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The UCLA Bruins faced some tough questions after a loss to Oregon State, and they answered at least one of those questions with a 42-14 dismantling of the Colorado Buffaloes.
The UCLA Bruins leave Colorado having answered one very important question. The 3-0 start wasn't a fluke. There are other very important questions that remain, but those come later. For now, the Bruins have a dominant win over a bad football team, and that's something that any good football team needs. It wasn't flashy, but before the game I suggested that might not be such a bad thing. All explosive plays have some element of luck to them; blown coverage, a mismatch between defender and receiver. UCLA's win wasn't that. It was methodical, it stuck to what the Bruins know works, and the defense worked as hard as it could to shut down the Buffaloes. In the end, the Bruins followed a tough loss with a strong victory, and that's a very good thing.
Graded as a whole, the defense get high marks. Jordan Webb spent the week leading up to Saturday as the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week. He spent Saturday night with Damien Holmes in his face, collecting more than 150 fewer yards than the previous week. Holmes finished the night with two sacks and seven tackles. The entire front seven had a game to brag about. The Buffaloes managed only 18 rushing yards in the first half, and finished with just 83. The secondary continues to be a mixed bag. Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester were still getting burned in coverage, but Tevin McDonald and Stan McKay both showed promise. McDonald was all over the field, finishing with 10 tackles, but his biggest play came when he punched the ball out of Vincent Hobbs' arms just after Hobbs had made a crucial catch and turned upfield. For his part, McKay had quick hands on the third quarter interception that helped put the dagger in Colorado.
That dagger was no small matter. The Buffaloes scored three fourth quarter touchdowns in their victory over Washington State, and playing a mile above sea level introduces a risk of fatigue the Bruins don't usually see. With UCLA up 14-0, Colorado drove the ball 75 yards for their first touchdown. If they had opened a door, the Bruin defense rushed to slam it in their face. Colorado's next two offensive drives were a three-and-out and a three-and-out following a defensive pass interference flag. It didn't stop there. The defense played all sixty minutes: out of the 14 drives made by the Buffaloes, only four of them didn't result in a turnover or an effective three-and-out. UCLA is 35th in the FBS in points allowed. That's nothing to crow about, but it's the mark of a respectable defense.
In what I hope can become a regular feature, I would like to take an interlude to praise Jeff Locke. The senior averaged more than 41 yards per punt on six punts, and pinned the Buffaloes inside the 10 three times. Steven Manfro joined in to round out the special teams success, averaging 10.2 yards on five punt returns.
The UCLA offense, which had five turnovers in a win over Houston and was shut down in the loss vs. Oregon State, returned to form on Saturday. They didn't show anything that would set the world on fire, but they went back to what works. Brett Hundley was 25-for-38 for 291 yards with two touchdowns and, crucially, no interceptions. He took his shots downfield, but he had plenty of success with short throws to receivers in space. Johnathan Franklin had 48 yards on three receptions, Darius Bell had two catches for 38 yards and Joseph Fauria had two for 20.
Franklin wasn't just catching the ball. He broke off a seven yard run on the Bruins' first offensive snap, and it was hard not to smile. Jeff Baca was back, and the Bruins once again had a competent offensive line. Hundley had more time, and Franklin had the kind of holes that allowed him to display the form he showed in the first three games. Franklin rushed for 111 yards on 15 carries, and Damien Thigpen had 47 on nine carries.
Colorado came into the game having upset Washington State, but wiping out the Buffaloes isn't the kind of thing UCLA will want to put at the top of their resumé. The game proved was that when the conditions are favorable, the Bruins can do a lot of things right. We saw what happened when Oregon State put forth unfavorable conditions. In the weeks going forward, it's likely the Bruins will have plenty of opportunities to revisit the issue.