Buffs Awaken, Roll Past Arizona
BOULDER — Colorado's defense and special teams provided a scoring boost and the Buffaloes recorded three touchdowns in a five-minute span Saturday, paving the way for a 34-0 win over Arizona at Folsom Field.
Karl Dorrell's Buffs ended a four-game losing streak to improve to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in Pac-12 play. Arizona, which lost its 18th straight game, fell to 0-6, 0-3.
CU led just 6-0 at intermission after getting two first-half field goals. But the Buffs recorded a 36-yard blocked punt scoop-and-score from Trevor Woods midway through the third quarter, then added a 50-yard interception return for a score by defensive end Carson Wells for a 20-0 lead with 5:32 left in the period.
CU's offense then stamped the exclamation point on a 21-point third quarter surge with a perfect 62-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Brendon Lewis to wide receiver Brenden Rice. Colorado's longest scoring play of the year gave the Buffs a 27-0 lead on the back of three touchdowns in a five-minute span — one from special teams, one from the defense and one from the offense.
Lewis then threw an 11-yard scoring pass to Dimitri Stanley in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring and wrap up his best day as a Buff. Lewis finished 12-for-19 for 248 yards and two scores.
CU's defense, meanwhile, was outstanding from beginning to end in recording the first CU shutout of an opponent since a 48-0 win over Nicholls State in 2015. The defense also produced two interceptions, held Arizona to just 3-for-15 on third-down conversion tries, and limited the Wildcats to just 280 yards total offense.
CU also had nine tackles for loss in the game, including four by Wells.
"That was a really good win for us as a program," Dorrell said. "All three phases scored touchdowns … We had two weeks of really doing some things in detail. I just felt like the dam was going to break at some point and it did today."
HOW IT HAPPENED: Defense ruled in the first half, as both teams came up with big red zone stops — but the Buffs had the biggest, when they stopped Arizona four straight times from the Colorado 1-yard line.
CU did manage to put two field goals on the board in the first half for a 6-0 lead at intermission.
But it was the Buffs' third-quarter surge that made the difference, starting with Woods' blocked punt after Colorado's defense forced Arizona's sixth punt of the day. The true freshman broke through the line, got a hand up and blocked Arizona punter Kyle Ostendorp's kick, then scooped up the ball and raced 36 yards to the end zone for CU's first touchdown of the day and a 13-0 lead.
"We didn't know exactly who they were going to block but we knew somebody was going to come free," said Woods, a safety from Katy, Texas. "I actually stumbled for a little bit and I saw a shadow behind me, and got a little worried but, I think it was one of the guys, so after that I knew I was in the clear."
CU's first blocked punt return for a score in 17 years proved to be the lift the entire team needed.
"We needed someone to step up and it was great to see Trevor do that," Dorrell said. "It gave everybody kind of a spark. It was something where we needed a boost and I believe that does things to any team, particularly when we've lost four games in a row and we're trying to figure out a way of winning. You need someone to step up and make a play so everybody responds. It did give us all a little bit of a boost."
Indeed, Colorado's defense then got in on the scoring action on UA's next possession. Wells dropped back into coverage on Arizona tight end Alex Lines and perfectly timed the throw from UA quarterback Gunner Cruz. Wells stepped in front of Lines, snagged the pass and rumbled 50 yards to the end zone, bumping the Buffaloes' edge to 20-0.
Those back-to-back scores then lit a fire under CU's offense. On the Buffs' next possession, Lewis uncorked a perfect deep ball to a speeding Rice down the sidelines. Rice gathered in the pass in stride and raced to the end zone for a 27-0 lead.
The Buffs completed the scoring with 4:08 left in the game. Lewis hit Dimitri Stanley in the end zone with an 11-yard scoring pass to complete a nine-play, 70-yard drive for a 34-0 lead.
Lewis' performance was sweet redemption for the freshman, who had taken plenty of criticism over CU's losing streak.
"I think his body of work today was pretty good," Dorrell said. "He still does a great job of protecting the football. He's very excited about the things that have happened today, no question, but there's always a handful of things that we're still going to try to shore up as he moves forward. The big thing about it is the fact that he made a huge step in progress. He should be rewarded for the hard work he's put in these two weeks that showed today. There's no question in my mind he's going to be all in about continuing to stay on that path of playing really good football."
For the first 30-plus minutes of the game, there appeared to be a chance no one would score a touchdown.
The Buffs took the lead on their first possession of the game, going 68 yards in 10 plays before settling for a 19-yard Cole Becker field goal with 8:26 to play in the first quarter. Lewis connected with Rice for 31 yards on the drive and Jarek Broussard had a 10-0 run. But the drive stalled inside the Arizona 5-yard line, and CU elected to take the points on fourth-and-goal from the UA 1-yard line for the 3-0 lead.
CU added another field goal midway through the second quarter, going 61 yards in seven plays. Lewis scrambled to his right and found Alex Fontenot for a 43-yard gain to put the Buffs in UA territory, and four plays later the Buffs got a 37-yard Becker field goal for a 6-0 lead.
Colorado's defense then came up with a terrific goal-line stand. After the Wildcats had punted on their first four possessions, they finally put together a long drive, going from their own 25 to the CU 1-yard line for a first and goal.
But the Buffs defense came up with four straight stops for no gain, with Gunner Cruz throwing incomplete on fourth down.
"As soon as the offense scored in the first quarter we said if they don't score again they don't win," Wells said. "So that was our philosophy for the whole game."
Colorado then ran out the clock to end the half with a 6-0 lead.
TURNING POINT: Midway through the third quarter, CU's lead was still just 6-0 and it was anybody's ballgame. But Woods' blocked punt and return for a touchdown ended a defensive battle and opened the floodgates for a 28-point second half for the Buffaloes.
KEY STATISTICS: Colorado's defense held Arizona to just 3-for-15 on third-down conversions … The Buffs threw for a season-high 248 yards with two touchdowns … CU's defense produced two takeaways while the offense did not turn it over once … Colorado's Lewis averaged 20.7 yards per completion on his 12-for-19 day.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs not only ended a four-game losing streak, they also gained some valuable confidence and momentum heading into next week's road trip to Cal.
NEXT UP: The Buffs play travel to the Bay Area next Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. game at Cal (Pac-12 Networks).