The 2015 University of Colorado football team is a team that is dedicated to shedding its skin from the 2014 season, and dedicated to getting rid of what head coach Mike MacIntyre calls “bonehead mistakes.”
Despite an improved showing in the Pac-12 opener, the Buffs succumbed to the Oregon Ducks, 41-24, in part due to three costly turnovers and penalties; mistakes deserving of the adjective “bonehead.”
“You’re going to have a hard time winning Pac-12 games if you don’t win the turnover ratio,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We didn’t do as a good of job there tonight as we had been.”
After a series of inclement weather delays the Buffs finally kicked the ball off at 9:09 p.m.in front of 46,422 shivering and wet fans, making this the latest start in the history of Folsom Field.
After allowing a first down on Oregon’s opening drive, the Buffs defense buckled down and forced a three and out. But the Colorado offense slipped up early, as junior quarterback Sefo Liufau threw an interception at the Buffs’ 17-yard line.
Liufau, who was treated for an injury after the game and unavailable for comment, finished with a touchdown, an interception and 231 yards. He completed 25 of 42 attempted passes in the loss.
Luckily, the mistake would not immediately cost them, as Oregon turned the ball right back over. With the defense’s back against its own end zone, junior defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted a pass thrown by Oregon’s Jeff Lockie.
But the teeter totter of turnovers would continue. After Witherspoon’s interception and touchback, the Buffs gave the ball right back to the Ducks when sophomore tailback Phillip Lindsay fumbled the ball in Oregon territory. This time, the Ducks capitalized and scored the game’s opening touchdown.
It was the beginning of a very ugly night for the Buffs’ backfield. Colorado’s rushers accounted for only 77 yards on an eyebrow-raising 36 carries, good for an average of only 2.1 yards per carry.
“I wasn’t satisfied with the running game,” MacIntyre said. “I wasn’t satisfied with the offense all together tonight, our offense is better than that and should be better than that.”
After the Buffs and Ducks exchanged punts, Liufau led the offense down the field on a 11-play, 63-yard drive which was capped by a two-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Christian Powell.
The Buffs took the lead early in the second quarter when Liufau connected with sophomore receiver Shay Fields for an eight-yard touchdown pass to make the score 14-7.
But the Ducks answered back quickly. In only three plays, they stormed 78 yards downfield and tied the game. The teams would exchange field goals and head into halftime tied 17-17.
Keep in mind that since the Buffaloes entered the Pac-12 in 2011, they had trailed Oregon at halftime every year by at least 26 points. Tonight was a different story. The Buffs were competitive and did not trail by more than two possessions for the majority of the game.
“You definitely saw in everybody’s eyes [that the team was capable of winning],” Powell said. “Things just didn’t happen right for us.”
The second half of the game saw the Buffs’ defense slowly start to unravel. To make matters worse, the offense proved incapable of figuring things out after halftime. Cololorado scored only seven points in the final 30 minutes of the game, including zero points in the third quarter.
After beginning the game looking sharp and limiting big plays, the Colorado defense slowly but surely began to crack under the pressure of the Ducks’ offense.
Oregon’s ground attack proved to be the bane of the Colorado defense’s existence. The Ducks ran for 361 yards on 60 carries, averaging exactly six yards per attempt.
The Buffs’ offensive line struggled against the Ducks’ defense. After not allowing a single sack since giving up four in week one vs. Hawaii, the Colorado line allowed five sacks in tonight’s game.
“We didn’t play as well as we can,” junior center Alex Kelley said.
The Buffs struggled immensely on first downs. During one span, from 10:49 in first quarter until the beginning of the third quarter, Colorado handed the ball off on first down for seven consecutive drives. Cumulatively, those rushes accounted for a total of 14 yards.
As a result, the Buffs often faced sizable yardage on second and third downs.
“We need to definitely get a better first punch,” MacIntyre said. “You want to gain four-plus yards on first downs for sure.”
So what are Buffs fans supposed to make of this loss? Perhaps Buffa-lunatics out there can have some solace in the fact that Colorado put up a good fight against a Pac-12 team.
That being said, the Buffs failed tonight. In their first matchup against a “formidable” opponent, Colorado lost. In other words, the Buffaloes answered “Is this football program ready to regain its relevance and start winning conference games again?”
At least for one more week, that answer is no.
The Buffs, now 3-2, play Arizona State Saturday night in Tempe.Contact CU Independent football beat writer Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.