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Buffs Fall Just Short In Upset Bid As A&M Escapes With Win

Sep 11, 2021

DENVER — Colorado's defense played lights out all afternoon, but the Buffaloes' bid for an upset of No. 5 Texas A&M fell just short Saturday as the Aggies used a fourth-quarter touchdown to escape Empower Field with a 10-7 win.

Karl Dorrell's Buffs dropped to 1-1 with the loss while A&M improved to 2-0.

The Buffaloes scored first, putting a touchdown on the board in the first quarter, but they never found the end zone again. 

Both teams missed field goals in the first half. CU also came up short on a fourth-and-1 attempt at the Texas A&M 5-yard line in the second quarter while the Aggies lost a fumble in the end zone in the fourth quarter.

The Buffs stymied the high-powered A&M offense for 57 minutes before the Aggies finally put together a 77-yard scoring drive to take their first lead with just 2:41 left in the game. 

Quarterback Brendon Lewis led CU with 76 yards rushing and 89 yards passing. Jarek Broussard carried 12 times for 51 yards and Colorado's only touchdown, while Daniel Arias, Brady Russell and Dimitri Stanley each caught three passes. Linebacker Nate Landman had an outstanding day for the Buffs, finishing with 10 tackles (2 for loss) and two pass breakups. Mekhi Blackmon had a fumble recovery in the end zone for CU.

A&M backup quarterback Zach Calzada, who played most of the game after an early injury to Haynes King, threw for 183 yards and a touchdown. The Buffs held the Aggies' vaunted run game to just 98 yards on 29 carries. 

"There's no reason to hang our head low for anything," CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. "We had a chance to win a significant game, and our locker room is more disappointed in us for not finishing the game. Defensively we played really well, offensively we, had some good moments and struggled at times; we couldn't put anything together in the second half."

But Dorrell also said there were plenty of positives that point to a bright future.

"I'm optimistic," he said. "I told you all along we're a better team than you think. I told you that and I still believe that. We still have a lot to fix. But we were in the game for 95 percent of it. We have to learn from it. We're getting better. We'll get there. I promise you."

HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado's defense had an outstanding first half, dominating the Aggies for most of the first two quarters. CU forced five three-and-out possessions in the first half, plus a missed field goal, and held the Aggies without a first down until their final possession of the half.

Offensively, the Buffs started slowly — Lewis threw an interception on CU's first possession — but then found their ground game to reach the end zone.

After Colorado's defense forced its third straight three-and-out, the Buffs drove 69 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. Lewis carried three times for 48 yards on the march, including a 30-yard gain, before Broussard bulled in from 2 yards out for the score. Cole Becker's PAT gave CU a 7-0 lead with 2:24 still to go in the first quarter.

Colorado's defense continued to hold the Aggies in check. With backup Calzada at the helm after an early injury to King, A&M failed to collect a first down on its first six possessions, a stretch that included a  missed 53-yard field goal try.

The Buffs also missed a chance for three points when a 46-yard Becker field goal try went wide right.

"We had opportunities in the first and second half and we didn't do what we should have done," Dorrell said. "We didn't do well enough offensively. Defensively I thought they played their butts off. We just have to get better. I don't make excuses. For us to be the team we need to be, we must get better in a heartbeat."

Midway through the second quarter, Colorado had another promising possession come up empty.

After driving from their own 29-yard line all the way to the A&M 5, CU had two chances to get 1 yard for a first-and-goal. But two quarterback sneaks were stifled and the Buffs turned the ball over on downs.

"I'll do it again," Dorrell said forcefully. "I encourage that. We're going to be aggressive. We're going to be the type of program that everybody's excited about when it's all said and done … We want to be aggressive, particularly in games like this where we need touchdowns more than field goals. I learned that when I was in the NFL. Field goals, when you're playing against a really good team, don't amount to anything. We needed touchdowns and we knew in this game we needed touchdowns."

After not being able to even produce a first down in the first 28 minutes of the half, A&M's offense finally moved the ball late in the second quarter. The Aggies drove 57 yards into CU territory before finally settling for a 41-yard field goal just before halftime to cut Colorado's lead to 7-3 at intermission.

But after a fairly productive first half, Colorado's offense never found its rhythm in the final two quarters. The Buffs ran just 21 offensive plays after halftime for 54 total yards and produced just two first downs.

The Buffs' defense, though, continued to keep A&M in check. With 8:45 left in the game, Colorado produced what had all the appearance of being a game-clinching moment.

After the Aggies drove from their own 13 to the CU 13, Calzada scrambled from the pocket up the middle on third down and lunged for the end zone, with the official initially signalling a touchdown. But upon review, it was determined that the ball came loose just before he reached the goal line. Officials changed the call to a fumble and CU recovery, protecting the Buffaloes' 7-3 lead.

Linebacker Joshka Gustav forced the fumble, tackling Calzada just before he reached the end zone. Cornerback Mekhi Blackmon came up with the recovery, the second straight week he has produced a turnover in the end zone, following an interception last week vs. Northern Colorado). 

But the Buffs could not move the ball on their ensuing possession, and A&M finally reached the end zone after being held out by the CU defense for more than 57 minutes.

With one more chance to score, the Aggies finally took advantage. A&M started from its own 23 and marched 77 yards in 11 plays, getting an 18-yard TD pass from Calzada to running back Isaiah Spiller for the score with just 2:41 left in the game.

"That was tough," said CU's Russell. "It was tough because our defense went out there and played so hard. We put them in so many bad positions as an offense."

CU then couldn't move the ball on its next possession and turned the ball over on downs. A&M then ran out the clock to escape with the win.

TURNING POINT: After the Buffs recovered the A&M fumble in the end zone and started from the 35-yard line because of a penalty, it was the perfect opportunity for a game-clinching scoring drive. Instead, A&M's defense held and gave its offense one more opportunity, which was just enough for the Aggies to escape Colorado with the win.

KEY STATISTICS: CU's offense ran just 21 plays in the second half for 54 yards … The Buffs managed just two first downs in the second half … CU was just 4-for-14 on third-down conversion attempts. A&M was just 8-for-20, but 7-for-12 in the second half. 

WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs just missed a chance for their first win over a top 5 team since 2007 — but they won't have long to bemoan the lost opportunity as they have a critical game next Saturday vs. Minnesota in their non-conference finale.

NEXT UP: The Buffs return to Folsom Field next Saturday for an 11 a.m. matchup with Big Ten foe Minnesota (Pac-12 Networks).