The 3-0 Colorado Buffaloes will welcome our Bruins to Boulder Friday night and neither team is coming off a stellar season. Head Coach Mike MacIntyre lead his team to a 10-4 finish and a Pac-12 South Championship in 2016, but then fell to 5-7 (2-7 in conference play) in 2017 after losing a large number of players from the 2016 team. While the Buffs are on a hot streak right now, they also had a pretty easy start to the season, taking on Colorado State; Nebraska, who has it just as rough as UCLA does right now; and, New Hampshire. However, I think it’s safe to say that these guys are ready to bring the team back to what it was two years ago.
MacIntyre is in his sixth season as head coach of the Buffs. His successful 2016 campaign earned him eight National Coach of the Year honors from the Associated Press, Walter Camp, Bobby Dodd, ESPN/Home Depot, FWAA/Eddie Robinson, American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), SB Nation and Scout.com. He was selected the Pac 12 Coach of the Year in 2016.
After five seasons, he’s 25-38 and looking to improve on their below .500 2017 performance. Colorado fans were riding high after 2016 and really hit the wall last year. In addition to losing key players, they were also breaking in a new defensive coordinator. But MacIntyre has a history of making mediocre teams better. He also led San Jose State to their first 10-win season in 25 years in 2012.
Klayton Adams and Darrin Chiaverini are splitting the offensive coordinator duties this season, each with their own additional units to supervise. Adams is the Co-Offensive Coordinator in charge of the Offensive Line and Chiaverini is the Co-Offensive Coordinator in charge of Wide Receivers and also the Recruiting Coordinator.
Adams is in his sixth year on the Colorado staff, joining the coaching staff in 2013 as the running backs and tight ends coach. He is now in his third year coaching the offensive line, but this is his first year assuming offensive coordinator duties. He came to Boulder with MacIntyre from San Jose State, where he coached tight ends.
Chiaverini is a Colorado alumnus who was coached by former UCLA Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisel from 1995-1998. In 2009, he served as UCLA’s assistant special teams coach under Neuheisel. He is in his third year as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach for the Buffs.
D.J. Eliot returns for his second year as the Buffs’ defensive coordinator after spending four years in the same role at Kentucky. The real question is: Which Buff defense will Eliot have on the field? Against Scott Frost’s Nebraska team, Eliot’s defense gave up 565 yards and 28 points while they held both Colorado State and New Hampshire to under 300 yards. In the process, the Rams were held to just 13 and the Wildcats were held to just 14 points. The interesting thing here is that UCLA coach Chip Kelly came from New Hampshire while Scott Frost coached under Kelly at Oregon. So, if the Bruins can finally show signs of life on offense, they should be able to score more points this week.
In a game where field position can make or break you, Colorado definitely has it down. In 2017, their special teams ranked 12th in the country in overall efficiency. For the Buffs, special teams start with long snapper J.T. Bale. Sophomore kicker James Stefanou and senior punter Alex Kinney both return for another season.
Kinney has been the starting punter in each of his first three seasons. He averaged 43.8 yards per attempt last year. He was able to land 28 kicks inside the 20 yard line, which is a Colorado record. So far, Kinney has punted four times for an average of 46 yards per punt with two of them landing inside the 20.
Through three games, junior Davis Price has punted nine times for an average of 39.6 yards per punt. His long is 48 yards.
Last year, Stefanou was the oldest freshman in the FBS. He is still the oldest player among all FBS student-athletes this year at 31 years of age. His late entrance to football stems from the fact that he was a pro soccer player in Australia before coming to Colorado.
So far, he has performed well as a college kicker. ESPN named him as a first-team Freshman All-American last season. He was also a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is given annually to the best kicker in college football. In 2017, he was 17-for-22 on field goal attempts and a perfect 35-for-35 on PAT tries. Of the five field goals he missed last season two were between 30-39 yards, one was in the 40-49 yard range and two were from greater than 50 yards. He is 15-for-15 so far this year on extra points and 4-for-6 on field goal attempts. One of his misses this year was a 37-yard attempt and the other was a 43-yard attempt.
Pairing the kickers with the return of lead punt returner Ronnie Blackmon and a trio of kick returners in Blackmon, Donovan Lee and K.D. Nixon and the special teams unit is extremely solid. Blackmon is averaging 10.9 yards per punt return so far this year on 10 attempts, while the trio of kick returners has returned just one kick each. Lee’s return went for 31 yards, Blackmon’s went for 27 yards and Nixon’s was 24 yards. The low number of kickoff returns is, of course, being influenced by the new touchback rule.
Can you even analyze this game? I don’t know. I’m still wondering what happened to the team that came out looking at least halfway decent against Oklahoma, but then fell flat against Fresno State at home. Anything can happen, especially coming off a bye. I think Colorado’s numbers are slightly inflated at this point due to a soft non-conference schedule, but we should never take any opponent lying down. Everything resets this week with the start of conference play and I wouldn’t mind handing the Buffs their first loss.