BOULDER – Colorado’s hopes of exiting October with a statement win in the Pac-12 Conference were flattened Saturday night by Arizona’s potent ground game. The Wildcats - specifically their quarterback - ran and ran some more, and the Buffs had no place to hide.
Behind a career-high 192 yards rushing by QB B.J. Denker and another 119 by tailback Ka’Deem Carey, low by his standards, the Wildcats waltzed to a 44-20 win at Folsom Field.
Arizona (5-2, 2-2) amassed 670 yards in total offense – the third most in school history – with 405 of it on the ground. CU (3-4, 0-4) dropped a game below .500 and left its homefield still looking for its first conference win of the Mike MacIntyre Era.
“We just have to keep fighting and keep moving forward,” a disconcerted MacIntyre said. “It’s disheartening for the kids. They’re battling and just (short) a few plays here and there.”
The Buffs open November with a pair of difficult road games – at UCLA next weekend (5:30 p.m. MDT, Pac-12 Networks), followed by a trip to Seattle to play Washington on Nov. 9.
Denker, a senior who debuted as Arizona’s starter last season against CU, also completed 21 of 32 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown, giving him 457 yards in total offense – the sixth-highest output in school history. His 192 yards rushing is believed to be a school record for a QB.
“We couldn’t tackle the quarterback . . . we must have missed him seven times. Probably 200 yards of offense off of missed tackles on the quarterback,” MacIntyre said. He also said Denker “threw the ball better than I’ve ever seen him throw in every game I’ve watched him play . . . he came through, he did a great job.”
Arizona coach Rich Rodriquez said Denker’s performance “was big . . . they were loading the box to stop Ka’Deem and were going to have to take the ball up high. Obviously, B.J. running was a key.”
“I think we just weren’t keyed in to some of our responsibilities,” said CU defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe of Denker’s performance. “It was a big thing to make sure we don’t get him running, but obviously we allowed him to run.”
Carey, a junior who rushed for a conference record 366 yards last November in a 56-31 rout of the Buffs, scored four touchdowns Saturday night, giving him nine against CU in their last two meetings. He entered the night as the nation’s leading rusher, but his 119 yards were 42 below his average (161.0).
“We stopped Carey pretty good,” MacIntyre said. “He ran over us a few times, but he’s going to do that against everybody.”
Carey had a long run of 30 yards, but Denker’s long jaunt of 54 was a career-best, and Carey’s backup – Daniel Jenkins – had a 56-yarder en route to a nine-carry, 87-yard performance.
Slowing Carey was of little solace to MacIntyre, who said he was “very concerned” about his defense. “We played as hard as we can play. We just have to keep coaching them . . . there’s some good offenses in this league.”
CU freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau, making his first Pac-12 start, finished 17-for-32 for 212 yards and a 75-yard touchdown to Paul Richardson, who made seven catches for 132 yards. The Buffs managed 349 yards in total offense, 137 of them on the ground.
MacIntyre said Liufau “missed a couple of guys he could have hit (but) I thought he did some good things. He has to keep improving.”
Buffs placekicker Will Oliver kicked a pair of field goals, including a career-best 53-yarder. Oliver said his long kick “was the worst kick of the three . . . it’s always good to break PRs, but I missed the 52 (yarder), so it kind of takes away from it. It still feels good; I’m glad they trust me.”
But on this night, with the Wildcats running free and largely unchallenged, the Buffs needed sixes rather than threes against an opponent their coach believed they could not only compete against but defeat.
“We should have won the game,” MacIntyre said.
Indeed, the Buffs played the Wildcats toe-to-toe through the game’s first 271/2 minutes, even taking a 13-10 lead on Liufau’s 75-yard TD pass to Richardson and a pair of Oliver field goals that were set up by Arizona turnovers.
CU linebacker Woodson Greer recovered an Arizona fumble that led to Oliver’s 53-yard field goal – a career long – and tied the score at 10-10 with 14:50 left in the second quarter. Just under 5 minutes later, after Oliver was wide left on a 52-yard attempt, Denker was intercepted by Buffs safety Jered Bell, who returned the pick 26 yards to the Wildcats 49.
Seven plays later, CU had to settle for another Oliver field goal – this one a 48-yarder that pushed the Buffs in front for the first time, 13-10, with 5:07 left before halftime.
But the first half ended with CU failing to finish what had been a promising start and setting a disastrous tone for the second half.
Allowing the Wildcats two touchdowns in the first half’s final 2:28, the Buffs found themselves trailing 24-13 at intermission. Arizona got the first of those two scores on a 7-yard run by Carey, capping a nine-play, 75-yard march. Then, after Arizona’s defense forced a CU three-and-out, Carey ran 30 yards and Denker connected with slot receiver Nate Phillips, who got a step on Bell, for a 44-yard TD pass.
Those two late TDs were the Wildcats’ lone hints of offense after they had marched 88 yards on their opening possession and taken a 7-0 lead on Carey’s 1-yard dive – the 14th play of the drive.
CU tied the score on the long Liufau-Richardson scoring pass, then Jake Smith’s 37-yard field goal sent Arizona up 10-7 with 4:34 left in the first quarter. From then until their surge to end the half, the Wildcats were relatively tame – but the Buffs couldn’t take advantage.
Arizona ended the first half with a season-high 361 yards in total offense (210 rushing, 151 passing). Meanwhile, CU mustered 189 and converted only four of 11 third-down attempts. After rushing for just nine yards in the first quarter, the Buffs finished the half with 42. Carey’s first half work: 97 yards on 17 carries and two TDs. Denker added 44 yards on seven rushes but was just discovering his stride.
Needing a defensive stop to open the second half, the Buffs got a partial stop. Three plays – two of them runs by Denker that netted 65 yards – put the Wildcats inside the Buffs’ 10 with first-and-goal. But CU held Arizona to a field goal – a 26-yarder by Smith – then responded with its own 75-yard drive (nine plays) and pulled to within seven (27-20) on Michael Adkins II’s 1-yard plunge and Oliver’s PAT.
Back came the Wildcats . . . Carey scored his third TD of the night – another 1-yard dive – and Smith kicked Arizona ahead again by two touchdowns (34-20) with 7:55 left in the third quarter.
Back came the Buffs . . . just not far enough. Liufau, with the help of a personal foul (facemask) on Arizona cornerback Jonathan McKnight that nullified an interception, drove CU to the Arizona 4-yard line but no further. Liufau’s fourth-down pass to the end zone fell incomplete.
“The coaches have the best interest and know what’s best for the team,” Liufau said of the fourth-down gamble. “You never question the coach; you know, if they want to go for a field goal, onside kick, whatever the call may be. I think it was a great decision.”
After it was made, just over 3 minutes later, the fourth quarter began with the Buffs still trailing by 14 points.
And the end was beginning . . . CU attempted a fake punt at its own 15-yard line, with punter Darragh O’Neill trying to skirt left end but being hammered after a 3-yard gain to the 18. Carey needed two runs to cover that distance, scoring his fourth TD on a 6-yard run up the middle.
MacIntyre defended the fake punt call “because if you saw us playing defense, we couldn’t stop them and I thought it was a good place to try . . . he (O’Neill) was supposed to read it. We’ve had five on this year and we’ve punted all five. We thought we had a chance, he thought he had a chance and we didn’t get it.”
After Smith’s extra point the Wildcats were cruising, 41-20, with 14:30 remaining. He added a 28-yard field goal to make it 44-20 with 9:10 to play, and Arizona needed no more points to put this one away.