So many subplots are in action this week as UCLA prepares to face Colorado Saturday at the Rose Bowl, but really the only one that matters for the Bruins is the chance to gain bowl eligibility and keep control of their destiny in the Pac-12 South division.
So Rick Neuheisel going up against the school that gave him his first coaching job and receiver Taylor Embree playing against his father, Colorado coach Jon Embree, and Josh Smith and Kai Maiava facing the Buffaloes for the first time since transferring from Colorado are really side stories.
"We’re in it," Neuheisel said. "And we are excited about trying to stay in it."
The Bruins (5-5, 4-3) need to defeat Colorado (2-9, 1-6) to make that happen.
At first glance, it appears that it should be no problem. The Buffaloes are a rebuilding team that hasn't won on the road since Oct. 27, 2007--a span of 22 consecutive games. They are ranked No. 101 or lower in the nation in six major statistical categories and have given up 29 points or more in 10 of thier 11 games.
Still, Neuheisel said the Bruins can ill afford to look at those numbers and look past Colorado.
"We would be absolutely foolish to consider that anything other than motivation for them," Neuheisel said. "This is going to be a slugfest. This is going to be a team that plays with reckless abandon that has nothing to lose that’s going to come here excited. And we’ve got to match fire with fire."
Colorado is coming off of its best performance of the season, a 48-29 victory over Arizona. yes, that's the same Arizona that embarrassed UCLA, 49-12, on Oct. 20.
Colorado running back Rodney Stewart had a season-high 181 yards rushing in that game and also scored three touchdowns. The 5-foot-6, 175-pound senior is the school's all-time leader in career yards with 4,409 and his 3,486 yards rushing are second on the school's all-time list.
Stewart is also a weapon as a receiver with 36 catches for 525 yards this season and needs 77 yards receiving to become the 27th player in NCAA history with 3,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in his career. He also threw a touchdown pass last week.
But even with a solid back such as Stewart, Colorado ranks 104th in the nation in rushing with only 110.64 yards per game on the ground. The Buffaloes passing game, led by veteran quarterback Tyler Hansen and receiver Toney Clemons, has gotten on track the last three weeks as Clemons has 324 yards receiving with four touchdowns in those games.
Hansen, a three-year starter, has passed for 2,492 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season, though Colorado has had trouble putting points on the board. The Buffaloes average 21.27 points a game, which is No. 101 in the nation.
If there's one thing the Buffaloes struggle with more than putting points on the board, however, it's keeping points off the board. They rank No. 116 in the nation in scoring defense at 37.88 points per game and last week ended a string of five consecutive games giving up 42 points or more.
Colorado has been especially vulnerable against the pass, giving up 264.55 yards per game through the air, but they had three interceptions last week against Arizona.
The preseason pick to finish last in the Pac-12 South, Colorado appears to be headed in that direction, but Neuheisel said that doesn't mean the game will be easy.
"Colorado is going to come in here and play great," Neuheisel said. "There’s going to be a bunch of kids from L.A. Like every team that comes here, they’re going to be excited about playing in the Rose Bowl. The head coaches son is on our team. I used to coach there. There is going to be a lot of motivation for them to finish their season with a bang."
UCLA has some motivation as well.
"We have a lot to play for, as well," Neuheisel said. "We just have to go out and play our best game and that’s the focus of the week and that’s exactly what we’re going to do as coaches is create a great game plan, or one as good as we can muster up and then go coach our tails off to make sure it’s executed as well as possible."