So close, yet so far.
The Colorado Buffaloes were exactly that in their heart-wrenching 14-13 loss on Saturday afternoon against the No. 9 Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.
Colorado led for all but the last 46 seconds of the game and even took a 13-0 lead into the fourth quarter, an astounding accomplishment against a tough, top-tier team like Georgia, especially on the road. In the end, penalties, an inability to convert on third down and a sputtering offense in the second half allowed Georgia to steal the game.
The fourth quarter was one of the wackiest in recent memory, and the events that transpired in that 15 minutes of game clock would decide the outcome. It began with Georgia driving the ball inside the Colorado 20-yard line, thanks to the stellar play of Georgia quarterback Joe Cox, who came into the game late in the third quarter after the Bulldog offense could not find its rhythm with starter Matt Stafford.
Georgia worked itself into a fourth down and 3 situation, and down 13-0 in the fourth quarter, elected to go for it. The Buffs defense held, and UGA turned the ball over on downs. The Colorado offense struggled and went three and out on their ensuing possession, and freshman Matt DiLallo shanked his punt, giving Georgia great field position to start its drive. Three long pass plays later, Cox threw a screen to fullback Brannan Southerland that Southerland took for a 24-yard score to make it 13-7.
On Colorado’s next possession, it seemed to be able to find a little bit of a rhythm on offense until junior running back Hugh Charles fumbled the ball back to Georgia with 6:30 left in the game. All the momentum was in Georgia’s corner at this point, and they marched the ball down the field behind the arm of Cox inside the CU 10-yard line. The Buffs’ defense held, however, and Georgia was forced to go for it on fourth down again. Colorado stopped the Bulldogs again and seemed to have the game in control with only 4:08 remaining.
CU gave the ball right back to the Bulldogs after going three and out again, and Georgia took over at the CU 42-yard line after a good return by UGA. Colorado’s defense, having been on the field for the majority of the second half, was worn down, and Georgia marched down the field. On third and 5 from the Buffs 20, Cox lofted one to the end zone for tight end Martrez Milner for the game clinching touchdown, and Georgia led 14-13 with 46 seconds left. It was Georgia’s first lead of the game.
The Buffs dominated the game in the first half, out-gaining the complacent Bulldogs’ 243 yards to 51 yards. CU gained 13 first downs in the half compared to Georgia’s four. Colorado was hitting on all cylinders with junior quarterback Bernard Jackson playing like a seasoned veteran in only the third start of his career. Jackson had nine carries for 75 yards including the Buffaloes only touchdown, and went 11 for 15 for 102 yards, easily his best performance of the season in the first half.
The defense dominated a dangerous Georgia offense as well, making Georgia freshman quarterback Stafford look like the young player he is, pressuring him and forcing errant throws. CU’s rush defense continued the dominance they have practiced all season, allowing only 25 yards rushing through two quarters against three quality running backs for the Bulldogs.
Going into the locker room, Colorado had a firm grasp on the game with a 10-0 lead that could have been a lot higher if two costly holding penalties had not derailed two great drives, forcing senior place kicker Mason Crosby onto the field. One of Crosby’s field goal tries was blocked, and he made the other, both from 26 yards out. Jackson’s 1-yard quarterback sneak gave CU its 10 points heading into the locker room.
After the halftime break, the Colorado offense looked completely different and it was unable to muster any kind of offensive presence like it did in the first half. Penalties would put the Buffs into long third down situations numerous times in the second half, situations the Buffs were unable to convert. The Buffs were two for 13 on third down on the game.
The game continued to go CU’s way in the third quarter, as Georgia fumbled the ball away on their first two drives of the half, one of which Colorado converted into three points after a 36-yard field goal by Crosby.
Then came the fourth quarter, and it was the one that was dominated by Georgia and the one that decided the game. The 14-13 loss drops Colorado to 0-4 on the season as they head into Big 12 Conference play at Missouri next Saturday.