UCLA hasn’t put together a complete game since a blowout win at Arizona State last month. Today’s 11 a.m. PT kickoff at Colorado — arguably the worst team in the Pac-12 — gives the Bruins their best chance to do so again before a their schedule heats up.
A few things to watch for in today’s matchup:
UCLA offense vs. Colorado defense: Brett Hundley is going to leave UCLA as one of its best quarterbacks ever. This has been clear for so long now that little he’s done this season has raised any eyebrows.
He only needs two more touchdown passes to tie the school’s all-time record of 68, set by Cade McNown from 1995-98. He is 2,371 yards behind McNown’s all-time record for passing yards (10,708), though he’s on pace to finish about 200 yards short. He has eclipsed 300 passing yards eight times in his career, doing it three times this season; three more will tie McNown’s mark too.
“Our expectations of him are maybe a little unrealistic,” head coach Jim Mora said this week. “Those are numbers we should be celebrating.”
This is not to say that Hundley is without flaws. He hasn’t made the dramatic jump that many expected of him in his final collegiate season. He’s become a more dangerous runner, but still has trouble making reads sometimes. He has developed a bad habit of coughing up untimely turnovers, and has thrown an interception in three straight games after just two in 10. He is the clear No. 2 in the conference behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
And heading into Boulder today, he needs to show again that he can put together a totally dominant performance. Against Texas, Arizona State and Utah, Hundley was comfortably over 12.0 yards per pass attempt. He topped 300 yards at Cal last week, but only averaged 7.9 yards per attempt against a defense that allows 7.7 on the season.
Colorado isn’t much better. The Buffs give up 7.6 yards per attempt, and only have three interceptions this season — all by safety Tedric Thompson. Cornerback Greg Henderson has 10 pass breakups and linebacker Addison Gillam leads the team in tackles, but this otherwise is not a unit loaded with stars.
UCLA doubled Cal’s yards per play at halftime last week, and would have shredded the Bears if not for three turnovers. With an offensive line that looks more stable with Conor McDermott at left tackle, Hundley and Co. need to make sure that actually happens against the Buffs.
UCLA defense vs. Colorado offense: Colorado resembles Cak in that its offense will throw all day to make up for a less potent running game. Sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau is a promising player and averages more passes per game (46.1) than all but the other players in college football. He has force-fed top receiver Nelson Spruce, who already has 11 touchdowns, and been helped by an offensive line that has only allowed 12 sacks. But he is also at the bottom of the conference in both interceptions (nine) and yards per attempt (6.3).
He doesn’t get much help from his backfield.
Colorado has a deep rotation of running backs with Christian Powell, Tony Jones and Michael Adkins II, but none of them average more than 50 rushing yards per game. Only two backs — Jones and Adkins — have even rushed for multiple touchdowns. Adkins has been particularly disappointing, averaging just 3.62 yards per carry with his longest run going for 14 yards.
UCLA’s defense actually had a decent game against Cal considering how many short fields the Bears had following turnovers. The Bruins notched three sacks last week with the help of defensive end Takkarist McKinley, who saw his first bit of significant action this season. His stat line wasn’t extraordinary and he missed at least one potential sack, but his presence allowed UCLA to move Owamagbe Odighizuwa to three-technique to generate inside pressure. How the pass rush does against a stout Colorado line will show if the defense has started to turn a corner.
Special teams: Colorado kicker Will Oliver was a standout for three years, but seems to have lost his mojo this season. He is just 5-of-9 on field goal attempts, and has missed two from within 40 yards.
The Buffs are just eighth and ninth in the Pac-12 in punt and kick return coverage, however, which could give the Bruins a boost on special teams after a few quiet weeks. Cal made a point to avoid kicking to Ishmael Adams, but gave up a 67-yard return to freshman receiver Mossi Johnson. We’ll see if Johnson’s presence can force teams to change that approach moving forward.
Prediction: Brett Hundley avoids an interception for the first time this October, and the Bruins leave Boulder with a fairly comfortable win. UCLA 42, Colorado 28.