Countdown to Kickoff: UCLA at Colorado, 3 p.m.

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So, what are the chances UCLA beats Colorado on the eve of my birthday? I’d say the chances are looking very good since the Bruins are an overwhelming favorite. So, if they win, it’s not a dedication to me, but my mind will change if they score exactly 29 points. Anyway, here’s the plan. I’m home in Pasadena where I’ll be watching the game on the Pac-12 Networks while our Jill Painter (@jillpainter) will be live from Boulder, Colo., to cover the game for the Daily News. I plan to watch the game from start to finish, so feel free to chime in once our chat room opens at 1:30 and/or tweet at me @MelendezSports.

UCLA for the third straight week faces a quarterback with tremendous ability. Last week, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion didn’t have enough of a body work that said as much, but he sure did prove it dissecting the Bruins secondary last week for 379 yards. Colorado quarterback Jordan Webb had that kind of game last week that made UCLA coach Jim Mora sit down and watch Colorado tape again, only this time to specifically watch Webb, who opened the season with shaky performances in losses to Colorado State, Sacramento State and Fresno State, a game in which he threw for only 85 yards and two interceptions on 5 of 13 passing. To say that Webb, a junior, bounced back nicely last week would be an understatement. Webb led the Buffaloes (1-3, 1-0) to a roaring comeback after trailing by as many as 17 midway through the fourth quarter against Washington State. He finished with 345 yards and two touchdowns on 29 of 42 passing en route to a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors. Mora described why Webb is a dangerous quarterback. “He’s elusive,” Mora said. “He throws well on the run to his left, which isn’t easy to do. He’s a guy that when he gets out of the pocket he remains a passer. Like, you’ll see quarterbacks as soon as they get out of the pocket they tuck the ball. So that’s an indication to your secondary that we can come out of coverage and pursue this quarterback.”

There’s been some calls on this blog questioning cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester. Did they struggle last week? No question. But let’s not forget they’ve been solid for most of the season. Everyone has a bad day. We all have them, just look at the heat I took earlier this week. What makes Price and Hester who they are is their ability to withstand criticism from all angles and muscle the strength and courage to go back out and do what they know they’re capable of doing. Price leads the Pac-12 in interceptions with four. Hester can be a lock down corner. But it’s all a trickle down effect: missed tackles lead to big plays and big plays lead to points on the board. That’s exactly how it went down last week when three big plays is all the Beavers needed to burn the Bruins. Can’t let that happen again. Can’t let Colorado running back Christian Powell truck down safeties and linebackers. Can’t let Webb find the windows. Can’t be a step behind the receivers and that defensive front has to find a way to put pressure on Webb, who is only elusive behind the line of scrimmage.

Mora said the Bruins’ tackling last week wasn’t up to par, which is why they emphasized fundamentals and pursuit during practice. UCLA gave up three big plays that led to long-scoring touchdowns last week. The Bruins will have a tougher challenge without linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who did not travel with the team as he recovers from a scooter accident. Damien Holmes could move outside to fill his role.

UCLA needs to find its rhythm on offense, the kind of rhythm that saw running back Johnathan Franklin enjoy career days in the first two games of the season. Franklin was limited to just 45 yards on 12 carries last week. The return of Jeff Baca at right guard will help eliviate pressure from the young offensive line. His uncanny ability to pick blitzes will secure that quarterback Brett Hundley won’t spend too much time on his back or being flushed out of the pocket, as was the case last week.

Colorado’s total defense ranks 103rd in the nation. The Buffaloes are giving up nearly 40 points a game, which won’t bode well considering they’ll face the nation’s best freshman quarterback in Hundley. Let’s go.

UCLA vs. COLORADO
WHEN: 3 p.m., Folsom Field
TV: Pac-12 Networks
RADIO: KTLK 1150-AM

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UCLA WINS IF …
… the offense can finally get back on track producing an efficient rushing attack balanced by Brett Hundley’s arial attack.

… the offensive line can give Hundley solid protection and help open lanes for Johnathan Franklin, who was held to a season-low 45 yards last week.

… the secondary can avoid getting burned again and playing solid run defense. That means wrapping up Colorado’s big man in running back Christian Powell.

TOP UCLA PERFORMERS
PASSING

Brett Hundley: 96 of 145 for 1,199 yards, 9 TD, 3 INT

RUSHING
Johnathan Franklin: 78 carries, 586 yards, 7.5 Avg., 3 TD
Brett Hundley: 38 carries, 151 yards, 4.0 Avg., 2 TD
Damien Thigpen: 23 carries, 147 yards, 6.4 Avg.

RECEIVING
Steven Manfro: 17 catches, 186 yards, 10.9 Avg., 1 TD
Shaquelle Evans: 14 carries, 225 yards, 16.1 Avg., 1 TD
Joseph Fauria: 11 catches, 142 yards, 12.9 Avg., 3 TD

DEFENSE
Linebacker Eric Kendricks (32 tackles, 1 fumble rec.)
Linebacker Anthony Barr (19 tackles, 7 TFL, 5 sacks)
Cornerback Sheldon Price (7 tackles, 4 interceptions)

UCLA INJURY UPDATE
Out: LB Jordan Zumwalt (head)
Doubtful: G Greg Capella (concussion)
Probable: G Jeff Baca (head)

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COLORADO WINS IF …

… quarterback Jordan Webb can string together another magnificent performance while this time facing pressure up front.

… running back Christian Powell can exploit the gaps and capitalize on assignment breakdowns.

… they can minimize penalties. The Buffaloes have been penalized 30 times this season, 17 of which came on offense.

TOP COLORADO PERFORMERS
PASSING

Jordan Webb: 68 of 120, 777 yards, 8 TD, 3 INT

RUSHING
Christian Powell: 62 carries, 265 yards, 4.27 Avg., 3 TD
Tony Jones: 22 carries, 150 yards, 6.82 Avg., 1 TD
Josh Ford: 12 carries, 75 yards, 6.25 Avg., 1 TD

RECEIVING
Nelson Spruce: 21 catches, 234 yards, 11.1 Avg., 2 TD
Tyler McCulloch: 12 catches, 169 yards, 14.1 Avg., 2 TD
Gerald Thomas: 9 catches, 109 yards, 12.3 Avg.

DEFENSE
DE Chidera Uzo-Dirbe (18 tackles, 5 sacks)
LB Jon Major (35 tackles, 1 sack)
DB Terrel Smith (31 tackles)

COLORADO INJURY UPDATE
Out: None.
Doubtful: C Brad Cotner (toe); DB Ray Polk (ankle).
Probable: LB Douglas Rippy (knee).

PREDICTION
UCLA 38, Colorado 14

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Friday Links: Another view on UCLA football

Colorado to host UCLA on Saturday Denver Post

UCLA’s ‘Jet Ski” Franklin concerns Colorado coach Denver Post

UCLA QB Hundley is quick study, eager learner The Associated Press

Eric Bienemy’s presence motivated Buffaloes Boulder Daily Camera

Colorado quiets critics … for a week L.A. Daily News

Rick Neuheisel knows challenges facing Buffaloes Boulder Daily Camera

Talented young quarterbacks putting Pac-12 in passing lane Denver Post

Pac-12: Defense leading Oregon State’s turnaround Boulder Daily Camera

Colorado QB Jordan Webb proves persistent Boulder Daily Camera

Doug Rippy returns for linebacker’s kind of game Denver Post

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Buffaloes running scared? CAPTION THIS …

The photo was sent to me on Twitter by @UCLAfootballGAL and thought it was pretty neat. So how ’bout we start a little contest with photos and call it “Caption This” and the funniest caption will get some kind of reward whether it’s a special Q&A or something. I’ll leave that up to you.

WINNING CAPTION: Follow me to the sports bar. I don’t get the Pac-12 Network either!
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Thursday Report: UCLA coach Jim Mora talks about Jeff Baca’s possible return Saturday, Jordan Zumwalt not flying with team and Colorado’s QB.


Hat Tip: BruinSportsReport publisher Edward Lewis

Opening remarks:
I’m like a dang broken record when I come over here. I’ve been trying to think about something different to say to start it out, but it was a good week of practice. They responded well to the challenge of fighting back from a loss. We got a practice tomorrow morning. We’ll just walk through some stuff. A lot of mental stuff to do. These guys now have to go to their first classes of the year. Think the first class is at 9. We’ll see how they adjust to that. It looks like Jeff’s gonna be good to go. I don’t mind reporting that. I don’t mind you guys reporting that either. He was really up beat yesterday. I’ve never seen a smile that big on his face. He came out today. He looked good. He did well. Hopefully they got his headaches under control and he can help us. It’s just good to have a veteran guy like that on our offensive line with the youth that we have. As soon as he gets in there, it’s like (sigh of relief) for the other guys. You want to get to the point where that doesn’t take place, but right now it’s taking place so it’s good to have him back. Jordan Zumwalt is out. He will not make the trip and he will not play. As some of you probably know he got in a scooter accident. He had a pretty wicked gash over his left eye and he can’t put his helmet on yet. So we’re not going to take him on the trip. Other than that we’re in pretty good shape, health wise. Excited to go and put last week behind us and move on.

On whether Zumwalt needed stitches:
He needed a lot of stitches. He had it done here at UCLA Medical Center. They called a plastic surgeon in and they just did a tremendous job on it. Really, he can’t put a helmet on. It reached up enough into his forehead where if he put a helmet on it wouldn’t be good. So he’s got the week off. We’re very hopeful and confident he’ll be back next week.

On how Zumwalt’s absence affect the linebacker position:
The thing that helps us is that Damien Holmes has versatility. He can play inside and outside. You’ll see more of Ryan Hofmeister this week. He’s ready to go. The thing you miss when Jordan’s not out there is his energy. He plays with maniacle effort all the time. But somebody else has to do that, that’s what we’re trying to preach.

On the history of players involved in scooter accidents and any possibility of outlawing them:
I thought about that. I was at the hospital Sunday with Jordan and his family and a bunch of our players. It’s ironic. I’m sitting in the emergency room waiting to see a kid that just got in a scooter accident and five of our kids pull up on scooters. A lot of our athletes and a lot of our students rely on those to get around because parking is such a premium. There’s a lot of demand for these kids to be on time, and I don’t know that i can do that. I think a parent can do that, I think a school can put that in, but I don’t know that it’s the right thing to do. What’s important is they wear helmet. That their helmets are buckled. Jordan had his helmet on. He had his helmet buckled so it didn’t fly off when there was collision. I’m not a big fan of motorcycles and scooters, but it’s kind of the way these kids that live a mile off campus get around. I thought about it but I’m not ready to make that move yet. I pray every day those kids are safe and healthy.

On whether Zumwalt was being reckless:
No. It wasn’t his fault. He was not being reckless. It was just an accident that happened. It happened right here off of campus. I don’t know that anyone was cited. I don’t know the details of what transpired. I know what happened with the version that I got. I didn’t get both sides of the story. But it didn’t sound like he was being reckless at all. He was just going to get some breakfast. Thank goodness he had his helmet on and had it buckled.

On importance of having a good showing after a loss:
It’s critical. I really do. For us as a football team to show ourselves first of all that we can handle adversity. For our fan base to restore any faith that we may have lost by losing on Saturday. Just to get our momentum back. It’s very important. It’ll be tough. It’s tough to win on the road, but it doesn’t matter. We have to go do it. I like the challenge. I think it’s great this early in our development to see where we are and see how we handle it. See if we have the mental toughness.

On balancing with not overstating the case:
Really, when you talk to the team you just make it about yourselves, playing to our standard. We always prepare for the opponent: we run their plays, we run their defense. But when we go in and talk in meetings we’re essentially trying to elevate our standard of play. So we try to keep the focus on us and the way we’re playing rather than the opponent and where we’re playing and what the game means in terms of rankings or bouncing back, things like that. I think if we can do that we can develop some consistencies. The emphasis is we need to play good football, execute and play with great effort.

On Colorado quarterback Jordan Webb:
I watched him again last night, specifically to just watch him. He’s elusive. He throws well on the run to his left, which isn’t easy to do. He’s a guy that when he gets out of the pocket he remains a passer. Like, you’ll see quarterbacks as soon as they get out of the pocket they tuck the ball. So that’s an indication to your secondary that we can come out of coverage and pursue this quarterback. This guy keeps it in his hand and he keeps his eyes down the field and remain a threat to throw the ball. And that makes it hard, plus he’s accurate on the run. I saw him throw a couple across his body when he was moving to his left. He plays with a lot of confidence and he’s not easy to get down. He’s slippery back there.

On Webb, then, possibly running into Anthony Barr if he rolls to his left:
I would hope so. I would hope so. Anthony is a guy … You bring up his name. I don’t know if you guys notice it like we do. I’m sure you do. The guy’s playing tremendous. The level that he’s playing at considering his experience at that position is really amazing. He’s played four games at outside linebacker in his life. I think he told me two plays or two games at Loyola. He’s just doing some amazing things. You sit with him in meetings. He’s in the front all the time. He answers every question first. He knows every adjustment. He’s so committed. It’s really neat to see him grow the way he is.

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Daily News follows L.A. Times instituting new policy to no longer observe UCLA practice starting today.

UCLA coach Jim Mora on Wednesday morning – before the team finished warming up and well before the sun came up – threw the media out of practice because television crews apparently set up too close to Spaulding Field.

Mora grew angry and threw out television crews from ESPN and KTLA-Channel 5 before that same message was relayed to reporters working in the media room. Mora’s wrath extended to UCLA’s sports information staff, which also had to leave practice.

“We had some issues with our SID department,” Mora said when asked why the rest of the media was thrown out. “Today’s practice was closed because we didn’t have proper security.

“I’m not going to jeopardize what we’re doing as a football team because of the incompetence of some people.”

Mora’s move to close practice for the day comes on the heels of a growing feud between the media and Pac-12 coaches, many of whom have instituted a policy restricting writers from reporting on injuries, strategy and position changes observed in practice.

Mora, along with USC’s Lane Kiffin, Oregon’s Chip Kelly, Washington’s Steve Sarkisian, and Washington State’s Mike Leach, have instituted the policy. Just last week, Kiffin walked away from reporters 30 seconds into his post-practice interview after he was asked about a player’s return to practice from an injury. Not long before that, Kiffin banned a Los Angeles News Group reporter for reporting on a player’s pending surgery. The ban soon lifted.

Mora on Wednesday also said open practice to the media will resume today, but local media outlets made a preemptive strike. In an effort to uphold their journalistic integrity, the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles News Group instituted their own policy to not have its reporters observe UCLA and USC practices and attend only post-practice interview availability with coaches and players.

Two weeks ago, when the topic of injury lists was a hot topic, Mora said he would be OK if it became mandated across the Pac-12 and other coaches said they would adhere, too. But Washington State’s Mike Leach has strongly voiced his opposition and told writers in Pullman, Wash., last week reporters seeking injury information “is journalism at its most pitiful level.”

Mora’s policy banning writers from reporting on injuries was instituted the week leading up to the Bruins’ season opener against Rice, but it never made headlines because reporters have adhered to the new policy.

Mora’s recent blowup caught national attention for all the wrong reasons, and it wasn’t the first time, either. He was caught in a firestorm the first week of fall camp when he made sensitive comments in a radio interview regarding UCLA’s safety on campus and said, “We don’t have murders a block from our campus.” Mora later apologized and said he was unaware of two students murdered a few blocks from USC earlier that spring.

And like anything that puts UCLA in a negative light, news of Mora’s displeasure with UCLA media personnel along with kicking out the rest of the media quickly spread across town, prompting Kiffin to open his post-practice interview by telling reporters, “I love my SID.”

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