For four seasons, from 1982-85, Karl Dorrell played receiver at UCLA.
In 1988, he was a graduate assistant with the Bruins, and for five seasons, from 2003-07, he was their head coach.
On Saturday, the 57-year-old head coach of Colorado will make his return to Pasadena when the Buffaloes face the Bruins.
“It’s been a while,” Dorrell said. “It’ll be interesting being on the other sideline since I haven’t been on the other sideline. But I’m looking forward to it.”
Dorrell isn’t likely to spend much time walking down memory lane.
“There’s no sentimental issue (to this trip) other than we have a tremendous challenge in front of us,” he said.
Indeed, there are much bigger concerns for Dorrell than his fond memories of playing and coaching in the Rose Bowl. His Buffs (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) are trying to keep the good vibes going after an emotional, 37-34 double-overtime win against Oregon State last Saturday in Boulder.
“It’s a very important game for us,” Dorrell said of facing the Bruins. “We need to continue to play positive football and get better each and every week so we can get a chance to win games, and this is the next one on our plate.”
Colorado’s hopes for bowl eligibility are slim – the Buffs must win each of the last three games – but there is still plenty of motivation to finish the season strong, and keep those bowl hopes alive as long as possible.
The win against a good Oregon State team last week snapped a two-game losing streak and changed the mood in the locker room.
“To come into this game and slug it out for four quarters, it just shows a lot,” running back Jarek Broussard said after defeating the Beavers. “The past few weeks haven’t been going as well. We came out here and fought hard for four quarters and we pulled it off. It kind of just brings a lot of hope to a lot of guys to just keep believing and keep trusting the process.”
The process hasn’t been easy as Dorrell, in his second season at CU, tries to establish his culture and restore winning football to the program.
The Buffs went through a six-game stretch where the offense struggled mightily to score. During that time, the defense was good at times, not so good at other times. In all, the Buffs went 1-6 during the seven games before last week.
Beating OSU last week was viewed as a significant moment of growth for the Buffs, however.
“I feel like we’ve done a great job maturing,” freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis said. “I feel like we’ve done a great job not letting (the down times) get to us, not giving up each. Every week, we go back to practice and work harder; harder than last week. So I feel like we’ve really matured doing that.“
For CU to carry that momentum forward, it will have to figure out a way to beat a good team on the road. UCLA (5-4, 3-3) has lost two in a row, but is a win away from bowl eligibility for the first time in four years.
“It’s a very good football team,” Dorrell said. “They’re coming off a bye so they’ll be fresh – a lot fresher than we are. So we understand the elements of what we’re walking into.”
That’s why Dorrell isn’t too worried about his own personal ties to the Bruins.
“I think more importantly to me is really having our team continue to strive on what they’ve been doing the last two weeks and keep improving so that we get a chance to win this game,” he said.
Winning this game, or any others on the remaining schedule, can continue the growth process – and maybe even keep postseason hope alive.
“Players kind of understand where we’re heading,” Dorrell said. “We understand the challenges that lie ahead. And we’ve accepted the opportunity that lies before us.”
It’s an opportunity the Buffs didn’t waste any time in attacking. They enjoyed the win against Oregon State, but quickly turned their focus to this game.
“It’s back to work,” receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig said. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board, watch tape and just go into the Rose Bowl and handle business.”
Game at a Glance
Matchup: Colorado Buffaloes (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) at UCLA Bruins (5-4, 3-3)
Kickoff: 7:10 p.m. MST
Where: Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif. Playing surface: Grass.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Odds: UCLA by 17
Series: UCLA leads 11-5