It’s come down to this, and it is very simple. UCLA vs Colorado Saturday at the Rose Bowl starts a three week stretch with way too much on the line for the Bruins. Not that you would know it from the school’s standpoint.
What’s At Stake
The postseason possibilities are at play. The Bruins, sitting at 5-4 overall, need to win one of the last three to even get to just being bowl eligible. It was unthinkable that it would be this challenging when they were 5-2 in mid-October. Two wins in the last three weeks will get then to mid-range bowl game like the Las Vegas Bowl. Three wins gets a second-tier bowl and likely saves the jobs of the current coaching staff.
So, it sounds like this is kind of a big deal right? It depends on whom you ask. Colorado is not a significant draw and UCLA has lost its two biggest games of the season. The anticipated crowd is minimal. Surely, the athletic department will pump up the game, right? Some big social media promotion or another flash sale. In case no one told you, basketball season started this week. The men’s and women’s teams are extraordinarily successful with media savvy coaches. The attention of the athletic department, and the fans, is squarely inside Pauley Pavilion.
There is a sale for football tickets for military personnel and veterans. The most public relations savvy athletic director UCLA has ever had, Martin Jarmond has 15 tweets from Monday through this writing. How many are about football? Zero. When ESPN Gameday was coming to town, you couldn’t get Jarmond off Twitter promoting UCLA football. But we told you. It’s basketball season at UCLA.
Still, UCLA head coach, the football one, Chip Kelly, has a lot to tend to. He and his defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro have been under fire more in recent weeks than ever before. Azzinaro because statistically he continues to field one the worst defenses in the country. Kelly because he covers for his loyal assistant coach. He never makes Azzinaro answer to the ticket holders, the donors, or the media, despite clauses in his contract which would appear to mandate some public answers.
Colorado Better On The Field Than On Paper
Colorado should not be underestimated. At the beginning of the season, this looked like an easy win for UCLA. That was also the case most of the season. Yes, they are 3-6 overall, and 2-4 in conference. But the Buffaloes offense was so impactful last week in the win over Oregon State that the Beavers fired their defensive coordinator the next day.
Of note, Colorado ran up 222 yards of rushing yardage against Oregon State. Running back Jarek Broussard has averaged nearly five-and-a-half yards per carry over the last two seasons. That is good for 1,400 yards during that same time. One hundred fifty-one of those came last week against Oregon State.
Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell said the team’s offense is finding it’s rhythm much quicker now. “There’s a lot of confidence going on on that side of the ball,” he said. Dorrell acknowledged that the offense has opened up a little more recently as the players have grown. “We’re grabbing for anything and everything,” he said. He added that it is about maximizing the abilities of the talent at his disposal and let the offense build around that. He also said with the offense becoming more balanced in recent weeks, it is forcing opposing defenses to respect all aspects of the Buffaloes game.
Broussard And Lewis
Kelly referred to Broussard as one of the top running backs in the conference. He said with quarterback Brendon Lewis also being able to be run effectively, it requires assignment discipline from his defense. That is not a given for a defensive unit that gave up 290 yards on the ground to Utah two weeks ago.
UCLA defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia said there was a lot to take in when it came to studying Colorado game films. “It’s been interesting seeing their offense explode the last couple of weeks. With Broussard, it’s like he is a really good back. He spins a lot. He makes you miss. You’ve really got to gang tackle that guy.”
Colorado Defense Against UCLA’s Offense
Dorrell said his Colorado defense will have its hands full trying to keep track of UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The senior starter is expected back this week after missing the Utah game with an injury to the thumb on his throwing hand. “You know what I say about veteran starters,” Dorrell said. “They’re hard to defend. He’s played well in really critical moments in games. That’s a challenge we stand to take.” His job will be made a little easier if he gets back All-American linebacker Nate Landman. After recovering from February surgery for a torn Achille’s tendon, he suffered a soft tissue injury on his other ankle and has missed the last two games. Dorrell said his linebacker is getting closer to being ready to play.
Colorado needs to win all three remaining games just to get bowl eligible. UCLA’s window is as narrow as UCLA’s play on the field makes it. Kelly says the team is just focused on one game at a time. All coaches say that. But linebacker Ale Kaho says the team does know what’s in front of it over the next three weeks. Kaho is a transfer from Alabama. In Tuscaloosa anything short of playing for a national playoff spot is considered a down season. Now he is in Westwood where the fans are clinging on to any hope for the first bowl game bid under Kelly.
“It’s a different experience,” Kaho said. “But I’m just focused on getting teammates better and getting my team better overall. That’s what I can control at this point. Even though I am used to other things, that is kind of behind me right now.” He said he is trying to introduce to his teammates the expectations that come with winning programs. He called it, “The standard of what I know and trying to bring that around to my peers and help them grow as well.”
The growth needs to come much sooner rather than later for UCLA to finish with a meaningful season.