Buffs Tag Bruins, Survive and Advance

Colorado’s defense fought through the slop and the Buffaloes’ special teams unit picked up their offense when they needed it most to best the UCLA Bruins 20-10.

The latest edition of Thursday night football at Folsom Field more closely resembled an infamous AFC South matchup rather than that of the Pac-12 variety. Which, considering both teams were coming off of bye weeks, didn’t make much sense. The Buffs and the Bruins managed to combine for a whopping 8 turnovers, 25 penalties, and 224 penalty yards on the night.

It certainly wasn’t a game to remember but the victory keeps the Buffaloes on track in their quest to complete a season to remember.

“We’re always thinking Pac-12 champs, that was what we were saying before the season even started,” said junior receiver Bryce Bobo. “We just have to come out and execute at a higher level than we did tonight.”

The level that the Buffs did execute at this evening was uneven and undisciplined. Altogether it was uncharacteristic performance from this group, who’ve largely played smart, clean football to this point.

“We still won, but when you’re getting up there with the better teams at the end that stuff is gonna get you beat,” said tailback Phillip Lindsay. “We gotta continue to get through this and we have to execute. Special teams came up big but we can’t have the penalties. If we don’t execute we’re not gonna win, so we need to play Colorado football.”

Colorado’s defense did continue to play Colorado football, further asserting itself as one of the best units in the country, earning stop after stop and keeping their offense afloat through a turbulent first half. The Bruins, a team normally able to create explosive plays, were held to just 210 total yards and only 25 net yards rushing.

Most impressively, Jim Leavitt’s unit revealed its depth and tenacity by withstanding the loss of their best pass-rusher, Jimmie Gilbert, on the game’s third possession. While the pressure wasn’t the same, CU did enough to hassle UCLA quarterback Mike Fafaul and contain the Bruin offense.

“Jimmie’s ejection didn’t really spark us. It was just that the next person had to step up and everyone said ‘you do you’,” said sophomore linebacker NJ Falo, who himself contributed a roughing the passer penalty that the Buffs, as they did all night, overcame.

“The penalties were mistakes on us as players, I had two of them myself,” continued Falo. “They’re penalties that we need to fix if we want to be Pac-12 champions. That’s the goal this year and everyone knows that and that’s not the way a championship team plays.”

In the largest revelation of the night, Colorado’s special teams provided the majority of the scoring. The game-clinching play came on Isaiah Oliver’s scintillating 68-yard punt return touchdown late in the 4th quarter and just as importantly, Chris Graham connected on two of three field goals and made both extra point attempts.

Throughout the season, Colorado’s been good enough in two phases to cover up for the third. Tonight the usual roles were reversed.

“We just didn’t play well as an offense today,” said freshman quarterback Steven Montez, who came in late in the first half after Sefo Liufau endured a hard hit within a collapsed pocket. “Thankfully our defense is a bunch of dogs and picked us up and pretty much won us the game. And Isaiah Oliver has a phenomenal punt return.”

While the offense did manage to outgain UCLA, that’s more a testament to the Buffalo defense. The usually prolific unit turned in a second consecutive lackluster performance, wasting opportunities and enduring self-inflicted wounds.

Liufau came back to start the second half and, while his final numbers were turnover-riddled and unremarkable, was able to make one of the most impressive plays of his career.

With the game tied in the 3rd quarter and the Buffs driving, Liufau evaded pressure and rolled to his right while being grabbed by two UCLA defenders. With those defenders hanging off of him, Liufau managed to continue scrambling, grab his facemask, lobby the official for a facemask penalty, and then calmly look up field and find a waiting Lindsay for a first down.

“He’s a warrior. That’s exactly how I describe him,” said Montez. “He takes a shot, gets up, and just brushes it off. I know he’s hurting and he doesn’t let anybody see it. He’s just a warrior.”

At the end of the night, Colorado did what good teams do and emerged with a win when they weren’t at their best. They remain alone in first place in the Pac-12 South with everything left to play for. The program is back to the point where an ugly win serves as a wake up call of sorts.

“I want them to celebrate a win. I was excited we won, but at the same time I had to temper myself,” said head coach Mike MacIntyre. “We can’t have 12 penalties, that’s not right.”

The staff and the team know what it’s going to take to achieve their stated goal over the next three weeks. All that remains is to execute.

“They realize where they’re headed and where we’re going,” said head coach Mike MacIntyre. “We had the gold games listed for November. We won one of them and we have three more. We’ve got to go play Arizona who’s beaten us the last three years also. Everybody we’re beating has beaten us three years in a row. This is new for us but our guys will be ready to go next week.”

Notes:

- The last time CU and its opponent both had 10 or more penalties in a game was on Oct. 1, 2011 against Washington State. The Buffs had 10 for 90 yards and the Cougars earned 10 for 125 yards. That was also Colorado’s first Pac-12 league game.

- Sefo Liufau tied the school record for most starts at the quarterback position with 35, pulling even with Darian Hagan.

- CB Isaiah Oliver’s punt returns of 42 and 68 yards were the longest since Nelson Spruce’s 45-yard return against USC last year. The 68-yard touchdown was the first punt returned for a touchdown since Stephone Robinson did so in 2005 against Kansas. He’s the first Buff to have over 100 yards in punt returns in a game since Josh Smith (4-108) against Eastern Washington in 2008. His 124 total punt return yards were the most since Roman Holowell’s 148 against Fresno State in 2001.

- Tailback Phillip Lindsay set a school record for most receptions by a running back in game with 11. The previous mark was 9 set by Lawrence Vickers against Oklahoma State in Boulder in 2004.

- CU’s last winning score of 20-10 came 30 years ago last week, on October 25th, 1986 over the 3rd-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in Boulder.


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