68° at the start, perfect conditions for a sellout in Boulder. TV: Fox Sports 1, Radio: 850 KOA