(25) UCLA (5-2) at Colorado (2-5) (ET)
GAME NOTES: With their Rose Bowl hopes hanging by a thread, the 25th-ranked UCLA Bruins hit the road to battle the Colorado Buffaloes in this Saturday's Pac-12 Conference clash at Folsom Field.
UCLA escaped with a 36-34 win at California last weekend, that coming on the heels of consecutive losses to Utah (30-28) and Oregon (42-30). The Bruins, once thought to be contenders for the inaugural College Football Playoff, are now 5-2 overall and 2-2 in league play. The playoff is likely out of the picture, but the Pac-12 crown is still up for grabs. They will need plenty of help to find their way to the top of the conference however.
"We don't put excess pressure on ourselves, but the harsh reality is we are 5-2. That's good, but we still had stuff in front of us that we could get to," UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley said. "If we win out and do what we're supposed to do, we can still get to the Pac-12 Championship. As long as we're winning games, everything will be fine."
Colorado suffered a third straight defeat last weekend, taking a 56-28 pounding from USC at the Coliseum. The setback was the fourth in as many tries against conference foes. The Buffaloes are just 2-5 overall as they continue a brutal stretch, which includes a home game against Washington and visits to Arizona and Oregon in the coming weeks.
A 45-23 victory last November increased UCLA's advantage over Colorado in the all-time series to 7-2. The Bruins have won the last three encounters, including a 42-14 rout during their last visit to Boulder.
Against Cal, Brett Hundley had the type of game that made him a dark horse Heisman candidate in the preseason. The Bruins' signal caller threw for 330 yards and two scores on 31-of-42 passing, while contributing 94 yards and a score on the ground. Although Hundley isn't on pace to put him in contention for any major national honors, he is still turning in a nice season, leading the Pac-12 in completion percentage (.725) while throwing for 1,856 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also has 305 yards and a team-high four scores on the ground.
Also turning in a productive season for the Bruins is running back Paul Perkins, who has taken to the primary running back spot with aplomb. Perkins is second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards (816), to go along with three rushing scores. He picked up 86 yards on 15 carries in the win over Cal.
In the receiving corps, Jordan Payton is the go-to option, with 599 yards and five scores on 42 receptions. He is the only player on the roster with more than 300 yards through the air, or to be averaging more than 50 yards per game. Devin Fuller (31 receptions, 256 yards, TD) is the second option, with Thomas Duarte (18 receptions, 329 yards, two TDs) providing a deep threat as well.
The win over the Golden Bears brought to light both some positives and negatives for the UCLA defense. Although the unit let up 34 points, it also kept the Golden Bears to 366 total yards while recording three sacks. The Bruins had only seven sacks in the first six games, and they are still ranked seventh in total defense (425.6 ypg), even after last week's effort.
UCLA is in for a bigger challenge than may be expected against Colorado, which has been reasonably successful on offense this season. The Buffaloes rank seventh in the Pac-12 in total offense (466.1 ypg) and, despite ranking just 10th in scoring, they are still putting up more than 30 points per game.
The player the Bruins need to keep an eye on the most is wide receiver Nelson Spruce, who has been putting up incredible numbers this season. Spruce leads the nation in receptions (71) and touchdown receptions (11), while topping the Pac-12 in receiving yards (801). Shay Fields (36 receptions, 292 yards, TD) is the next best option in terms of receptions, while Tyler McCullocj (22 receptions, 282 yards, four TDs) is the more explosive downfield threat.
Sefo Liufau is the man feeding the ball to Spruce. Liufau, who started as a freshman last season, has already eclipsed his totals as a rookie, with 2,030 yards and 21 touchdown passes on 65.3 percent passing. Liufau's increased production has been paired with nine interceptions, however. He was picked off twice by USC, while finishing with only 143 yards through the air.
"It goes back to the little things. I put a lot on my shoulders," Liufau said. "You can't have two picks and expect to win and to have turnovers and win. It's the little things execution-wise."
As far as the running game goes, Christian Powell and Tony Jones are the primary weapons. Powell has tallied 285 yards and a score on 61 carries, while Jones has picked up 255 yards and two touchdowns on 49 attempts. Phillip Lindsay (186 yards) has also worked into the rotation as well.
Colorado's defense is not one of the better units in the Pac-12, as the Buffs rank ninth in yards allowed (435.1 ypg). It gets worse, as they permit the most points per game of any squad in the league (38.6).
Addison Gillam (57 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Tedric Thompson (53 tackles) are the team's top tacklers, while Derek McCartney leads a rather anemic pass rush with four sacks.
UCLA showed a lot of improvement on defense against a rather potent Cal offense. If the Bruins can limit their own mistakes (they had three turnovers against the Golden Bears), then they should be able to post an even more convincing win against Colorado.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UCLA 36, Colorado 21