The tenth-coldest game in Colorado Buffaloes football history had an even colder finish for the Buffs as they fell to the Utah Utes 38-21 on Saturday. With CU holding out hope for a spot in the Pac-12 title game, the Utes cranked out 432 offensive yards on the icy tundra of Folsom Field.
The Buffs needed to win and USC to lose in order to reach the Pac-12 title game. Instead, CU dropped to 4-1 and will wait for the Pac-12’s announcement of a week seven matchup. Colorado’s promising first half was derailed by injuries, untimely penalties and dropped passes en route to allowing 28 unanswered points.
Utah set the tone early, driving 60 yards from its own 40-yard line in under three minutes, to take a 7-0 lead. CU’s defense settled in soon after, forcing three consecutive punts on drives that all began past the Utes’ 40-yard line. Senior safety Derrion Rakestraw didn’t let Utah’s consistently solid field position bring the Buffs D down.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but it doesn’t change our goal,” Rakestraw said. “We want to force three and outs, and we want to hold teams to no points. We come out with the same mindset no matter where the ball is on the field. We knew that we had to get stops, and that’s what we were trying to do.”
Senior quarterback Sam Noyer fared well in the first quarter passing for 110 yards, but the Buffs’ offense stalled twice and Noyer relinquished a fumble to end a promising drive. On the last play of the first quarter, Noyer found freshman wide receiver La’Vontae Shenault on a 41-yard pass and later gave sophomore wide receiver Maurice Bell his first collegiate TD on a 21-yard strike.
“It’s been a long time coming, I’ve been waiting for that for a minute,” Bell said. “It was just a great play call honestly, it was a great read by the quarterback and a great throw. At the end of the day, I just had to make the play when it came.”
Colorado’s momentum continued when junior cornerback Mekhi Blackmon picked off Utah quarterback Jake Bentley on CU’s 17-yard line. As CU struggled to pin Utah deep in its own territory, the Buffs’ defense allowed a moderate 171 yards in the first half.
Late in the second quarter, senior inside linebacker Nate Landman injured his lower right leg on a non-contact play. Junior Jonathan Van Diest replaced Landman, who is likely out for the season according to head coach Karl Dorrell.
“Any one of our brothers, when they go down, it hurts us,” Rice said. “Everyone you see in the locker room was in shock. It’s just the same for everybody, we treat everybody the same. Nate is a big part of our defense but at the same time, we treat him like every other person is just another brother of ours. We’re just sad to see him go down.”
Without the Buffs’ defensive leader, junior outside linebacker Carson Wells stepped up with a big sack on third down to force a punt. Freshman wide receiver Brenden Rice received the punt and returned it 81-yards for a Colorado touchdown.
Turnovers hurt the Buffs on Saturday and with 13 seconds left in the half, sophomore running back Jarek Broussard coughed up CU’s second fumble. Utah later kicked a field and headed into the locker room down 14-10.
Rice resurfaced on the first play of the third quarter, receiving a screen pass and help from the blocking abilities of sophomore wide receiver Dimitri Stanley to score a 61-yard TD.
“I was ecstatic,” Rice said. “Honestly, I just wanted to be able to contribute to the program, but at the same time, we knew that the game wasn’t over, and we knew that it was going to be a 60-minute football game. In that case, I got the touchdown and we had to move to the next play.”
Unfortunately for Colorado, its 21-10 lead was short-lived. Utah running back Ty Jordan and wide receiver Britain Covey each scored on Utah’s next two drives. Without Landman, the Buffs’ D surrendered 145 rushing yards in the second half, over three times the amount before Landman left. Along with Wells, senior Akil Jones kept the linebacker group sturdy, leading the defense with 10 tackles. Jones, Dorrell, Rakestraw and Blackmon all said it will be a “next man up” mentality for the Buffs moving forward. While there weren’t any excuses for the icy conditions, successful tackling came at a premium for the Buffs.
“There’s no excuse for missed tackles, we’ve got to make them,” Rakestraw said. “That’s all it comes down to.”
Utah tacked on a 43-yard field goal and led the Buffs 28-21 late in the game. On the ensuing drive, Noyer exited for a series after getting hit on his shoulder and CU later turned the ball over on downs. The Buffs’ couldn’t get much going on the ground and Broussard snapped his four-game streak of 100-plus yard performances. Leaving out Rice’s run, Noyer threw for just 33 yards in the second half.
Utah regained possession and on its first play, Jordan broke free for a 66-yard touchdown to all but end things.
“In the locker room, there is disappointment but there is also understanding of why they are disappointed,” Dorrell said. “They knew where the issues were as to why we lost today. That tells you a lot about their growth as a team when they can basically say, ‘Coach, this was our problem today.’ The mindset now is to get those things fixed to get ready for next week.”
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