What to watch: No. 17 UCLA vs. Colorado

UCLA isn’t going to lose, but how might the Bruins look along the way?

UCLA offense vs. Colorado defense: Running back Jordon James (ankle) is a game-time decision for the Bruins, and coach Jim Mora said the team has missed him more than expected. Still, he could return to more of a timeshare in the backfield than what he left.

The junior was fifth in the nation in rushing yards per game before he got injured, but Paul Perkins has done enough to earn increased carries moving forward. Senior Damien Thigpen also had a good week of practice, and will gradually see his workload grow each week as he gains confidence in his knee after a torn ACL. Behind an offensive line that is likely past the worst of its injuries woes, all the backs have a chance to run free.

Colorado holds opposing teams to 56.4 percent passing, but gives up 7.5 yards per attempt. In the Pac-12, only Washington State (7.9) and Cal (9.2) allow more. That bodes well for quarterback Brett Hundley, who has averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt through his last two games. It won’t be enough for the redshirt sophomore to put up numbers, though; Hundley needs to start hitting big throws downfield, and show he can identify his open receivers with ease.

The Buffs have some playmakers in their front seven, but unit hasn’t exactly shut down opposing teams. Colorado is tied for last in the conference with nine sacks and second-to-last with 42 tackles for loss. Linebacker Addison Gillam leads the conference in tackles as a true freshman, and defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe has forced five fumbles.

Edge: UCLA

Colorado offense vs. UCLA defense: Paul Richardson is as dynamic as Pac-12 receivers come. Second to Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks in yards per game (130.6), receptions per game (7.1) and touchdown catches (7), he’s the sort of game-changing wideout that elevates the ceiling of any offense. (He was, of course, briefly signed to UCLA until his arrest on suspicion of felony theft in 2010.)

True freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau is an upgrade over Connor Wood, but still raw. He has yet to pass for multiple touchdowns in a single game, and has been picked off by both Pac-12 teams he’s faced. The rushing offense also doesn’t set the table much for him, averaging less than 3.0 yards per carry in four games this season. The Buffaloes’ 127.86 yards per game is ninth in the Pac-12, and also bloated by a 218-yard performance against FCS team Charleston Southern.

UCLA’s defense has been very good this season, and there’s little the Buffs can do that it hasn’t already seen. Colorado has, however, been surprisingly effective in pass protection. Its 12 sacks allowed this season ranks fourth in the Pac-12, behind Arizona, Stanford and Oregon. Two of its offensive lineman are listed at 6-foot-7.

Edge: UCLA

Special teams:

Sean Covington has proved to be a more than capable punter, especially as a true freshman. The Bruins are also excellent in punt return coverage, while Colorado averages just 6.14 yards per return.

The Buffs rank second in the Pac-12 in kick return average (24.33 yards), but UCLA had little trouble there against Stanford and Oregon.

Edge: UCLA

Prediction: The Bruins’ offense still doesn’t run quite as well as it did early in the season, but Brett Hundley looks better than he has in weeks. The offensive line paves the way for another 200-yard rushing game. UCLA 40, Colorado 13.

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  • FleeingHomework

    It might be cool if you revisited this and kind of rated how each of the areas went for us and the other team. Just a thought, but I really appreciate the coverage you already give. It is superb.