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Colorado Buffaloes vs. UCLA Bruins Preview and Prediction

Josh Rosen

Josh Rosen

UCLA and Colorado each faced tough challenges from the Pac-12 North in their respective conference openers last week. After competitive starts, both fell behind big in the second en route to losses.

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With 0-1 marks to open conference play, plenty is at stake on the final date of September in the Rose Bowl. Rebounding from an 0-2 start to win the division isn't impossible, per se — it's just never been done.

Colorado at UCLA

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 30 at 10:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: UCLA -7

Three Things to Watch

1. Who runs, wins? 

To put it bluntly, UCLA's run defense has been bad; worst in the nation coming into the Colorado game in fact. Of the Bruins' 1,230 rushing yards allowed thus far, more than 400 came last week at Stanford, with Bryce Love pouring on 263 of them.

After seeing Love a week ago, UCLA must now contend with Phillip Lindsay.

A playmaker Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre heralds as a complete running back, Lindsay has the explosiveness both in the run and passing attack to give Bruins defensive coordinator Tom Bradley headaches. Lindsay should be able to put up yards; the question isn't so much if UCLA will slow him down, but rather how well the Bruins counter on the other side of the ball.

Rushing was a problem for UCLA throughout the 2016 season, and for the first couple games of this campaign. However, Bola Olurunfunmi showed signs of life at Memphis two weeks ago, and Soso Jamabo returned from injury to put up UCLA's first 100-yard rushing performance since November 2015.

Add mobile quarterbacks in Josh Rosen and Steven Montez, and the more effective run game on Saturday could control the tempo.

2. Defending Darren 

UCLA's Rosen leads the nation in both passing yards and touchdowns. His showing at Stanford marked his third game this season with more than 450 yards through the air.

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Rosen's spread the ball to a number of targets, with Jordan Lasley, Theo Howard and Caleb Wilson being three of the most prolific pass catchers. However, the most dangerous Bruin target is Darren Andrews. Andrews' seven touchdown receptions are tied for most in the nation.

Colorado counters with defensive back Isaiah Oliver, one of college football's premier disrupters of pass attempts.

3. Self-inflicted errors

When these two teams met last November in Boulder, it was ugly – and not because of the very un-Pac-12 After Dark-like 20-10 final score. The low point total was a symptom of the game, not a cause.

Colorado was flagged 12 times for 128 yards; UCLA was hit with 13 for 96. It was a sloppy, poorly played game, and in certain ways, resembles the performances on which both enter this matchup at the Rose Bowl.

Their losses to Washington and Stanford last week were not the result of penalties as much as turnovers and missed assignments. Cutting down on these self-inflicted errors will be critical on Saturday.

Final Analysis

UCLA is undefeated at the Rose Bowl this season – and after back-to-back road losses to Memphis and Stanford, the beautiful and venerable venue in Arroyo Seco will be an especially welcomed sight for the Bruins.

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Colorado's offense struggled mightily against Washington's outstanding defense last week, but the Buffs will get a jump-start facing the most porous defense in the Pac-12 this week. Don't expect a repeat of last season's 20-10 contest – a combined point total meeting or exceeding that by the end of the first quarter seems more likely.

The question that should determine this contest is which team can make one critical stop when it matters most. That might be forcing the other to make its own mistake. In that scenario, Josh Rosen is unlikely to help the opposing defense. Look for him to weave some fourth-quarter magic in an exciting, and high-scoring, late-night Pac-12 tilt.

Prediction: UCLA 49, Colorado 48

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.