The UCLA Bruins are coming off a disappointing past two weeks. After reaching Top 10 status for the first time since 2005, the Bruins got beat by Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks to fall back to earth and realize they aren't quite "there" yet. While UCLA has quickly formed into a legitimate threat in the Pac-12 South, they still lack the team to hang with the big dogs of the Pac-12 North. Coach Jim Mora doesn't take an "almost there mindset", he wants to run those big dogs and how the Bruins finish out 2013 regular season will determine how close (or how far) they are to go to get there.
For now, UCLA, the 2-time defending division champs, have their sites set on getting back to the Pac-12 conference title game and with 4 of their final 5 games coming against the Pac-12 South they need to run through this gauntlet in order to get there. The Bruins main hurdle to get back to the Pac 12 championship game will come when they take on theArizona State Sun Devils on November 23rd, but this week it's the Buffaloes of Colorado they face.
UCLA Bruins Offense
The Bruins come into the game this Saturday 27 to 28 point favorites over the Buffaloes. UCLA has faced two defensive powers the previous two weeks in Oregon and Stanford and look to rebound back to the team that was scoring an average of 46 points a game before their two losses. The Bruins are led by a very balanced offensive attack, around the Top 40 in both rushing and passing in the nation. Their offense centers around the arm of sophomore Brett Hundley. Hundley is an athletic quarterback who is a danger on his feet as much as he is in the air. He has ran for 359 yards and 4 TDs to go with 1725 yards passing and 14 passing TDs. Hundley struggled mightily the last two games; and after looking like a potential Heisman candidate five games into the season he is looking like he has lost some confidence. Against Oregon, he took a beating getting sacked 3 times and only accounting for 64 yards through the air with two interceptions. A Buffaloes defense that has allowed almost 50 points and 575 yards a game in the Pac-12 is a welcome site to UCLA's struggling offense.
The Bruins offense was most effective at the beginning of the season, through its non-conference schedule, because they surprisingly had found a workhorse running back in Jordon James. James was the replacement for Johnathan Franklin (now with the Green Bay Packers) after the Bruins staff appeared ready to go with a running back by committee approach. James status is up in the air for this weekend after leaving the Utah game with an ankle injury and missing the past 3 weeks. While Paul Perkins and the rest of the Bruins backs have filled in admirably, after the departure of James, they lack the chain moving efficiency the offense thrived on in a big early season win over Nebraska.
The Bruins receiving corp is led by senior Shaquelle Evans. Evans has accounted for a third of UCLA's 15 touchdown receptions and has 31 receptions for 318 yards. Sophomore Devin Fuller has 27 receptions for 340 yards and 2 scores. He has also thrown a touchdown pass on the season. The remainder of the receiving corp is a very solid group that contributes long plays and takes pressure off their main two targets by opening the passing attack downfield.
The Bruins offensive line is your typical large 6'-4" and taller with 300 lb average sort of group. The Bruins line is young in spots but appears to have shored up some of the issues they had in pass protection, allowing only 17 sacks through the first 6 games after giving up 55 last season. They have had issues against the more experienced and stronger and athletic lines (i.e. Oregon and Stanford) but have a break in the form of the Buffaloes.
The Bruins have been very solid in their special teams, where kicker Kaim Fairbairn is 10 of 13 on field goals and 30 of 30 on PATs, but haven't had any returns for touchdowns. Steven Manfro has a season long return of 70 yards and may have one of the best names in college football. The Bruins do a good job of getting a dozen yards in the punt return which is a big help in the field position battle and is led by Evans in that department.
The Bruins 2013 defensive unit is vastly improved to their 2012 squad. They were giving up less than 20 points a game before the barrage Oregon put on them late in the 2nd half last week. They force mistakes, having caused 14 turnovers in the first 7 games of the season, and have shut down opponents offenses for the most part. The strength of the defense lies in their linebacking corp. Anthony Barr creates havoc all over the field accounting for 6 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles and 3 recovered fumbles to go with 38 tackles and a partridge in a pear tree. Eric Kendricks is the underrated but most consistent Bruin accounting for a team leading 65 tackles. Jordan Zumwalt fills the middle with Kendricks, in the 3-4 scheme, and the group is rounded out by true freshman Myles Jack whom is used heavily in the pass defense and has accounted for a team leading 7 pass deflections.
The secondary has gained valuable experience quickly after replacing the entire squad from an underperforming group in 2012. Anthony Jefferson has stepped up and taken the leadership role, accounting for the second most tackles on the team and 2 interceptions. Ishmael Adams leads the Bruins with 3 interceptions and 5 pass deflections.
The defensive line is an older group, they lost Datone Jones to the NFL, and has been an accumulative effort by the group rather than anyone shining quite like Jones. Senior Keenan Graham contributes sacks. 5 of his 10 tackles have been for sacks. Senior Cassius Marsh and Freshman Eddie Vanderdoes account for the majority of the tackles along the front at the 5-technique/defensive end of the 3-4 scheme.
Colorado Buffaloes Quick Arizona Recap
The Colorado Buffaloes continue to struggle against the Pac-12. The team squandered a great opening 25 minutes of the first half on defense by continually stalling offensively. The Buffs biggest problem is what has harmed them since Pac-12 play began for them in 2011, they make a scratch become a wound and don't have the stitching or cauterizing ability to stop the bleeding from becoming uncontrollable. Instead of stepping on the gas after a fumble, poor punt and interception the Buffaloes settled for three field goals connecting on two of them. In the rabid Pac 12, 3 points gets ate up quickly by 7 and the Buffs went into halftime down 24-13 instead of having the lead their defense tried to give them.
The third quarter/early fourth tore that wound wide open, as it has throughout the year, and the Buffs saw the already sparse crowd thin out quickly while the chill of October nights blew away another Buffs victory.
Are Buffs Improved Over 2012 Squad?
As pointed out earlier in the article, the Buffaloes have not shown many signs of improvement with regards to the points and yardage they are allowing their opponents. Their offense only put up 20 points in what should have been at least a 30 point effort with the field position they were given early in the game. The fact they got to 20 points is a good sign. They showed a much more balanced effort but simple basics were missed on offense. The coaching staff reeked of desperation in going for a fake punt deep in Buffs territory while settling for field goals early in the contest. The desperation factor should be when the Buffs need to build a lead to cause the opposition to panic, while the Buffs have done the opposite in many games. The killer mentality must come out by the staff and the team when it presents itself. It is a tall task to ask against UCLA whom is licking their paws from the wounds of two straight losses, but if it happens, the Buffs can't wait. Arizona opened up a can of what the..., huh, why and questioning when it should have been a close fought loss or even victory. Instead Colorado let Arizona play their game and against teams like UCLA, that can make the game ugly.
It's clear the Buffs have improved in time management and dumb mistakes. The amount of penalties and especially the dreaded delay of games that came regularly have been limited. They also have some speed on offense and their secondary is making great plays. Greg Henderson has been as close to shut down corner as the Buffaloes have seen in years (yes, on par or better than Jimmy Smith) and Jered Bell has answered the bell (haha) by making timely interceptions and being the consistent free safety the Buffs were void of in 2012.
Other areas to remain positive is the lack of fighting and yelling and negativity flowing from the sidelines and field you would see in 2012. There were multiple times players could be seen shaking their head and looking disinterested in the game and this team was simply not a group. It appears they are still standing by each other even at 3-4 and without any major strides in the conference. They look to have addressed run game issues with Michael Adkins II
The Buffs biggest issue lies in the area you have to control in order to win games and that's at the point of attack in the offensive and defensive lines. While it's not every play, it's too often that Colorado's quarterback, whether it is Sefo Liufau or former starter Connor Wood, doesn't have the time better teams offensive lines afford their quarterbacks.
The Buffaloes have two difficult games ahead and the way to quiet the negativity would be a solid effort in each. The 24+ point differential the Buffaloes have been defeated by is giving the fan base fuel to say what is different this year? While they have been minor things, the fan base must let 2013 play out and allow more than a full season to start throwing this group under the bus.
Buffs and Bruins Prediction
The Bruins speed at defense kept them in the Oregon game while their offense struggled. Their secondary has not been tested, allowing only more than 230 yards to Utah whom could not reach the 300 yards passing mark. The Bruins do give up fair amounts of yardage on the ground but have limited opponents in putting the ball in the end zone with regularity.
The Bruins offense is really struggling and has looked like a completely different unit. Colorado has been the remedy for every Pac-12 opponents offense. The Bruins would be bowl eligible with a win and get back on track to challenge for the Pac-12 title with a win over Colorado. Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone and Hundley would be wise to watch what Arizona did to Colorado and realize the discipline lacked heavily in attacking the athletic quarterback. The Bruins typically run a pistol/spread offense with a lot of play action for a zone-read sort of look. The Bruins should look to take advantage of the point of attack and eat away at the Buffaloes defense to get back on track.
On the other side, the Buffs defense would have a statement game if they can limit UCLA to under 400 yards. A strong first half where they keep UCLA under 200 yards would mean the Bruins and the Buffs are in a dogfight and the Buffs have an opportunity. The Colorado offense will have to answer the bell each round. They have to trade punches and get ahead in the fight early to allow themselves any opportunity to win this game.
The Buffaloes have nothing to lose and the Bruins have to show they are better than the product they have put on the field offensively through the first two weeks. While it is completely against logic, the Buffs stake an early lead and the Bruins have to claw their way back from the biggest upset in the Pac 12 season and win 38-24 with a late touchdown to put icing on an otherwise scary game.