There's an old joke that goes like this...
Question: "What happens when the smog lifts over Los Angeles?"
What you're seeing these days in Los Angeles — smog or not — is an under-performing UCLA Bruins crew.
Chip Kelly's club is 5-4 — not what was hoped from the Bruins after a promising two-win start to the season, especially after a taming of the then-No. 16 LSU Tigers.
Since then, they've lost five of eight contests, including the last two to the then-No. 10 Oregon Ducks and to the Utah Utes. The Week 9 loss in Salt Lake City two Saturdays back was ugly — a 44-24 whitewash on the road, dropping them to 3-3 in Pac-12 play — essentially knocking them out of the running for the conference's South title heading into a bye week.
It was supposed to be a better year for Chip & Co., putting the much-revered coach on the hot seat. Good thing, then, that the Pac-12 lesser-light Colorado Buffaloes are coming to town this Saturday.
Or is it?
The Buffaloes hit the Rose Bowl on a high after winning 37-34 in double overtime over the feisty Oregon State Beavers last weekend. The victory improved their mark to 3-6 overall and 2-4 in conference action and should ramp them up to play the underwhelming Bruins.
"We got a lot of work to do, and we can feel good about what we've done at this point," Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell, a former UCLA player (1983-86) and head coach (2003-07), told reporters in the lead-up to the Pac-12 tilt in Pasadena.
"Hopefully we play better and continue to do some positive things as we move through this last part of the season."
Ditto for UCLA.
Colorado at UCLA
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 13, at 9 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: UCLA -17
When Colorado Has the Ball
The Buffaloes best look back at the Week 9 win by Utah over UCLA to gameplan for this one. The Utes ran over the Bruins by rumbling for 290 yards.
Trouble is the Buffs aren't a run-heavy team — averaging just 132 rushing yards per game — and the Bruins hadn't been exposed on the ground until that visit to Salt Lake.
"We had been a really good team preventing the rush coming into this game," Kelly told reporters after the loss to the host Utes. "Obviously, we could not control their run game."
Can they control the Buffs' Jarek Broussard this week?
The sophomore running back was pivotal in the double-OT victory over Oregon State, racking up 151 yards on 24 carries, giving him a team-leading 510 on the season. Colorado should bust out Broussard again and test UCLA to see if what happened against Utah was just a blip.
As for the passing attack, the Buffs appear to have a gamer in freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis, who was cool and composed against the Beavers. Lewis went 15-of-24 for 170 passing yards and has 1,186 yards and 10 touchdowns against three interceptions on the campaign.
"The quarterback has started to play really well for them — he's a very athletic kid that can run around," Kelly told reporters. "They're running the ball right now. They've got an explosive receiver in (Brenden) Rice. They've taken advantage of some play-action passes and had some big plays."
Rice, a sophomore and the son of NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, leads the Buffs in catches (18) and receiving yards (285). Junior tight end Brady Russell is next with 15 and 204.
It's easy to point out that Colorado is third from the bottom among FBS teams in total offense (266.7 ypg), but that unit is on the upswing.
When UCLA Has the Ball
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson missed the last start due to a thumb injury. The Bruins need him because he's the key piece to Kelly's offensive system.
But it wasn't the offense — led by Ethan Garbers — that let the Bruins down against Utah. The freshman was respectable with a 27-of-44, 265-yard performance.
Still, this is DTR's team, and the senior is planning on being back out on the field on Saturday.
"(My thumb) just didn't feel 100 percent — or at least close enough to where I could give the team the best chance to win," Thompson-Robinson, who's passed for 1,639 yards and 13 touchdowns against three interceptions and has run for another 364 on the year, told reporters. "At the end of the day, that's my job, and so I figured (Garbers) would have the best shot for us, so that's why I didn't play against Utah. But the bye week came at a pretty good time."
When DTR is on, he's such a dual-threat for the Bruins, and he has plenty of weapons, beginning with backfield mates Zach Charbonnet (797 rushing yards, 144 receiving) and Brittain Brown (558, 108).
Through the air, DTR's primary receivers are junior wide receiver Kyle Philips (528 receiving yards) and junior tight end Greg Dulcich (477). Senior wideout Chase Cota has also stepped up recently with 60-plus receiving yards in two of the last three games.
It's not like the Bruins shouldn't be able to damage against Colorado. The Buffaloes are second to last in the Pac-12 in total defense (408.8 ypg), ahead of only Stanford.
Kelly could be battling for his job, and UCLA still needs one more win to become bowl eligible. You don't want to call this a must-win for the Bruins, but everyone is well aware of what's at stake.
A visit from the sub-.500 Buffaloes should help offset some of the pressure. Colorado is winless (0-3) on the road, losing each game by an average of 23 points.
UCLA hasn't been much better at home, though, losing its last three in the Rose Bowl to Oregon, Arizona State, and Fresno State.
But even though Colorado could be on the upswing after a pleasantly surprising win last week, the Bruins are the better team. And with DTR presumably back, they should be in business.
"We're trying to win out, for sure," UCLA linebacker Ale Kaho told reporters. "It starts with this game against Colorado."
Kelly can only hope so.
"We still got a lot of football to be played this season," Kelly added. "I wouldn't bet against that group (of players) in that room there. That group in that room? They're awesome, and I love those kids."
And come Saturday night, this LA love-fest will produce the desired result on the field as well.
Prediction: UCLA 41, Colorado 20
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