This week the University of Colorado Buffaloes football team faces off against the Bruins of UCLA. The Buffs, now ranked no. 21 in the AP Top 25 poll, and the Bruins are both coming off of their bye weeks for a primetime showdown. So, how will this Pac-12 matchup play out? Here’s a look at what to expect.
The last time anyone saw the CU offense, they were struggling to punch it in against Stanford. They scored only one touchdown on five red zone trips and made one of four field goals in a lackluster performance. Constant pressure from Solomon Thomas and the Cardinal defensive line contributed to the low scoring affair.
Looking at the offense this season though, the game at Stanford seems more like a fluke than a worrying trend. While senior quarterback Sefo Liufau’s numbers may have dipped since his return, the run game has absolutely exploded. Junior tailback Phillip Lindsay has come alive in the last two games, rushing for 219 and 131 yards, respectively.
Junior Kyle Evans has also contributed big time behind an experienced offensive line that seems to be gelling on run plays. Lindsay did suffer an ankle sprain against the Cardinal but will start Thursday after having the bye week to recover. Expect Lindsay and Evans to continue their solid play against a Bruins defense that ranks eighth in the Pac-12 (68th overall) against the run.
Utah’s Joe Williams single-handedly put up 332 yards last week against this team, so consider them highly exploitable.
Despite the game at Stanford, the Buffs’ passing attack is still a huge threat for opposing defenses. Liufau seemed to have lost his bearings in Palo Alto, often under and overthrowing open receivers.
Having two weeks off to practice, expect Liufau to correct whatever it was that made him throw so wildly. If the offensive line can provide better protection like it has in other games, Liufau should be able to find his guys. Juniors Shay Fields, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo remain one of the most talented corps in college football and should have no trouble getting open.
However, the UCLA secondary is actually one of the stronger units of the team. The Bruins are third in the Pac-12 in pass defense and allowed Utah’s Troy Williams only 179 yards passing. That’s pretty impressive considering how much of a high-scoring shootout that game was. It’s not as impressive considering the 360 yards given up on the ground.
Expect the Colorado offense to outperform the Bruins, who are statistically last in total defense within the Pac-12.
CU’s offensive struggles would have been a bigger concern this week if not for the defense dominating at Stanford. In what is perhaps the strongest performance fans have seen so far, the Buffs smothered Christian McCaffrey and forced four turnovers. The secondary has long been the strength on defense but now the front seven has proved what it can do.
They’ll have a chance to dominate the run again, as UCLA has one of worst rushing attacks in college football. Coming in dead last at no. 128, the Bruins have only managed 684 rushing yard on the season. The team’s main rusher, Bolu Olorunfunmi, has failed to breakthrough this season, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry and netting only 189 yards on 55 attempts. Soso Jamabo has seen only marginally better results, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Colorado’s experienced linemen and linebackers are unlikely to be tested by such an underperforming backfield.
With no apparent run game, the Bruins have been forced to rely heavily on passing. So heavily that 70 of the team’s 87 offensive plays against Utah were pass attempts. This is not a good situation for a team whose star quarterback, Josh Rosen, is likely out for the rest of the season with a nerve-damaged shoulder.
Filling in for him has been Mike Fafual, a quarterback who has yet to receive a QBR rating over 70. Fafual did put up an impressive 464 yards and five touchdowns against Utah but did so on the insane 70 attempts. He also threw four interceptions in that loss to the Utes.
Relying on the pass with a backup quarterback is not an ideal strategy to head into Boulder with, not with this secondary. Led last week by senior safety Tedric Thompson, the Buffs picked off Stanford’s Ryan Burns three times. Causing turnovers is this unit’s specialty, especially against young, inexperienced QBs like Fafual. By locking down receivers, the DBs have allowed the pass rush to manifest, resulting in a recent uptick in sacks.
The Bruins will come to Folsom with an unbalanced offense that has to make plays against the Pac-12’s number one defense. I don’t see any part of this matchup being in UCLA’s favor.
The game will kickoff Thursday at 7 p.m. (MST) at Folsom Field.
Contact CU Independent Sports staff writer Kyle Rini at email@example.com.