The UCLA Bruins are coming off their first home win of the season, and the game included a fair amount of highlight reel-worthy moments. From Kyle Phillips’s corner-of-the-endzone reception to Jaylen Shaw’s targeting-but-not-really-targeting hit on a Sun Devil ball carrier, it appears UCLA is turning the corner and bringing all aspects of the game together.
UCLA is hosting the Colorado Buffaloes this Saturday for a #Pac12AfterDark game, kicking off at 6:00 pm PT. The Buffs had a disappointing 35-31 loss last week against the Southern Cal Trojans, giving the game away in the fourth quarter and allowing the Trojans to score 14 unanswered points and steal the win. Colorado has now lost four in a row and enters this weekend matching UCLA’s 3-5 record.
Colorado’s offense took a bit of a beating as their starting quarterback, Steven Montez, was hit pretty hard at the end of the third quarter but was able to return in the fourth. This week, the Buffs are going to be hugely dependent on his ability to bounce back from yet another loss.
Montez is a fifth year senior that has had a hugely positive impact on the state of Colorado football. Unfortunately, slim losses in both 2018 and 2019 left the Buffaloes with records that were less than desirable despite the fact that Montez has had pretty solid stats individually. He is currently sitting at a 63.6% completion percentage, even after dips in performance against both Oregon and Washington State. He told the Denver Post that, “the wheels don’t look like they’re falling off,” even though he threw six interceptions between weeks six and seven and has eight overall.
Montez didn’t look the same in the fourth quarter last Friday night against Southern Cal. He appeared rattled and his accuracy was definitely off. Could Montez be hitting a rough patch, and can this recently revitalized UCLA defense take advantage? His overall statistics look solid, but his recently high interception numbers and the way he looked at the end of their last contest says this is something the Bruins can capitalize on.
Redshirt senior Tim Lynott, who anchors the line at center, is the most experienced offensive lineman. On the left, junior Kary Kutsch will be at guard and graduate student Arlington Hambright will be at tackle. Hambright is a transfer from Oklahoma State and started in the junior college ranks, but this is his first year as a Buffalo. He was also nominated for Pac-12 Offensive Line Player of the Week for the Nebraska game.
On the right are two younger players, with redshirt freshman Casey Roddick at guard and redshirt sophomore William Sherman at tackle. The right side of the Colorado offensive line is not as deep as the left, but don’t let their youth fool you. This group is tied with Southern Methodist University for 18th in the country for sacks allowed at 1.25. So, our defense is going to have to work really hard to get to Montez.
Colorado’s run game is right in the middle of the pack nationally, coming in at 75th and averaging 159.6 yards per game. Redshirt sophomore Alex Fontenot is leading the team with 135 carries for 625 yards for four touchdowns. He posted two games over the 100 yards mark on August 30 against Colorado State, and October 19 at Washington State.
Freshman Jaren Mangham is second on the team and will also see some carries. He has moved the rock 74 times this season for 319 total yards, and while he has been utilized at least seven times per game, he hasn’t notched a touchdown since the Buffs’ second game of the season.
The run game for Colorado is not up to par with UCLA’s, so the Buffaloes are definitely going to be relying on Montez to be healthy and carry the offensive load. The Bruin secondary is really going to have to notch as many pass break ups as possible to make Colorado run the ball more.
Redshirt senior Tony Brown came to the Buffaloes two years ago, after he spent his freshman year as a Texas Tech Red Raider. He is now leading Colorado with 42 receptions for 547 yards and four touchdowns. Right behind him is junior standout Laviska Shenault Jr. Jr., with 34 receptions for 514 yards and three touchdowns. Shenault was named first-team preseason All-Pac-12 and is on a slew of preseason watch lists, including the Maxwell Award (nation’s top player), the Biletnikoff Award (top receiver), the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player), the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award (top player from Texas) and the Paul Warfield Award (top receiver). His most recent recognition came week three when he was nominated for Pac-12 Player of the Week.
Junior K.D. Nixon and redshirt freshman Dimitri Stanley will also check in, along with redshirt sophomore tight end Brady Russell. Both Shenault and Nixon have previously suffered injuries this season, but made it back onto the field in time for their contest with Oregon on October 11.
The receiving corps along with Montez is usually Colorado’s bread and butter. But last week it was looking as if Montez was even struggling to hand the ball off accurately.
At this point, many are hesitant to say UCLA has turned a corner because so many times in the past the Bruins go on an upswing then let the fans down and lay an egg. Right now, UCLA is favored by a touchdown and this seems like an safe place to start. In a recent interview, head coach Chip Kelly said that UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was ready for practice. So, while that isn’t saying much about Saturday’s game, we can expect DTR’s health to have an impact on the outcome as well. For now, this game is extremely winnable and the Bruins could continue their hunt for first place in the Pac-12 South.