UCLA vs. Colorado: Bruins have clear path to success

Stephen Dunn - Getty Images

The UCLA Bruins should have a very clear idea of what got them their first three wins and their only loss. Focus and execution are all that's required to get them back on the winning track.

Before their game against the Houston Cougars, I suggested that the best case scenario for the UCLA Bruins was to lay down a savage beating, to send the rest of the world a message about the program. That's not exactly what happened, but UCLA came away with a win. After an upset at home against the Oregon State Beavers, the people who most need a message might be the Bruins themselves. I'm not so greedy as to ask for a thrashing, and I don't think that's what the Bruins need right now. What would benefit the team the most is a competently executed game, a game where they play sound, effective football for 60 minutes. If that covers the spread, so be it. But that last part is key; Washington State failed to shut the door against the Colorado Buffaloes, and the Buffaloes hung three fourth-quarter touchdowns on them, stealing a 35-34 win with nine seconds left in the game.

A competent game of football has to start with UCLA's offense. They were dominated at the line of scrimmage by Oregon State, and then-FBS-leading rusher Johnathan Franklin was held to 45 yards on 12 carries. UCLA played without Jeff Baca at guard, the only senior on the offensive line. That was the second game he missed with a head injury, but after returning to practice this week he's expected to play on Saturday. That should help UCLA get back to the things that won them the first three games. The uptempo offense the displayed in those wins was completely absent against Oregon State, both in a lack of rhythm and in taking too long to move on to the next play, allowing Oregon State to make defensive substitutions that helped shut Brett Hundley and the Bruins' offense down.

Oregon State is looking like a team that has the ability to shut down any rusher. They certainly did so against UCLA. That's not who Colorado is, though, and the Bruins need to exploit that. Colorado is giving up an average 154 yards per game, and each game they've played has involved their opponents' leading rusher gaining more than his season average. The Buffaloes are allowing an average of 38.8 points per game; if the Franklin can have an above-average day the Bruins offense should be just fine. Whether or not Baca plays, they need to assert themselves at the line of scrimmage, let Franklin establish the running game, and keep things moving.

The defense put in a strong effort against Oregon State, but ultimately came up short. Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester were repeatedly burned against Oregon State, but with focus and better execution the UCLA secondary could be a significant strength. Even after giving up 379 yards to Sean Mannion, they rank in the top 10 in passes defended, passes broken up and interceptions. The loss to Oregon State was a close one, 27-20. That's a huge step up from 2011, when the Bruins didn't lose an in-conference game by fewer than 25 points.

The Bruins should have a very clear idea of what they're capable of and what they need to do. They're favored by 19 points over the Buffaloes. With the right focus and the right execution, they should be able to get all that and more.

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