Boulder, CO (SportsNetwork.com) – With their Rose Bowl hopes hanging by a
thread, the 25th-ranked UCLA Bruins hit the road to battle the Colorado
Buffaloes in this Saturday’s Pac-12 Conference clash at Folsom Field.
UCLA escaped with a 36-34 win at California last weekend, that coming on the
heels of consecutive losses to Utah (30-28) and Oregon (42-30). The Bruins,
once thought to be contenders for the inaugural College Football Playoff, are
now 5-2 overall and 2-2 in league play. The playoff is likely out of the
picture, but the Pac-12 crown is still up for grabs. They will need plenty of
help to find their way to the top of the conference however.
“We don’t put excess pressure on ourselves, but the harsh reality is we are
5-2. That’s good, but we still had stuff in front of us that we could get to,”
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley said. “If we win out and do what we’re supposed
to do, we can still get to the Pac-12 Championship. As long as we’re winning
games, everything will be fine.”
Colorado suffered a third straight defeat last weekend, taking a 56-28
pounding from USC at the Coliseum. The setback was the fourth in as many tries
against conference foes. The Buffaloes are just 2-5 overall as they continue a
brutal stretch, which includes a home game against Washington and visits to
Arizona and Oregon in the coming weeks.
A 45-23 victory last November increased UCLA’s advantage over Colorado in the
all-time series to 7-2. The Bruins have won the last three encounters,
including a 42-14 rout during their last visit to Boulder.
Against Cal, Brett Hundley had the type of game that made him a dark horse
Heisman candidate in the preseason. The Bruins’ signal caller threw for 330
yards and two scores on 31-of-42 passing, while contributing 94 yards and a
score on the ground. Although Hundley isn’t on pace to put him in contention
for any major national honors, he is still turning in a nice season, leading
the Pac-12 in completion percentage (.725) while throwing for 1,856 yards and
13 touchdowns. He also has 305 yards and a team-high four scores on the
Also turning in a productive season for the Bruins is running back Paul
Perkins, who has taken to the primary running back spot with aplomb. Perkins
is second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards (816), to go along with three rushing
scores. He picked up 86 yards on 15 carries in the win over Cal.
In the receiving corps, Jordan Payton is the go-to option, with 599 yards and
five scores on 42 receptions. He is the only player on the roster with more
than 300 yards through the air, or to be averaging more than 50 yards per
game. Devin Fuller (31 receptions, 256 yards, TD) is the second option, with
Thomas Duarte (18 receptions, 329 yards, two TDs) providing a deep threat as
The win over the Golden Bears brought to light both some positives and
negatives for the UCLA defense. Although the unit let up 34 points, it also
kept the Golden Bears to 366 total yards while recording three sacks. The
Bruins had only seven sacks in the first six games, and they are still ranked
seventh in total defense (425.6 ypg), even after last week’s effort.
UCLA is in for a bigger challenge than may be expected against Colorado, which
has been reasonably successful on offense this season. The Buffaloes rank
seventh in the Pac-12 in total offense (466.1 ypg) and, despite ranking just
10th in scoring, they are still putting up more than 30 points per game.
The player the Bruins need to keep an eye on the most is wide receiver Nelson
Spruce, who has been putting up incredible numbers this season. Spruce leads
the nation in receptions (71) and touchdown receptions (11), while topping the
Pac-12 in receiving yards (801). Shay Fields (36 receptions, 292 yards, TD) is
the next best option in terms of receptions, while Tyler McCullocj (22
receptions, 282 yards, four TDs) is the more explosive downfield threat.
Sefo Liufau is the man feeding the ball to Spruce. Liufau, who started as a
freshman last season, has already eclipsed his totals as a rookie, with 2,030
yards and 21 touchdown passes on 65.3 percent passing. Liufau’s increased
production has been paired with nine interceptions, however. He was picked off
twice by USC, while finishing with only 143 yards through the air.
“It goes back to the little things. I put a lot on my shoulders,” Liufau said.
“You can’t have two picks and expect to win and to have turnovers and win.
It’s the little things execution-wise.”
As far as the running game goes, Christian Powell and Tony Jones are the
primary weapons. Powell has tallied 285 yards and a score on 61 carries, while
Jones has picked up 255 yards and two touchdowns on 49 attempts. Phillip
Lindsay (186 yards) has also worked into the rotation as well.
Colorado’s defense is not one of the better units in the Pac-12, as the Buffs
rank ninth in yards allowed (435.1 ypg). It gets worse, as they permit the
most points per game of any squad in the league (38.6).
Addison Gillam (57 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Tedric Thompson (53 tackles) are
the team’s top tacklers, while Derek McCartney leads a rather anemic pass rush
with four sacks.