Over the weekend, the Buffs took down the California Golden Bears 44-28. They are now one win away from clinching bowl eligibility for the second year in a row.
The big story of the game was sophomore quarterback Steven Montez delivering his best performance of the season.
While at Washington State Oct. 21, Montez was benched at halftime and freshman Sam Noyer led the offense for the rest of the game, albeit with about as much success as Montez experienced.
Lots of questions swirled around Boulder as to who would win the quarterback job on Homecoming Saturday, Oct. 28, against Cal, but Montez was given the reigns — and he did more than thrive.
“Both [Montez and Noyer] were helping each other,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “Both of them were focused, both of them were competing, nobody was pouting or hanging their head and so I knew they were going to get better. [Montez] made a big jump today.”
Montez and the Buffs got off to a hot start as the El Paso, Texas, native rifled a 22-yard touchdown to senior wideout Bryce Bobo. It was the beginning of a totally different script from the week before.
“His performance was key. The offense really needed that jumpstart,” senior wide receiver Shay Fields, Jr. said. “That was a bad game we played [at Wazzu] and we came back and performed well today. I think we needed that jumpstart.”
Montez barely showed a blemish. He passed for 347 yards and three touchdowns with a 77 percent completion rate on Saturday.
Evidently, the events of CU’s ugly 28-0 loss at Washington State put a fire in Montez’s belly.
“It fired me up,” Montez said. “I was really upset all week and just wanted to get back to the drawing board because I felt that I had let my team down against Washington State. I felt like I needed to get back in there and make a statement.”
Throughout the game, Montez didn’t let his foot off the gas pedal. Although senior tailback Phillip Lindsay once again proved critical to Colorado’s offense, Montez was a major catalyst in moving the team down the field.
Montez led the team on consecutive touchdown drives, and he flexed his throwing arm on both of them. He hit senior wideout Laviska Shenault, Jr. with a perfectly placed 58-yard bomb that put the Buffs at Cal’s 7-yard line. Montez eventually found the endzone on a rushing touchdown.
Colorado’s next drive after that proved that Montez was really in the zone. Early in the second quarter, on first down, he completed a deep shot to Fields that wound up being a 65-yard score.
Making big plays on Saturday came as a relief, especially after CU’s recent offensive woes verse the Cougars.
“’It’s about time we start hitting them’ is what I told coach Chiaverini on the sideline,” Montez said. “This week in practice we really kinda focused on it … we need to be able to throw the deep ball consistently. We were hitting it in practice very well and it carried into the game.”
The big gains to Fields and Shenault weren’t isolated incidents. Montez was able to hit five different receivers for gains of 20 or more yards in the game.
“The events of last week helped him,” MacIntyre said. “I’m 100 percent sure that’s the first time he’s ever been benched in his entire career. How he handled that showed a lot of his character and work ethic. He’s a very confident young man, but to me, that showed to me that he wasn’t cocky.”
After being benched, Montez was able to bounce back in the way that he did last weekend. Needless to say, continued high-intensity play from their quarterback will be key for the Buffs as the team fights to earn an invitation to a bowl.
“If all that wouldn’t have happened, who knows,” Montez said. “It was a blessing for sure in that it just helped me refocus. I felt like I had a huge chip on my shoulder and I had to prove to everybody why I should be out there and I think I did that today.”
The Buffaloes will travel to Tempe, Arizona, this week to face the Arizona State Sun Devils. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4.
Contact CU Independent sports staff writer Drew Sharek at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @drew_sharek