For seemingly the thousandth time, it looked like the University of Colorado football team was going to get a Pac-12 win. The Buffs fought hard all game, and just when it seemed like they were finally going to be rewarded, they let the win slip through their fingers, falling 38-31. CU did so many things well, but the few things it didn’t do are what killed Colorado in the end. The best representation of this is the Buffs’ defense. It looked great much of the game but it ultimately failed when the team gave up big plays.
It began on the second play of the game. Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon hit wide receiver Nate Philips for 44 yards. Just when Buffs fans started thinking it was going to be a long night the defense stepped up and held the Wildcats to a field goal. Buff fans had just enough time for a sigh of relief before Arizona running back Jared Baker shot up the middle for a 72-yard touchdown on the second play of the next drive. True to form, the Buffs gave up a 34-yard pass on the next drive that set up another Arizona touchdown.
While big plays dominated the first quarter, everything changed in the second and third. During those two quarters CU gave up no points. It was one of the most impressive defensive stretches the defense has had since entering the Pac-12.
CU even managed to survive a Shay Fields fumble that gave Arizona the ball on the 22-yard line. Colorado gave up just four yards and got a little lucky when Arizona missed a field goal ending the possession.
During those two quarters the Buffs excelled in two areas that are normally its Achilles heel: stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. Colorado had four sacks during that span, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. CU’s pressure forced Solomon to throw the ball away multiple times. The other thing Colorado’s pressure did was made Solomon uncomfortable in the pocket. Solomon missed several throws that he normally would have made. The failure today was probably due to his scrambling or because he had a CU defender in his face.
The run defense played a huge role as well. Runs the Wildcats were breaking for big gains in the first quarter turned into just two or three yard rushes. Senior defensive lineman Justin Solis attributed these two things to Colorado’s success.
“We did a pretty good job in the first half and in the third quarter shutting down their run game,” Solis said. “We were getting some good pressured on their quarterback too.”
As good as the Buffs were in those two quarters, the defense fell apart in the fourth. CU’s knack for giving up big plays came back to bite them. Arizona subbed out Solomon for the more mobile Jerrard Randall. While Colorado players say they were prepared for Randall, the switch seemed to throw them off.
Arizona opened the fourth quarter with another long Baker touchdown run, this one for 45 yards. On its next possession, Randall hit Baker in the flat and he took off for a 23-yard touchdown. This play served as a perfect example for why the Buffs continue to give up big plays.
“It was just a defensive breakdown, guys losing who they had because of all the mess and everything that was going on,” Freshman linebacker Rick Gamboa said.
When asked, head coach Mike MacIntyre echoed Gamboa’s words.
“We had a really good call for that [play] and one of our kids just screwed it up,” MacIntyre said.
When talking about another big play MacItnyre said, “The young man that had [Baker] didn’t take him.”
It’s things like this that kill CU’s defense. There’s no doubt this defense has the potential to be good, maybe even great. It showed that potential Saturday night in the second and third quarters. But that potential is worthless if Colorado continues to beat itself. Whether it’s a missed assignment, not executing a tackle or any other silly miscue, these plays are the ones that are holding CU back. While they are just little mistakes, those little mistakes turn into big plays.
It’s fair to say that without these miscues many of those heartbreaking losses, including Saturday’s, could’ve turned into wins.
Contact CU Independent Football Writer Sean Kelly at Sean.email@example.com