Having some deja vu, Bruins fans? After an absolutely horrendous start to the year in which the Bruins looked outplayed, outcoached, and outclassed in just about every aspect of the game, UCLA seems to have turned a corner and found their stride late in the year against their conference opponents. UCLA is just 3-5 on the year, but they’re 3-2 in the Pac-12.
Shockingly, that’s currently third out of sixth in the south, meaning that UCLA could actually be in position to win their division. Shocking, I know, and if last year is any indication, they’ll find a way to sputter toward the end of the season, so we shouldn’t be getting too ahead of ourselves. Having said that, UCLA has really looked like a totally different team the past two weeks, and is on the cusp of winning.. wait for it… yes, three gamese in a row! Let’s take a look at their odds of being able to make that happen.
Can UCLA Take Down Colorado To Make It Three Wins In A Row?
On paper, it looks like UCLA is actually about to face a team worse than they are. UCLA, with their second-year head coach, currently sits at 3-5, 3-2 in the conference, and 3rd in the Pac-12 South. The Colorado Buffaloes, on the other hand, under first-year head coach Mel Tucker, are also 3-5, but stand at just 1-4 in conference play, and are last in the Pac-12 South. But once you look at their schedule, it’s tough to say that Colorado is really worse than UCLA.
Yes, the Buffaloes lost 41-10 to the Washington State Cougars, a team that UCLA beat 67-63. But that game was a bit fluky for UCLA. When you look at the rest of their conference schedule, it’s hard to believe that UCLA would have done any better. UCLA’s second conference win was against a Stanford team playing their third-string quarterback that couldn’t muster anything on offense. Colorado likely wins that game too.
Colorado lost 30-35 to Arizona, who UCLA lost to 17-20. Colorado got blown out by Oregon, but the same likely would have happened to UCLA. Colorado also lost to Air Force earlier in the season. Not a great look, but neither is losing 23-14 to San Diego State, which UCLA did in week 2. Ultimately, these are two struggling teams with young head coaches still finding their way.
Forget The Records; UCLA Will Need Their A Game To Beat Colorado
Colorado’s most recent game was a 31-35 loss to the USC Trojans. It was a game in which Colorado’s defense caused a lot of trouble for USC, a game that USC pulled out late due to some late game magic from Quarterback Kedon Slovis. Most of the media likely thinks USC Head Coach Clay Helton is on the hot seat, but most of the media doesn’t watch the Pac-12. USC has been fighting hard every week this year, especially considering the fact that they’ve had to play two backup quarterbacks, both of whom have generally looked fantastic considering the circumstances. The reason I’m saying this is, USC is good, and Colorado played them well. UCLA, on the other hand, is not a team I would expect to beat USC this year.
Nonetheless, UCLA has been rolling, and they’re going to have to continue to do so to have a chance in this game. It starts with the offensive turnaround, which can be attributed to many factors. Number 1, is something you’ve heard me say time and time again: When this UCLA offense is clicking, it runs through Joshua Kelley. That has been the case the past few weeks and will have to continue to be the case if UCLA is to win this game.
A lot of that has to do with an improved offensive line, which, like last year, struggled early with a bunch of new players having to find their chemistry. But they’ve played better as of late.
That has also helped QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, another player who looked awful early in the year but seems to have turned a corner as of late. DTR is making quicker decisions, he’s being more aggressive, and most importantly, he looks a lot more comfortable. His accuracy compared to early in the year is night and day. His improvement is a great sign for UCLA, and it gives them a shot in this game. He’s also been better on the ground in recent weeks, another key factor for UCLA in this game. DTR and Kelley have been very successful with mesh-point read-option plays, and DTR will continue to have to be a presence both through the air and on the ground.
It also helps that, like last year, Chip Kelly continues to find his way schematically and open up the playbook. The most recent wrinkle was heavy usage of the pistol in last week’s win, which helped the running game in a big way. So I expect Coach Kelly to continue building his playbook and showing different looks for this week’s game.
On defense, UCLA created a few turnovers last week, which is a good sign. However, this is still not a lockdown unit. They jumped out to an early lead against a struggling Arizona State offense, but that offense is currently being led by a true freshman. It’ll be a different story this week, as Colorado is playing a 5th year senior in Quarterback Steven Montez, who is also throwing to superstar veteran Laviska Shenault Jr. They have plenty of experience. So I don’t think UCLA is at a point where they can win close, low scoring games. Like last week, they’ll have to get out to a lead and keep up the pace. They’re capable of doing so, but not when they make mistakes. This team is eons better playing from ahead than from behind.
This is a big week for UCLA. They’ve started to show some signs of life as the season goes on, and they have a chance to win three in a row. But due to the way they started, they have close to no margin for error, and with the future of Chip Kelly in doubt and this program reaching historic lows this year, every game matters as we reach the end of the season.
Is this a team that’s ready to compete for the Pac-12 South, or are they just another inconsistent, losing team that is capable of good play at times but unable to string it together in a way that matters? This week will help lead us toward the answer in a big way.