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Fresh off a bye, Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders and the Colorado Buffaloes are eager to turn the page and prove themselves against UCLA after their second-half collapse against Stanford. While the first half against the Cardinal was the latest instance of Colorado flashing their true potential, the second half was another frustrating example of the Buffs’ struggles when it comes to playing a complete game. Now at 4-3 with a five-game gauntlet ahead of them, Colorado heads west to take on their fourth top-25 opponent of the season in Chip Kelly’s Bruins.
CU’s four wins are more than many expected them to get the entire season but inside the Champion Center, the standard has been set much higher. At his weekly Tuesday press conference, Coach Prime spoke about how his team has lived up to expectations more than halfway through his first season as a Power 5 head coach.
“My expectations are lofty so you know darn well how the season is going with my expectations,” said Coach Prime. “You can’t mix my expectations and your expectations because they don’t coincide. I know what I feel like we should be record-wise and I know what we can accomplish. I just want to put it all together in one game and give it to you and display it.”
Colorado shot themselves in the foot multiple times against Stanford and piled up a season-high in penalties (17). After that game, Colorado became the most penalized team in the country averaging 9.86 penalties per game. Coach Prime spoke about those penalties and cited them as the team’s biggest issue against the Cardinal.
“We have addressed all of that, and addressed all of the individuals that are consistently being penalized and how we’re going to improve that here on,” said Coach Prime. “We’ve addressed it tremendously, and you should see a tremendous improvement this Saturday.”
Running the ball has been a challenge for the Buffs all season and has limited their ability to sustain drives, convert in short yardage and give consistent relief to their defense. As it currently stands, CU is only averaging 86.3 rushing yards per game and is on pace for its worst rushing yards per game in a season since 1984 (59.7). Colorado could be in for another tough day running the football on Saturday as UCLA is currently 2nd in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (68.6). UCLA has proven they have the best defense in the Pac-12 and are loaded with talent in the front seven led by highly touted NFL Draft prospect, Laiatu Latu.
On the offensive side of the ball, UCLA head coach Chip Kelly has yet to name a starter for Saturday’s game. 2021 starter, Ethan Garbers, got the start for the Bruins last week against Stanford but 2023 five-star freshman Dante Moore was the man under center for a drive in the middle of the fourth quarter. Moore has flashed at times but has yet to take the reigns for coach Kelly and the Bruins as the program’s starting quarterback of the future. Coach Prime was asked about having to prepare for two quarterbacks and answered by directing the focus back to UCLA’s head coach.
“With them, you prepare more for their coach,” said Coach Prime. “Their coach is phenomenal. I am a Chip Kelly fan, I really am. I love what he has brought to college football. I love what he’s brought to football, period. I met him, I took Shedeur on a visit there, a camp. I remember having dialogue with Coach Kelly. I respect the heck out of him.”
Coach Prime and the Colorado coaching staff shook up the defense’s starting lineup in a major way last week by moving Trevor Woods from safety to linebacker. Linebackers coach Andre Hart has had multiple different starters this season on the second level of Colorado’s defense. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Woods is slightly undersized for the position but will be able to use his speed and knack for big hits in an attempt to improve CU’s team speed and ability to defend the run.
“You have to find a way to utilize him to the best of his ability and keep him at the place where he can be a force,” said Coach Prime. “He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s physical, he’s an asset. So we got to find a way to keep him on the field and that was one of the ways we found to keep him on the field. He’s not only doing his job, he’s helping other guys do theirs by keeping them straight, making sure they know what they’re doing.”
The status of former Texas and Tennessee linebacker Juwan Mitchell remains unclear after the grad transfer was dressed but did not play against Arizona State three weeks ago. Mitchell has not seen the field since despite being CU’s leading tackler ahead of that ASU game.
“He has to get it together off the field, that’s it,” said Coach Prime.
Colorado’s defense will have their hands full attempting to contain Chip Kelly’s offense and the multiple ways they can attack a defense. The Bruins are one of the best teams in the country at running the ball and are currently the ninth-best team in the country when it comes to the ground game (215 ypg). Bruins running backs Carson Steele and TJ Harden have proved themselves to be one of, if not the most punishing and physical ground attacks in the nation.
At the beginning of the season, Colorado’s defense was one of the best defenses in the country in terms of generating turnovers. However, over the last three games, the Buffs have only been able to force one turnover. Despite their offensive efficiency, UCLA is one of the most turnover-prone teams in the country and could provide a great opportunity for CU to get back on track in that department.
Shedeur Sanders still leads one of the nation’s most potent passing attacks but will have his hands full with a UCLA front that is tied for the eighth-best pass-rushing attack in the country (3.43 sacks per game). The Buffs have their work cut out for them in multiple areas heading into this weekend’s game but tight ends coach Tim Brewster has the utmost faith in Coach Prime preparing the team on a week-to-week basis.
“There’s nobody in the country who does a better job of spelling out what it’s going to take to win each and every game than Coach Prime does,” said Coach Brewster. “He does an amazing job of educating our players on the key components that are going to allow us to win football games.”
It doesn’t get any easier for the Buffs as we approach the end of the 2023 season but their ceiling and true potential has been on display multiple times this year. CU enters Saturday’s game as 17-point underdogs against the Bruins and will have to shock the nation and steal multiple wins to reach bowl eligibility in Coach Prime’s first season at the helm.