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Takeaways From Buffs' Loss At Cal

Oct 24, 2021

BOULDER — Back to square one.

That's where Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes find themselves this week after a 26-3 loss at Cal ended any hopes CU had of building some momentum in a season that has had precious few promising signs and far more difficulties.

But Saturday's loss may have been one of Colorado's more inexplicable performances this year. The Buffs were coming off maybe their best overall performance in the Dorrell era, were facing a 1-5 team and had put together a very good week of practice by all accounts.

All those good vibes, however, hit a brick wall at FTX Field. Now, the Buffs offense is flirting with historically bad numbers, the defense has its own set of issues and the Buffs must now prepare for a trip to No. 7 Oregon next Saturday (1:30 p.m. Fox).

Takeaways from Saturday's loss (short list this week):

1. Fourth-down conversions have been critical roadblocks for the Buffs. It all started in the second quarter against Texas A&M. The Buffs had a 7-0 lead on the Aggies and two shots at gaining 1 yard from the A&M 5-yard line for a first down.

Two CU runs netted zero yards and the Buffs came away empty. Colorado ended up dropping a 10-7 decision after a late A&M touchdown and the CU offense hasn't been the same sense.

For the season, Colorado is 1-for-8 on fourth-down conversion attempts. That includes a fourth-and-1 at midfield Saturday, with the Buffs losing a yard on the play in what was a 3-0 game at the time.

Cal then went 50 yards in three plays for a touchdown and 10-0 lead and the game was never in doubt.

This isn't to say the game would have ended differently had the Buffs gained 1 yard. But looking back, it's hard not to wonder what would have happened had Colorado managed to gain 1 yard against A&M way back in early September — or even what might have transpired Saturday had the Buffs managed to pick up a yard against Cal.

2. Third downs have been equally frustrating. For a program that has enjoyed good third down success over the years — including converting nearly 47 percent of their tries last season — the Buffs' numbers this year have been exponentially frustrating.

In seven games this season, the Buffs have converted just 31 percent of their third-down tries (27-for-86). That includes a 3-for-12 effort Saturday. CU has successfully moved the sticks on third down six times in a game just twice this season — and they won both of those games.

3. Takeaways and turnovers are making the difference. While the offense is taking plenty of heat for its struggles this season, one thing it has done well is take care of the ball. The Buffs have thrown just three interceptions and lost just three fumbles, an average of less than one turnover per game.

But CU's defense has struggled mightily to take the ball away. Colorado has produced just five takeaways this season, with two games with no takeaways. 

When the Buffs win the turnover battle, they are 2-0. When they don't, they are 0-5.

4. With five games remaining, this will be a character test for the coaching staff and the players. Four of CU's five remaining opponents have winning records and are in the battle for a division title, a difficult schedule under even the best of circumstances.

How the Buffs respond over this stretch will not only be a statement for the remainder of the season; it will set the tone for the future.