Coming off their 38-14 loss to Fresno State to cap their first 0-3 start since 1971, the UCLA Bruins were badly in need of a bye week. Ideally, this time off would provide them some time to reflect, regroup, and put behind the negative energy from their early season losses.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case, as UCLA’s off week was far from free of drama. First, quarterback Dorian Thompson Robinson’s father publicly criticized head coach Chip Kelly multiple times on Twitter. Next, redshirt freshman center Zach Sweeney medically retired from football due to a shoulder injury. Lastly, backup quarterback Devon Modster, who played well in the past for UCLA in relief of Josh Rosen, transferred out of the program.
The Bruins will have to quickly put it all behind them, as they head to Colorado this week to face the upstart 3-0 Buffaloes for a Friday night game in the altitude, certainly no easy task. This will be the first conference game for both teams, and it’s the beginning of a long, tough, in-conference stretch to finish the season for UCLA. Can they pick up their first win of the season, or could the Bruins be staring down 0-4? Here’s what to expect for the game.
UCLA vs Colorado Week 5 Preview
In researching for this game, I looked at where these two teams lie statistically in relation to their peers in the Pac-12 in various areas on both offense and defense. Offensively, UCLA is at the bottom or close to it for every single category. In fact, I looked up standings for thirteen stats on offense, and UCLA was ranked 12th out of 12 teams for nine of them. They were ranked 11th out of 12th for another two, 8th for one, and tied for 7th for another. In other words, UCLA has some work to do on offense. The first three games of the season have seen the Bruins outscored by their opponents 113-52.
It seems like even with Wilton Speight getting healthier, there’s a good chance Chip Kelly will stick with Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback. He was vastly inexperienced, never having started a game in college before this year and thrust into action mid first quarter in week 1 after Speight’s injury. It’s tough to play with that little experience, with a new coach, and with that many young players when you’re that raw. So hopefully the bye will have helped him get a little more comfortable.
As for Kelly, it will be interesting to see what he does with the offense, which we knows is an evolving project. Will he go with tempo in Colorado? What will he have changed after last week? Does he have new wrinkles he’s been saving for conference games? Hopefully, this offense will continue to develop in week 5, and Kelly has a better feel for what direction he wants to go in offensively.
Soso Jamabo – Running Back
The good news is that Colorado’s defense is vulnerable on the ground (they gave up over 300 yards rushing to Nebraska in week 2). The bad news is that Jamabo didn’t get much playing time last week, and it seems like he might face a similar fate this week. Kelly likes to use a rotation of backs, and we know Jamabo wasn’t here to start the season due to his three-game suspension by the program. It appears that Martel Irby and Kazmeir Allen are the starters, with Bolu Olurunfumi, and Joshua Kelley in as backups. That doesn’t leave a ton of room for Jamabo, so if he gets on the field, he’ll have to make the most of his opportunities.
Caleb Wilson – Tight End
At this point, the Bruins must know that they have to get Caleb Wilson more involved. He hasn’t been productive, but neither has the overall passing offense. If you’re not completing that many passes, your receivers won’t have much to show for it. If anything, you would think that when you’re struggling to complete passes, the tight end would be the easiest to get involved with some quick, short passes over the middle. But so far this hasn’t been the case. Theo Howard is the clear no 1 target at this point. With an extra week to game plan and make some offensive tweaks, we could see a more involved Caleb Wilson.
Andre James – Offensive Line
James is coming off a good game that he needs to build on. It’s give and take with this offensive line: Boss Tagaloa returns from suspension as a backup center, and he could see some playing time elsewhere on the line. But we also saw the retirement of Zach Sweeney due to injury. UCLA has given up 12 sacks on the season, 2nd highest in the Pac-12. The line remains a work in progress.
Colorado also plays a 3-4 defense. Teams that do this tend to be more flexible with exotic blitz packages, and those have given the inexperienced UCLA line a lot of trouble in the past few games. Offensive balance and keeping the score manageable are also important for UCLA in this game, as I don’t think James is good enough to have to pass protect on every drop. Although last week was a step forward for James, I have a bad feeling about the line this week.
Colorado runs a fast-paced offense with a lot of big plays and plenty of explosive playmakers. They are incredibly efficient rushing the football. Travon McMillian averages a whopping 8.8 yards per carry on the ground, and Beau Bisharat has an impressive 7.2 yards per carry as well. The quarterback, Steven Montez, leads the Pac-12 in completion percentage. And most notable of all is their big-play wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., who currently leads the nation in receiving yards per game. On paper, this all certainly looks like a mismatch for UCLA.
Jaelan Phillips – Edge Rusher
It’s now been two weeks in a row where Phillips has seen limited action. They need to get him back on the field so he can create big plays, sacks, and turnovers. Disrupting the rhythm of this explosive, quick strike Colorado offense will be crucial if UCLA wants to stay in this game. UCLA has struggled to rush the passer without Phillips, as they’re currently tied for 10th in the Pac-12 with just 5 sacks on the season. Assuming that Phillips is now fully healthy, there’s no reason for Kelly to keep him off the field.
Adarius Pickett – Safety
I’m worried about UCLA’s pass coverage going into this game. Their corners are weak, and Darnay Holmes especially did not hold up well in one on one coverage last week. That does not bode well for having to face this explosive receiving core led by Shenault Jr. The good news is that we know Pickett is a good tackler, and he should have plenty of opportunities to shut down ball carriers both on quick passes and in the running game. If UCLA can take away the run game and make Colorado one dimensional, then they’ll have a shot.
The Buffaloes go into this game as 11.5 point favorites against the Bruins. This is a tough task for UCLA. It’s a friday night game, and they’ll have to deal with the fast pace of the Colorado offense as well as the altitude. They’ll need to play spotless early in the game on defense in order to not get behind, and they’re going to have to have some semblance of identity and production on offense. It’s a conference game so anything can happen, but until UCLA shows they’re capable of being more than what they’ve already been for the first 3 weeks, it’s tough to have too much confidence in them.
Prediction: Colorado 41, UCLA 16