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Fast Five: Keys For Buffaloes Vs. UCLA

Sep 22, 2022
Safety Isaiah Lewis has CU's only interception thus far this season.

BOULDER — Technically, Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes are one-fourth of the way through their season, with an 0-3 record thus far.

But Saturday's game against UCLA at Folsom Field still offers the Buffs a chance for a fresh start — the beginning of Pac-12 play and an opportunity for CU to open the conference schedule on the right foot.

The Bruins have been an interesting matchup for the Buffs over the last six seasons. The two squads have evenly split the series 3-3 in that stretch and the home team has been the winner all six times.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly is in his fifth season with the Bruins, while quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is also in season No. 5 with UCLA. Meanwhile, former CU assistant coach Darrin Chiaverini is now an offensive analyst for the Bruins, and Jerry Neuheisel, son of former CU head coach Rick Neuheisel, is the wide receivers coach.

There are also some strong UCLA ties on the Buffaloes sidelines. CU's Dorrell played his college ball with the Bruins and returned to Westwood to become UCLA's coach from 2003 through 2007.

 But what matters to both teams isn't the past, it's Saturday's game. If the Buffs are indeed going to hit the reset button on their season, they will need to make some significant improvement in a number of areas against a Bruins team that has shown plenty of offensive firepower in opening 3-0.

Our Fast Five keys for the Buffaloes:

1. Eliminate self-inflicted wounds. Two weeks in a row, the Buffs have handed the ball to the opponent deep in their own territory on their first possession of the game. Both have resulted in opponent touchdowns, putting Colorado in a big hole early.

Meanwhile, while the Buffs have committed just 13 penalties in three games, they have drawn some untimely flags that have halted a handful of several potential big drives.

Those are mistakes Colorado simply can't afford. The Buffs' margin for error is razor thin. If the Buffs are going to claw their way back, they must eliminate committing those momentum-shifting errors.

2. Flip the big play script. In three games thus far, the Buffaloes have recorded just eight offensive plays of 20 yards or more, including just one last week at Minnesota.

In comparison, opponents have posted 17 plays of at least 20 yards — and last week, Minnesota added an additional 13 plays of at least 10 yards.

Big plays are a backbreaker for defenses. Colorado must somehow find a way to manufacture a few more of those explosive moments that will set the Bruins on their heels. Running back Deion Smith has shown the ability to get to the second level and wide receiver Daniel Arias has hauled in a couple of long balls this year. The Buffs need a few more of those moments against the Bruins.

Defensively, Colorado has to limit those long plays. The Buffs have had too many series where they have held on first and second down, only to give up a big play on third and allow the sticks to move (opponents are averaging 5.5 yards on third down plays). That's a trend CU needs to change.

3. Force the Bruins into third-and-long situations. First, this means the Buffs have to stop the UCLA run game, in particular standout back Zack Charbonnet. South Alabama did a good job of that last week, limiting him to 78 yards on 13 carries.

Then, the Buffs have to make Thompson-Robinson uncomfortable in the pocket. The UCLA quarterback isn't prone to interceptions — he had just six all of last season and has thrown only one this year. But he did have a fumble deep in his own territory last week that led to a South Alabama touchdown, and he can be forced into errant throws when he's under duress.

The Buffs need to accomplish both of these goals to keep themselves in the game.

4. Start fast. We know what happened on the Buffs' first possession of the game in their last two outings. A fumble and an opponent touchdown, putting Colorado in a big hole early.

What the Buffs need is something more like their first game of the year, when they opened by driving to the TCU 15-yard line before coming up short on fourth-and-1.

This week, they need to finish that kind of drive and punch the ball into the end zone early. Colorado has just one first half touchdown thus far this season and the Buffs need to give themselves some confidence and momentum early by finding paydirt, giving themselves the lead and putting the pressure on UCLA.

5. Play with abandon. This CU team has more ability than it has displayed on Saturdays. The Buffs can't be hesitant or cautious. 

Instead, they need to play like they have nothing to lose. If Colorado can punch the Bruins in the nose early, the Buffs can be in the game when it matters down the stretch.