Brooks: Buffs Can’t Keep Pace With No. 17 Bruins
PASADENA, Calif. – Progress is measured in small steps for the retooling Colorado Buffaloes, and they left the Rose Bowl Saturday night believing progress was made.
But the Buffs also headed back to Boulder with a familiar burden – another Pac-12 Conference defeat. What started as a promising night for CU ended in a 45-23 loss to No. 17 UCLA. It was the Buffs’ 13th consecutive defeat by a ranked opponent and their 13th straight loss in Pac-12 play.
Nevertheless, first-year CU coach Mike MacIntyre was as buoyant after a loss as a man in his position could be.
“I saw great fight, great effort,” he said. “I thought our coaching staff had them really prepared. We played a really good football team. I hope one day they’re saying we’re a really good football team that came in here. I did see a lot of improvement.”
Asked if he was happy to see it come against a top 25 team, he answered, “I don’t know if the word’s happy. I think it shows we’re making progress and that gives everybody a little more confidence . . . the players listen to the coaches a little more, the coaches think they’re doing the right thing. It keeps you more and more confident. Those kids and those coaches in that locker room are really down, but they also have a fight and resilience to them and will bounce back.”
The goal now is to keep it tracking upward, and once again the Buffs must do it on the road. CU (3-5, 0-5) travels to Washington next Saturday (6 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Networks) still in pursuit of its first conference win under MacIntyre.
“It’s tough to get there, especially playing in the league we are,” CU freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau said. “Everyone is good, from top to bottom. We’re frustrated that we’re not winning – coaches, fans, team. But our team is showing a lot of heart right now and fighting more, which is good.”
UCLA (6-2, 3-2) returned to the Rose Bowl for the first time in two weeks and rebounded from a two-game losing streak to ranked Pac-12 opponents (No. 12 Stanford, No. 2 Oregon). Trailing 10-7 in the second quarter, the Bruins got a pair of quick touchdowns to go ahead 21-10 and kept the Buffs playing from behind the rest of the night. UCLA took a 7-2 lead in the series, winning for the third time since CU joined the Pac-12 in 2011.
CU’s leading rusher, freshman Michael Adkins II, was held out Saturday after suffering a concussion in last weekend’s loss to Arizona. However, Paul Richardson – the Buffs’ leading receiver who sprained an ankle against the Wildcats – was able to play.
Richardson made seven catches for 70 yards. In Adkins’ absence, sophomore Christian Powell carried 22 times for 97 yards. CU placement specialist Will Oliver hit three of his career-high five field goal attempts, uncharacteristically missing a pair of 45-yarders. Entering Saturday, he was three-for-three from 40-49 yards this season.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley accounted for four touchdowns, completing 19 of 24 passes for 273 yards and two scores, and running 11 times for 72 yards and another pair of TDs.”
“He’s a great player – one of the best I’ve ever played against,” CU senior safety Parker Orms said.
Liufau, making his first Pac-12 road start, finished 25-of-36 passing for 247 yards and one TD. “I thought our quarterback, the way he competes, the way he fights, the way he keeps standing in there, I think that gives our whole team a lot of hope – I really do,” MacIntyre said.
The Buffs were dominant in the first quarter – no misprint, dominant – but still trailed 7-3 at quarter’s end. CU forced UCLA into three-and-outs on its first two possessions and held the ball for 11:33 to UCLA’s 3:27.
Before the Bruins’ final first-quarter possession, the Buffs had outgained them 111-17 in total offense and had six first downs to none for the Rose Bowl hosts. CU also had a 3-0 lead, courtesy of Oliver’s 23-yard field goal, which followed a wide right 45-yard attempt on the Buffs’ first possession and marked Oliver’s first miss of the season from that distance.
But it took UCLA two plays – one of them a run for minus-one yard – to take the lead. Following that loss of a yard on first down, Hundley teamed with receiver Devin Fuller for a 75-yard TD pass that CU safety Jered Bell initially appeared to have covered.
He didn’t. And after Fuller passed him by a step, Bell couldn’t recover. Ka’imi Fairbairn’s PAT put UCLA ahead 7-3 with 19 seconds remaining in as a good a first quarter as CU had played in five Pac-12 games this season.
The Buffs’ effort spilled into the second quarter; Liufau drove them 73 yards in 10, hitting Richardson with a 7-yard scoring pass. Oliver’s extra point moved CU back in front 10-7 with 11:04 left before the half.
If disbelieving Buffs fans were waiting for the dream to disintegrate, it happened quickly. In the next 4:27, the Bruins scored twice to take a 21-10 lead. The first TD followed a 61-yard, eight-play drive and was scored by Hundley on an 11-yard run through the middle of the CU defense. UCLA went back in front 14-10 after Fairbairn’s PAT.
On the ensuing kickoff, Buffs returner Ryan Severson’s fumble was recovered by Bruins freshman linebacker Jayon Brown at the CU 14. Three plays later, Hundley and Fuller hooked up again, this time for a 6-yard score. With Fairbairn’s extra point, the Bruins took a deep breath and were up 21-10.
“That hurt,” MacIntyre said of UCLA’s pair of quick scores. “You can’t be perfect, but we have to be close to perfect right now. But you don’t put pressure on the kids to be perfect . . .”
CU had 6:20 left before intermission to answer, and Oliver did with his second field goal of the half – a 47-yarder that pulled the Buffs to within eight (21-13). The next big question: Could CU’s defense keep UCLA from scoring again in the half’s final 1:07?
Yes . . . With the help of a holding call on the Bruins in the last 15 seconds, the Buffs went to their locker room down by only eight points after Fairbairn’s 45-yard field goal attempt drifted wide left. The Buff finished the half with 221 yards of total offense to the Bruins’ 215 and 12 first downs to UCLA’s eight.
With the exception of CU’s fumbled kickoff and UCLA’s swift score after, the first half was at least a draw. And with a complete second half, could the Buffs’ first Pac-12 win of the MacIntyre Era be in sight?
If that was to happen, CU needed a good second-half start – and that didn’t happen. Hundley took the Bruins 70 yards in 12 plays, scoring the TD on a 1-yard run two plays after he had run 14 yards – again up the middle – to convert a third-and-10 at the CU 19.
“We didn’t stop them at the beginning of the second half,” MacIntyre said. “And (Hundley) made a big third down play. We had him sacked another time and he got away . . . they say he’ll be one of the first three (draft) picks at quarterback, and he looks like it.”
After Fairbairn’s PAT, UCLA’s advantage returned to 15 points (28-13). CU had another mountain to climb, and Liufau pointed the Buffs in the right direction, marching them to the UCLA 28-yard line before the drive stalled. Oliver came on for a 45-yard field attempt, but this one followed the path of his first-quarter try from the same distance – wide right.
The score remained 28-13, but not for long. After a 24-yard Darragh O’Neill punt that gave them possession at the Buffs’ 48-yard line, the Bruins went that distance in five plays, with Damien Thigpen running 5 yards untouched to score. Fairbairn kicked the extra point, the Bruins felt comfortable at 35-13 and if the Buffs felt this one sliding toward the ‘L’ column it wasn’t readily apparent.
CU opened the fourth quarter by completing a 75-yard, 13-play march, capped by Tony Jones’ 2-yard dive. The Buffs pulled back to within 15 points (35-20) after Oliver’s PAT with 12:20 to play. A defensive stop might have made things even more interesting, but the CU defense couldn’t provide it.
Hundley positioned Fairbairn for a 45-yard field goal that gave the Bruins their largest lead – 38-20 – with 9:12 remaining. Just over 3 minutes later, the Buffs countered with a 37-yard Oliver field goal to make it 38-23 – but time and the Bruins were about to close this one out.
After CU was unsuccessful on an on-sides kick attempt, UCLA benefitted from a short field (47 yards) and scored its final touchdown on an 8-yard Hundley-to-Fuller lateral.
“I felt like if we could have gotten that on-sides kick it was going to be really exciting and fun,” MacIntyre said.
But when Fairbairn kicked the night’s final point afte, the Bruins were up 45-23 and could begin celebrating their return to the Rose Bowl.
“Our goal was to get to the second half with it being a football game,” MacIntyre said. “It was really the first time we’ve done that. Basically we did it at Oregon State then we screwed it up on kickoff returns. I felt like we did (Saturday) and we kept battling.”