Welcome to Bruins Nation’s preview of the Colorado Buffaloes offense. The Buffs are a surprising 4-4 this season, but only have one win over a PAC 12 team, the Oregon State Beavers. Colorado plays a 13 game schedule this season, because they visited Hawai’i in their season opener, in their only non-conference loss. So, the Buffs have a 3-1 non-conference record and a 1-3 conference record going into their trip to the Rose Bowl for UCLA’s Homecoming game.
Is Colorado getting it done on offense? If so, how? How does their offense match up against a decimated Bruin defense? Let’s dive in and see.
Colorado is #44 in the country in total offense, averaging 432.9 yards per game. Granted, that average was bolstered by wins over 1-6 Nichols State (a FCS school, #90 in total defense in FCS), in which Colorado rolled up 636 yards in a 48-0 win at home, and 1-6 UMass (out of the MAC, #118 in total defense in the nation), in which the Buffaloes gained 558 yards in a 48-14 win at home. By comparison, Colorado only gained 328 yards on the road in a 17-13 win against the Beavers, #73 in total defense in the nation. The Beavers allow an average of 402.3 yards per game.
UCLA comes into the game ranked #67 in total defense, allowing 397 yards per game, numbers that are very similar to Oregon State’s. Is it reasonable to conclude that UCLA’s defense should only concede somewhere in the realm of 13 points? Let’s break it down further into rushing and passing.
Colorado is ranked #40 in rushing offense, averaging 191.3 yards per game on the ground. Again, the average is skewed by the UMass and Nichols State games, in which the Buffaloes rushed for 390 yards (!) and 359 yards respectively. If one was to remove those two games from consideration, the Buffs’ rushing average drops to 130.2 yards per game, which would be #106 in the nation. UCLA, however, has problems against the run, yielding an average of 203.9 yards per game on the ground, tied with Wazzu for #104 in the nation.
This could be an area in which Colorado tries to exploit a potential match up problem against UCLA. Not only is it a good match up for CU but, if successful, it would keep also Colorado’s defense off the field and rested against a UCLA offense that likes to wear down its opponents with its up-tempo style.
The Buffs are ranked #52 in passing offense, averaging 241.6 yards per game through the air. UCLA is #33 in the nation in passing yards allowed, with an average of 193.1 per game. This is a tougher match up for Colorado, especially if UCLA’s defensive backs step up like they did last week against U.C. Berkeley.
True junior, Sefo Liufau, leads the Buffs at quarterback. He has tons of experience, starting seven games as a true freshman and 11 games last season as a sophomore. Liufau has put up very solid numbers, completing 61.5% of his passes, for 1,870 yards, 9 TDs and only 3 INTs. He is also a threat to run the ball, and running quarterbacks have killed the Bruins all season. Liufau has 83 carries for 168 yards and 5 TDs on the ground. Do not be fooled by the numbers, though, as sacks count against rushing yardage in college game. Taking away sacks, Liufau has 310 yards rushing. It appears that Colorado will continue to rely on Liufau’s legs against UCLA and in the future. He is also a load to take down, at 6'4", 245 lbs.
Liufau’s backups, Cade Apsay, a freshman, and Jordan Gehrke, a junior, each had a bit of playing time in the Nichols State blowout. Apsay performed better than Gehrke but, if Liufau is injured, I would expect Gehrke to get the call. In addition to Nichols State this season, the junior appeared in four games last season, going completing 20 passes on 44 attempts, with no TDs and no INTs. The drop off from Liufau to Gehrke would be significant.
Phillip Lindsey, a sophomore, leads the Buffs in carries (63) and rushing yards (465). He is tied with Liufau for the team lead in rushing TDs, with five. Listed at 5’8", 180 lbs, Lindsey is a speed back. Senior Christian Powell provides more of a "punch," at 6’0", 235 lbs. Powell has 315 yards on 62 carries, and has found the end zone four times. Junior Michael Adkins II has also gotten significant action, carrying the ball 42 times for 212 yards, with 3 TDs. Although listed as a receiver, Donovan Lee also has 23 carries for 192 yards (a whopping 8.3 yards per carry) with a single touchdown that went for 59 yards. Lee only has 9 catches on the season, so I would expect that he fills a "Percy Harvin"-type role for Colorado. Followers of California high school football may remember Lee leading Chaminade to a Division II state title as a running back in 2013. This is a very solid group and UCLA will have its hands full with them, along with Liufau running the ball.
Nelson Spruce (6’1", 195 lbs.), a senior, leads Colorado’s receiving corps with 51 catches for 563 yards and 2 TDs. He has been the go-to guy for the Buffs for some time now, and had an excellent junior season, with 1,198 receiving yards and 12 TDs.
It appears that Colorado might be missing its #2 receiver for the UCLA game, as Shay Fields (32 catches, 504 yards, 4 TDs) has an ankle injury. Fields suffered a high ankle sprain two games ago, and did not play against Oregon State. Colorado is preparing as if he will not be playing. This would be a big loss for the Buffs.
That means Devin Ross (5’9", 175 lbs.) and Bryce Bobo (6’1", 195 lbs.) will need to step up. Ross, a sophomore, has 11 catches for 189 yards and 2 TDs. Bobo, also a sophomore, has 16 grabs for 134 yards, with no TDs.
This match up favors UCLA. Spruce is going to get his, no doubt. But I like the match ups with UCLA’s defensive backs against CU’s other receivers. Fields’ expected absence will only help UCLA in this department.
Sean Irwin starts at tight end for the Buffs. He has 7 catches for 142 yards and no TDs. His backup, Dylan Keeney, has only one catch this season. With only 8 catches in 8 games, I do not expect Colorado’s tight ends to make a significant impact in this game.
Anchoring the line at the center position is redshirt junior, Alex Kelley. As a freshman, Kelley played in all 12 games, including nine on the offensive line. Last season, as a sophomore, Kelley started all 12 games at center. Kelley is on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Award, which goes to the nation’s top center. Having played with Liufau for the better part of three seasons now, the two have likely developed a strong rapport.
The Buffs have less experience at guard, where they start a part of sophomores. Gerrard Kough, played in ten games as a redshirt freshman last season, starting in two (one of which was against UCLA). He is expected to slot in at left guard. Jonathan Huckins played in 6 games as a redshirt freshman last season, 3 of which were on the offensive line (Huckins was on the line for 29 snaps). He did not start until this season. Huckins is expected to get the nod at right guard.
At right tackle is Stephane Nembot. Nembot, a redshirt senior started 31 games before this season, including all 12 games in his sophomore and junior seasons. At 6’7", 320 lbs., Nembot is physically imposing as well as having the most experience of any starters on CU’s offensive line. At left tackle, protecting Liufau’s blind side, is Sam Krogshage. Kronshage, a redshirt sophomore, played in 12 games as a redshirt freshman last season, 2 of which were on the offensive line (Kronshage was on the line for 84 snaps). He did not start until this season.
The Buff’s offensive line and UCLA’s front seven should be an interesting match up. If the Bruins had not experienced the injuries to Eddie Vanderdoes and Myles Jack, I would give the nod to the Bruins. Without those guys, it is closer, as both units have a mixture of experience and fresh faces. This match up in the trenches could be a key to the game.
I think that UCLA’s defense gained a measure of confidence from last week’s game against U.C. Berkeley. That’s not to say that the Bruins will be able to shut down the Buffs’ rushing offense. I am not sure that they will. They certainly will have to contain Liufau running with the ball. This is critical. I do believe that UCLA will be able to contain Colorado’s passing offense. If the Bruins can get a solid lead, Colorado will need to throw the ball, which may play into UCLA’s hands. If the Bruins fall behind, expect CU to pound the ball, grind clock, and keep UCLA’s offense off the field.
In the end, UCLA’s defense (even in its depleted state) has more talent that Colorado’s offense, and should prevail in this game.
I hope that you enjoyed this preview of Colorado’s offensive. Look for BN’s preview of Colorado’s defense in the near future.
And, as always . . . Go Bruins!!!!