Brooks: Turnovers Dash Buffs’ Hopes For Upset In Desert
TUCSON – Four turnovers cost the Colorado Buffaloes more points than they could make up here Saturday night against No. 21 Arizona, once again leading to frustration and another Pac-12 Conference loss.
The Wildcats converted two Sefo Liufau interceptions and his two first-half fumbles into 28 points, more than enough to propel them to a 38-20 victory at Arizona Stadium. Liufau was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter after throwing his second pick and replaced by Jordan Gehrke for the Buffs’ final two series.
But the forced QB change didn’t help. CU trailed 31-20 when Gehrke entered the game and ultimately lost its 23rd consecutive road game to a ranked opponent and its 18th straight against a ranked foe. The Buffs also remained winless (0-7) this season in the Pac-12, slipped to 2-8 overall and lost their 10th consecutive Pac-12 game.
“We can’t expect to win with four turnovers and if we don’t cause any turnovers,” CU coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We did have three third-down stops, which I consider like turnovers. But we’ve got to find a way to keep from shooting ourselves in the foot.”
MacIntyre said the Buffs “played extremely hard, hard and well enough at times to have a chance to win the football game. But the turnovers hurt us again. We’ve got to find a way to fix that and keep on working and keep going.”
After a bye next weekend, the Buffs have only two games remaining. Regardless of their record and the Pac-12 losses that keep piling up, linebacker Kenneth Olgubode said he and his teammates intend to finish strong.
“It’s just a drive, just a grind,” he said. “It’s kind of how you want to be remembered and how you want to keep going every single week. You just fight. That’s what we’re really out here for. There’s no point in coming out here and rolling over. We might as well come out here and fight. We’re out here for a reason – and that’s our reason.”
Arizona (7-2, 4-2) got a command performance from quarterback Anu Solomon, who passed for 211 yards (21-of-38) and four touchdowns. Two of his scoring tosses went to Samajie Grant. Solomon also ran 12 times for 115 yards, giving him 326 yards in total offense.
Liufau left the game having completed 24-of-33 passes for 252 yards and one TD. Redshirt freshman tailback Phillip Lindsay turned in his first 100-yard rushing game, carrying 17 times for 114 yards and gaining some redemption after losing two fumbles last weekend.
“I’m not a fumbler,” said Lindsay, who received support from his family, MacIntyre and position coach Klayton Adams in the wake of last weekend. He said he didn’t truly recover from his part in the Washington loss until “about 20 minutes” before Saturday night’s game.
Lindsay echoed Olugbode’s pledge that the Buffs will keep battling. “We’re going to keep going at it like we’re going to a bowl game because we will be in a bowl game next year for sure. We’ve got to keep preparing,” he said.
The Wildcats, who had run for 843 combined yards in their last two wins over the Buffs, trumped Lindsay’s rushing effort. In additon to Solomon's 115 ground yards, Nick Wilson ran for 153 yards on 23 carries as the Wildcats rushed for 288 yards and outgained the Buffs 499-353 in total offense.
In its two losses – 28-26 to USC and 17-7 to UCLA – Arizona has been held to 80 or fewer yards rushing. USC limited the Wildcats to 77 ground yards, UCLA to 80. Prior to the USC game, Arizona was averaging 224 rushing yards a game. But the Buffs entered the game ranked last in the Pac-12 in run defense, allowing 197.3 yards a game, and the Wildcats seized on that in the second half.
The Wildcats led 21-17 at intermission and they could thank the Buffs for three turnovers that contributed to all their points.
CU scored on its first play from scrimmage – a 75-yard pass from Liufau to freshman receiver Shay Fields. Will Oliver’s PAT gave the Buffs a 7-0 lead only 11 seconds into the game. That set a CU record for a game’s quickest score.
The lead held for nearly 14 minutes, or until Liufau was sacked by safety Anthony Lopez, fumbled and lay helpless while Wildcats linebacker Tray’Mayne Bondurant scooped up the ball and ran 22 yards for a TD.
A series later, Liufau was sacked again – this time by linebacker Jared Tevis, who forced and recovered Liufau’s fumble at the CU 31-yard line. On the fifth play thereafter, Solomon hit slot receiver Tyrell Johnson with an 8-yard scoring pass and the Wildcats had their first lead (14-7).
CU answered with a trick play for a tying TD. Liufau handed off to Lindsay, who headed left but flipped the ball back to Spruce as he circled behind. Spruce rolled right, stopped short of the line of scrimmage and floated a 7-yard pass to Liufau in the end zone.
Oliver kicked the extra point to tie the game at 14-14, then added a 19-yard field goal just over 6 minutes later to push the Buffs ahead once more, 17-14. CU survived an official’s review on Arizona’s next series, taking over on downs at its own 41 after a Solomon pass to Cayleb Jones inside the 5 was ruled incomplete.
But the Buffs’ good fortune quickly shifted when Liufau suffered his 13th pick of the season – this one by free safety Jourdan Grandon. With 2:07 left in the half, the Wildcats took over at their own 45 and scored eight plays later on a 1-yard pass from Solomon to receiver David Richards to take their 21-17 lead at the break.
The Buffs’ five first-half penalties for 44 yards were nearly as costly as their three turnovers, and the flags continued to fly as the second half began.
Three pass interference penalties helped move the Wildcats into position for a 37-yard Casey Skrowron field goal that put the Buffs behind 24-17 with less than 3 minutes elapsed in the third quarter.
Midway through the quarter, CU pulled to within 24-20 on a 33-yard Oliver field goal – his ninth straight and one shy of Mason Crosby’s school record for consecutive kicks. But that drive could have been much more for the Buffs. Once again a penalty flag cost them, this one an offensive pass interference call on receiver Bryce Bobo in the end zone.
CU was set to attempt a fourth-and-less-than-one at the Arizona 42, but a false start on guard Gerrad Kough cost the Buffs 4 yards and changed their strategy. A Darragh O’Neill punt ended that possession, and the third quarter ended with the Wildcats holding a 24-20 advantage.
Entering the final quarter, the Buffs had been penalized 10 times for 103 yards. They were flagged 12 times in game two at UMass, and their fourth quarter was penalty free.
Throwing under heavy pressure, Liufau was intercepted for the second time of the night and 14th of the season – corner Devin Holliday picked him – and Solomon needed three plays to cover the 31 yards to the end zone. He hit Grant with a 27-yard TD pass and the Wildcats went comfortably ahead, 31-20, with 9:50 to play.
Solomon and Grant teamed for a 20-yard scoring pass on Arizona’s next offensive series, pushing the Wildcats ahead 38-20 with 5:49 remaining and finishing off the Buffs.
INJURY BUG BITES AGAIN . . . HARD
The Buffs needed to be at their best to face the No. 21 Wildcats, but that appeared difficult given their pregame injury list and its growth as the night unfolded.
CU was without starting safeties Tedric Thompson (concussion) and Chidobe Awuzie, who lacerated a kidney earlier this week in a hard fall in practice and is likely out for the remainder of the season. Awuzie became the fourth safety forced out of the lineup, joining Thompson and Jared Bell and Marcus Mosley, both of whom previously suffered season-ending knee injuries.
Defensive coaches were hopeful that middle linebacker Addison Gillam, playing for the first time in two weeks due to a prolonged bout with bronchitis, could quickly return to form. But Brady Daigh opened at middle linebacker instead of Gillam and came up huge in CU’s first defensive series, making third- and fourth-down tackles inside the Buffs 3-yard line and forcing the Wildcats to turn the ball over on downs. Gillam alternated with Daigh for the remainder of the game.
The offense wasn’t immune to the injury bug either; receiver D.D. Goodson made the trip but did not dress out due to a lingering ankle injury, and the same ailment kept left tackle Jeromy Irwin sidelined. Kaiwi Crabb moved from left guard to left tackle to replace Irwin, and Gerrad Kough subbed for Crabb inside. Later in the quarter, Crabb switched back to guard and Sam Kronshage came on at left tackle. On defense, true freshman Evan White replaced Awuzie, joining Terrell Smith as the CU safeties.
But White left the game with a first-half concussion and was replaced by junior Richard Yates for the second half. Yates saw the first scrimmage action of his career.
“It’s not anything new to us to see Terrell Smith or Richard Yates or whoever back there,” Olugbode said.
During the first half, the Buffs lost leading rusher Michael Adkins II with a sprained knee, leaving ground duties to Tony Jones, Lindsay and Christian Powell. Lindsay turned in the longest run of his career – 36 yards – on the Buffs’ 75-yard scoring drive that tied the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter.
And with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Liufau was hit hard as he threw his second interception. He was taken to the locker room for evaluation. MacIntyre said Liufau was “woozy” and Liufau left the locker room under his own power after the game and said he was “all right.”
With the Buffs off next Saturday, MacIntyre was hopeful his concussed players would have time to meet the protocol for returning.
“We were down to six DBs, maybe five, and the kids kept battling and coming back,” he said. “We need a week off to try to get some guys back, especially some of our concussed guys.”
Saturday night’s attendance was 50,177 . . . . The Buffs have a bye next Saturday, then travel to No. 5 Oregon on Saturday, Nov. 22 . . . . Nelson Spruce’s 28-yard punt return in the first quarter was CU’s longest since a 45-yard return in 2010 by Travon Patterson against USC . . . . Spruce and Liufau tied the Cody Hawkins-Scotty McKnight school record (15) for TD hookups by a duo. But Spruce and Liufau went about it differently; having caught 14 scoring passes from Liufau, Spruce hit Liufau with a 7-yard TD pass in the second quarter . . . . The Buffs sported a new wardrobe Saturday night: black helmets, gold pants and white jerseys. It was the first time ever in that combination . . . . Maybe the black helmets aren’t such a good idea: Before Saturday night, the Buffs were 1-10 when donning them . . . . CU’s 70-man travel roster was composed of 18 seniors, 12 juniors, 19 sophomores, 12 redshirt freshmen and 9 true freshmen.