What to watch: No. 24 UCLA vs. Colorado

“Colorado is definitely an underrated team,” receiver Jordan Payton said this week. “People sleep on them a lot.”

Will UCLA? The No. 24 Bruins are back in position to win the Pac-12 South, but need five straight victories to do it. The Buffaloes don’t look like an imposing hurdle, not after an in-conference losing streak that finally ended at 14 games last weekend.

Las Vegas sportsbooks now has UCLA listed as a consensus 23-point favorite. Here’s what to watch in today’s noon kickoff at the Rose Bowl.

When UCLA has the ball

No Pac-12 team has totaled fewer than 200 rushing yards against it this season, and through all eight games, the Buffaloes have surrendered 1,676 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Only 19 teams in the FBS give up more than Colorado’s 5.06 yards allowed per carry.

UCLA’s Paul Perkins is one of the conference’s best running backs, but the Bruins might not want to overwork him given the knee injury that forced him out of last week’s win over Cal. While Perkins is expected to suit up, look for backup Nate Starks and freshmen Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi to get some carries.

But the Buffs are at least noticeably better than they were the past few years, when they ranked near among the worst in the country. First-year defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has installed a scheme that relies more on man coverage, and one that has better utilized the existing roster. Look for him to try and throw different pressures at freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.

Defensive back Chidobe Awuzie has been the biggest beneficiary of the coaching change, racking up a team-high four sacks as well as six pass breakups and two interceptions. He and the rest of the Buffaloes have registered 14 takeaways this season, making at least one in every game. They’ll likely need more than that to make it a close game. Continue reading “What to watch: No. 24 UCLA vs. Colorado” »

What to watch: UCLA vs No. 20 Cal

Back in July, UCLA looked at its preseason ranking and sneered. Despite returning a talented defense and almost every offensive starter, the Bruins were picked to finish third in the Pac-12 media poll.

Six games and several injuries later, the team stands at fourth in the division, licking its wounds after back-to-back losses to Arizona State and Stanford. Another loss could erase whatever chance they have left at claiming a spot in the Pac-12 title game.

Here’s what to watch when UCLA hosts No. 20 Cal today at 6 p.m.

When UCLA has the ball

Since his stunning introduction to the college football world, Josh Rosen’s numbers have come back to earth. In his last five games, he has completed less than 55 percent of his passes and averaged below 7.0 yards per attempt. While he’s looked better than those numbers suggest, his penchant for unforced errors could prove especially costly against Cal.

Rosen has thrown seven interceptions in his last five games, with five coming against BYU and Stanford. Those two teams have combined for 13 interceptions this season.

The Bears are tied for fifth in the FBS with 12 picks. That number has helped mask some of the deficiencies in the Cal secondary, which ranks in the bottom half of the conference in opposing completion percentage (57.7) and yards allowed per attempt (7.2).

In other words, Rosen and the rest of the Bruins need to avoid beating themselves. Continue reading “What to watch: UCLA vs No. 20 Cal” »

What to watch: No. 18 UCLA at No. 15 Stanford

For the first time this season, No. 18 UCLA is the underdog.

This is not without good reason. For all that he has accomplished with the Bruins, Jim Mora has thumped repeatedly into the same stubborn wall: Stanford. The fourth-year head coach has lost to the Cardinal four times in three years: by 18 and three points in 2012, when they played back to back in the regular-season finale and the Pac-12 Championship; by 14 points in 2013; and, perhaps most excruciatingly, by 21 points a year ago, a game that cost UCLA a division title.

Today at 7:30 p.m. in Stanford Stadium, Mora gets his fifth crack at breaking the spell. He’ll have to do it against a 15th-ranked Stanford team that looks like the Pac-12 North favorite, and with a defense that has struggled in the wake of three major injuries.

When UCLA has the ball

Stanford’s defense lost essentially its entire starting defensive line and secondary from last year. That turnover means that this is not as dominant a unit as it has been in years past, though it still ranks among the Pac-12’s best.

UCLA (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) will need to establish itself up front. The Bruins’ offensive line underperformed in a loss against Arizona State almost two weeks ago, but this is a veteran unit that should fare better against Cardinal’s trademark physicality than it has in the past. Continue reading “What to watch: No. 18 UCLA at No. 15 Stanford” »

What to watch: No. 7 UCLA vs. Arizona State

The hype is gathering again for UCLA, ranked as high as it’s ever been during the Jim Mora era and looking as capable as any other team in a wide-open Pac-12.

The No. 7 Bruins are set to host Arizona State at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, considered a trap game only because that’s the cliche when a superior team is facing an obviously lesser one.

Working in UCLA’s favor are two factors: It has a bye week after this, so there isn’t much to peek forward to; and coaches and players have lambasted the defense’s performance in Tucson despite a 56-30 win, putting an additional chip on the Bruins’ collective shoulder.

Barring a significant collapse for the Bruins (4-0, 1-0), the struggling Sun Devils (2-2, 0-1) don’t look like the team that will spoil their perfect start.

When UCLA has the ball

The offense has been as about as potent as anyone could have hoped heading into the season, with freshman quarterback Josh Rosen capably guiding a crew of veterans into the end zone.

UCLA’s primary hiccups have come in the red zone. While it sits just outside the national top 25 in yards per game (482.5), it ranks just No. 71 in red-zone conversion. Meanwhile, Rosen has hit speed bumps as well, looking like an NFL-ready passer in his career debut against Virginia before slowing down against UNLV and BYU. Continue reading “What to watch: No. 7 UCLA vs. Arizona State” »

What to watch: No. 9 UCLA at No. 16 Arizona

A week ago, UCLA looked like a triumphant football program.

It had just beaten BYU, overcoming a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit for the first time in 52 games. It had done so despite an ugly night for quarterback Josh Rosen, who threw three interceptions and looked nothing like the freshman phenom he appeared to be in his career opener. And, the next morning, it emerged at No. 9 in the Associated Press poll — becoming the conference’s highest-ranked team for the first time in over a decade.

But two injuries later, and the Bruins’ outlook suddenly looks a lot less rosy. After already losing defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes to a torn ACL, the team is now without cornerback Fabian Moreau (foot) and linebacker Myles Jack (knee) for the rest of the season.

A visit to No. 16 Arizona on Saturday gives UCLA a chance to prove that, even shorthanded, it remains a contender.

When UCLA has the ball

Rosen’s dreadful night at the Rose Bowl last Saturday could someday end up being a turning point in his career, a retrospective reminder that greatness needs an incubation period.

For now, it’s more a sign that even a talented true freshman is still a freshman. The 18-year-old will only improve as he figures out what chances he should or shouldn’t take on the field, but in the meantime, the Bruins’ offense is still in good shape. This is a veteran group that can afford its quarterback some time to catch up to the learning curve. Continue reading “What to watch: No. 9 UCLA at No. 16 Arizona” »