It was right there. Colorado had to jump out fast to have any chance at beating Michigan, and they did just that. The Buffaloes came out and punched the Wolverines right in the mouth, and took a 21-7 lead after the first quarter. From that point on, it completely unraveled for Colorado, and the issues rested squarely on the shoulders of the special teams.
A blocked punt for a touchdown, a punt that bounced off the offensive line, a punt return given up for a touchdown, and a missed field goal highlighted the miscues by the Buffaloes special teams unit.
Coach Mike McIntyre made the decision in the offseason to not hire a special teams coach, and it cost him dearly at the Big House on Saturday. Colorado continually punted and kicked the ball right at Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, who was far and away the best player on the field all day. It was announced today that Peppers won special teams Player of the Week and defensive Player of the Week in the Big 10 for his performance.
The turning point in the game came when the Buffaloes senior QB Sefo Lirufau injured his ankle on a designed running play in the third quarter. He stayed on the field on one leg, and in Herculean fashion threw a 70 yard touchdown to Shay Fields to give Colorado their final lead of the game 28-24. Liufau couldn’t continue, and freshman Steven Montez couldn’t muster anything the rest of the game. Michigan pulled away in the fourth quarter, and won 45-28. Colorado also lost starting linebacker Derek McCartney to a torn ACL and kicker Diego Gonzalez to a torn Achilles.
Colorado’s task doesn’t get any easier this week, as they head to Autzen Stadium in Eugene to face an Oregon team coming off a loss of their own. Both teams are banged up, but the health of Sefo Liufau is monumental for Colorado. Steven Montez is the quarterback of the future, but he wasn’t ready last week, and would be hard pressed to have success in another hostile environment. Look for newly reinstated Nick Falo to fill the void left by Derek McCartney, and there will be an open competition this week for the kicking duties between Chris Graham and Davis Price.
Colorado showed heart last week, but made too many routine mistakes to pull off an upset against a top five team. The Buffaloes defense is the best in the PAC-12 through three games, and has shown the ability to keep the team in games when the offense isn’t scoring points in droves. If Liufau is able to play, and take care of the ball, Colorado will have a chance to start the PAC-12 schedule off with a win.