UCLA (0-0) at Colorado (0-0)
Saturday, 4 p.m. PST, Folsom Field, Boulder, Colo. TV: ESPN2. Radio: 570.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson vs. the Colorado secondary. He’s already displayed the arm strength, ability to make difficult throws and supersonic running speed to become a top-tier Pac-12 quarterback. Now Thompson-Robinson must do the little things better. Make accurate short passes while on the run. Hold onto the football. Don’t throw into a crowd. He’ll face a Buffaloes secondary that returns two starters from the unit that allowed 288.3 passing yards per game last season, ranking No. 123 nationally.
UCLA (405.7 ypg, 26.7 ppg in 2019): Running back Josh Kelley’s departure for the Chargers leaves huge cleats to fill for the Bruins. Graduate transfer Brittain Brown and redshirt senior Demetric Felton Jr. will probably get the bulk of the carries unless a surprise emerges from a deep pool of backups.
Colorado (388.5 ypg, 23.5 ppg in 2019): The Buffaloes are following one of the most stable periods at quarterback in program history with one of the most uncertain. Departed quarterback Steven Montez, whose 1,654 plays from scrimmage ranked No. 2 all-time at Colorado, gives way to Sam Noyer, a converted safety who had thrown 41 passes as a backup with the Buffaloes before moving to defense during the 2019 season.
UCLA (456.3 ypg, 34.8 ppg in 2019): The biggest offseason story line for the Bruins — aside from the once-a-century pandemic — was the installation of a 4-2-5 defense. The new scheme was made possible by the arrival of defensive backs coach Brian Norwood, who helped establish a similar scheme at Navy in 2019 that resulted in one of the nation’s top defenses.
Colorado (441.9 ypg, 31.8 ppg in 2019): With nine players returning who made at least one start last season, Colorado’s defense could be the strength of a rebuilding team. Linebacker Nate Landman logged 137 tackles — one more than the next two players combined — in 2019 and defensive end Mustafa Johnson caused plenty of disruption, making five tackles for loss despite sitting out three games with an ankle injury.
The teams’ kicking games will provide a jarring contrast. UCLA’s Nicholas Barr-Mira and Luke Akers, both freshmen, were contending for the kicking and punting jobs as of midweek. Colorado kicker James Stefanou, 33, is the oldest player in college football.
This will be Colorado’s latest season opener since Nov. 16, 1918, when an influenza pandemic led to a delayed start and the Buffaloes lost at home to Colorado State Teachers College (now Northern Colorado), 9-0. UCLA started playing football the next year.
UCLA defensive lineman Martin Andrus Jr. and linebacker Sitiveni Kaufusi will miss the game with injuries. … Colorado running back Alex Fontenot, the Buffaloes’ leading rusher last season, will not play because of an injury. Wide receiver La’Vontae Shenault will miss the game after being suspended for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a license violation and driving without headlights at night.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.