Colorado had a chance to move to 4-1 on the 2017 season on Saturday night, but costly drops and a puzzling coaching decision from Mike McIntyre cost the Buffaloes big time in a 27-23 loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
A UCLA defense who was allowing over 300 yards rushing per game this year stifled Colorado and Phillip Lindsay in the first half, as the Buffaloes were only able to must 10 points. The Buffaloes started fast, stopping the UCLA offense on 4th down on their first possession, then driving right down the field, helped by a targeting penalty and a beautiful 21-yard touchdown pass by Steven Montez to Phillip Lindsay to give Colorado a 7-0 lead. UCLA would tie the score 7-7 at the end of the first quarter, and after a James Stefanou 33-yard field goal to take a 10-7 lead, UCLA went 75 yards in 8 plays to take a 14-10 lead with 7:36 left in the second quarter. This is where it started to go wrong for the Buffaloes. They went right down the field, and on 3rd and goal, quarterback Steven Montez scrambled, and found wide receiver Juwuan Winfree in traffic in the end zone. Winfree dropped the pass and Colorado had to settle for a field goal attempt. Instead of taking the chip shot field goal, pulling the score to 14-13 and getting the ball back to start the second half, McIntyre made the inexcusable decision to try a fake field goal. It was blown up in the back field, and the Buffaloes lost all possible momentum heading into the locker room for halftime.
In the second half, Colorado went 3 and out on their first possession, and UCLA went right down the field and score, taking a 21-10 lead. The Buffaloes would again answer, scoring a touchdown on a 2-yard run by Phillip Lindsay after a beautiful 4th down conversion on the read option by Montez that fooled everyone in the stadium, including the cameraman. After another Stefanou field goal put CU down by one 21-20, the two teams would trade field goals for the rest of the game. The Buffaloes would drop another touchdown pass in the fourth quarter after another great scramble and throw by Montez, which also resulted in a field goal. Colorado had one last chance down 27-23 with 7 seconds left, but Montez’s heave went out of the end zone and ended the game.
The decision making by the coaching staff, including McIntyre in the postgame saying “I’d do it 100 more times” in regard to the fake field goal is very concerning. The defense, who for the most part played very well, couldn’t get off the field on third down, allowing the Bruins to convert 9/16 on the night. The offensive line, who was supposed to be a strength, couldn’t get any push until the second half, and Montez spent most of the night scrambling around and making plays with his feet because of poor blocking.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, as we’ve seen Montez grow up before our eyes these last couple of weeks. He bounced back nicely from last week’s debacle, and took care of the ball nicely. His ability to move around outside the pocket has become a very big weapon, and something opposing teams will have to game plan for moving forward. The Buffaloes defense was again up to the task, forcing a Rosen interception, and only allowing 95 yards rushing on 35 attempts, or a 2.7 average. They also limited the big plays, and made UCLA’s offense earn everything. Nose tackle Javier Edwards played his best game of the season this far, and if he continues to improve it will help the defense even more. 30 year old freshman kicker James Stefanou from Australia has also done a terrific job, which is a positive for the Buffaloes moving forward.
While Colorado lost on Saturday, fell to 3-2 on the season and 0-2 in the Pac-12, their goals are still attainable. They head back home on Saturday night to face an Arizona Wildcats team that they should beat, as long as they take care of business, correct their mistakes, and make some strides on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.