While playing close simply wasn’t good enough in consecutive road losses versus the Pac-12’s elite, banged-up UCLA isn’t likely to have that problem against an opponent it has dominated in league play.
Colorado is simply trying to end its lengthy conference losing streak.
The 17th-ranked Bruins return home Saturday night looking to get back on track by dealing the Buffaloes their 13th straight Pac-12 loss.
For the second straight contest, UCLA (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) played well before folding against one of the league’s top teams. The Bruins were even with No. 2 Oregon into the second half last Saturday before the hosts scored the last 28 points en route to a 42-14 victory.
They also failed to break through a week earlier after closing within seven points in the fourth quarter at then-No. 13 Stanford. The Cardinal eventually sealed a 24-10 win with a late touchdown.
”We’re not after being close,” coach Jim Mora said. “The heck with being close. Losers can be close. We want to get it. We want to win those games. The coulda, the woulda, the shoulda, we don’t want that. We’re tired of that. It’s time for UCLA to turn the page and be something different and win those games. That’s what it’s time to be.”
The Bruins still have a chance to make a run at their second straight Pac-12 South crown, which would likely earn them a rematch with either the Ducks or Cardinal. They’re in a three-way tie for second in the South, trailing No. 25 Arizona State by one game with a meeting at home upcoming Nov. 23.
First, UCLA is hoping to get a little bit healthier as it tries to beat Colorado (3-4, 0-4) for a third straight time since the Buffaloes joined the Pac-12 in 2011.
Junior linebacker Eric Kendricks has made a team-best 24 consecutive starts, though his status is uncertain because of shoulder, back and ankle injuries.
That’s also the case with left tackle Simon Goines, who suffered a knee injury against the Ducks. As a result, UCLA may have to start freshmen Alex Redmond, Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry up front for the second straight contest.
“In terms of their ability to bend, communicate and move laterally and get down the field and finish, they did a nice job,” Mora said. “So it’s encouraging to see those guys work together.”
The patchwork offensive line could be paving the way for Jordon James, who is participating in workouts after missing three games due to an ankle injury. The junior emerged as the team’s top back by averaging 141.3 yards with four touchdowns in his first three games.
If he’s able to return, James could be in line for a big day against a Colorado team that surrendered 405 rushing yards in a 44-20 loss to Arizona last Saturday. In their four conference losses this season, the Buffaloes have given up 49.8 points and 624.3 yards per game.
The Buffaloes, 3-19 all-time in the Pac-12, have dropped 12 straight in league play by an average of 34.2 points.
”That’s another bowl team we play,” coach Mike MacIntyre said of the Bruins. ”We have to keep getting better as people, getting better as players, getting better as athletes, getting better as coaches. We have to all move it forward. I think we’re all going that way. But I wish it would happen tomorrow, though.”
MacIntyre’s squad figures to have its hands full again since UCLA features dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley, who ranks second on the Bruins with 359 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
After throwing for 293.8 yards per game with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions during a 5-0 start, Hundley looks to regroup after averaging 128.0 yards with two scores and four picks in the two losses.
He completed 25 of 38 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns - and ran in two more scores - to lead the Bruins to a 42-14 victory in Boulder last season.
Colorado freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau has endured his share of ups and downs in his first three career starts. He’s connected on 62.8 percent of his attempts for 579 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Liufau could be without his top playmaker as Paul Richardson recovers from a sprained right ankle he sustained against the Wildcats. The junior receiver has 50 catches for 914 yards - fifth-most in the country - and seven scores.
”Hopefully, he will be able to go,” MacIntyre said. ”We definitely need him.”
The Buffaloes have dropped 20 straight road games against ranked opponents since a 31-17 win at No. 20 UCLA on Sept. 21, 2002.