Five things to watch: UCLA at Colorado

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
12:53
PM PT
UCLA will play at Colorado on Saturday at 3 p.m. Pacific in a game that will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks. Here are five keys to the matchup:

1. The emotional swing

UCLA is coming off of its first loss of the season, while Colorado Buffaloes is coming off its first victory. This is a big test for the Bruins, who must show the ability to respond to adversity in the right way in order to remind everyone that the program is heading in the right direction. Winning on the road is always a challenge, but anything less than victory against Colorado, which lost to FBS Sacramento State two weeks ago, would raise red flags. Colorado is riding high after overcoming a 31-14 deficit in the fourth quarter at Washington State Cougars last week and has a history of backing up conference-opening victories. The Buffaloes have gone to 2-0 the last seven times they won their first conference tilt.

2. Passing fancy

[+] EnlargeJerry Johnson
AP Photo/Cal Sport MediaJerry Johnson and UCLA's other receivers hope to exploit Colorado's young secondary.
UCLA has earned its living on the ground most of this season, but this game will provide an opportunity for passing to carry the Bruins. Colorado ranks No. 114 in the nation in pass defense. The Buffaloes have given up touchdown passes of 97, 60 and 49 yards in the last two games and are allowing an average of 317 yards through the air. That bodes well for UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and his receiving corps. Hundley has increased his passing yards each week this season and had a career-best 362 last week. Veteran wideouts Shaquelle Evans and Jerry Johnson should be able to exploit the Colorado secondary, which starts two true freshmen at the cornerback spots.

3. Hot potato

Turnovers are almost always a factor in football, and this game between teams who have struggled to hold on to the ball will be no exception. UCLA has lost five fumbles and three interceptions this season and Colorado has turned the ball over nine times; they rank Nos. 87 and 94, respectively, in the nation in turnovers lost. The Bruins get the edge here because of their ability to also take away the ball. Led by cornerback Sheldon Price, tied for the national lead with four interceptions, UCLA is fourth in the nation with 12 takeaways this season. Colorado, on the other hand, has only half that total.

4. Pressure cooker

The front seven of UCLA should be looking to bring the heat against Colorado quarterback Jordan Webb. The Buffaloes have given up 18 sacks in four games, more than any team in the nation. Webb scored on runs of one and four yards, but he isn’t exactly mobile with 28 rushes for minus-65 yards this season. That should make for wide eyes on the UCLA defense, which is No. 13 in the nation with 13 sacks. Linebacker Anthony Barr is 10th in the nation individually with five sacks. Defensive end Datone Jones has also been a menace in the backfield, as he ranks No. 12 in the nation with eight tackles for a loss. The Bruins will have to be careful, though, as Webb found a passing groove last week and carved up Washington State with 345 yards through the air.

5. Gang tackle style

An old nemesis crept into the UCLA defense last week, when the Bruins missed several tackles against Oregon State. Poor technique was a factor as UCLA defenders often dove at the opposing ballcarriers’ legs and failed to wrap up. The Bruins also were left in one-on-one situations in the open field. It could be a long day Saturday in Boulder if those things happen again, as Colorado running back Christian Powell makes a living off of breaking tackles. He’s a solid 6-foot, 235-pound load of a converted fullback who is hard to bring down. The UCLA defense is especially thin at middle linebacker and will need to employ a gang-tackling strategy in order to contain Powell, who has 262 yards rushing over the last three games. Tony Jones, a 5-7, 190-pound speedster who had an 84-yard touchdown run last week, adds another dimension to the Colorado running game.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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2013 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
B. Hundley369248307124
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
B. Hundley1607484.711
P. Perkins1345734.36
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
S. Evans4770915.19
D. Fuller4347111.04
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense196.6251.6448.2
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring36.524.112.4