PASADENA, Calif. – It sounds like a broken record. Or if that’s too antiquated a term, maybe it sounds like a digital glitch? Whatever, the Colorado Buffaloes believe they’re getting close, which you’ve undoubtedly heard several dozen times over the past several downwardly mobile seasons of CU football.
But Saturday night as they prepared to leave the Rose Bowl after their 13th consecutive Pac-12 Conference loss – this one 45-23 to No. 17 UCLA – the Buffs talked as if they were thisclose to a breakthrough.
“I’m out there and I can just taste it in my mouth – a win – I can just taste it,” said senior safety Parker Orms. “To not get it is not a good feeling at all . . . but it’s right there.”
“One of these games we’re going shock somebody and people will be like, ‘Wow, you guys won that game.’ We know we’re capable of that. We just have to play four quarters,” added freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau following his first Pac-12 road start.
If it didn’t sound like the Buffs had lost by 22 points, it didn’t feel like it either. The Bruins’ 412 total yards and 215 in the first half were the fewest by a Pac-12 opponent this season. Conversely, CU totaled a conference season-high 381 yards and entered UCLA territory on seven of 10 drives.
But the Buffs managed just two touchdowns on those seven trips and were forced to settle for three Will Oliver field goals while watching another pair of his attempts flutter wide right. Oliver’s five attempts were a career-high.
“We’ve got to look at that (and) find a way to get those first downs,” CU coach Mike MacIntyre said. “I’m glad we’re moving it; that’s a good thing. But we’ve been bogging down in the ‘high red zone area.’ We’ve got to find a way to get that done better.”
The Buffs don’t need to be perfect, said MacIntyre, just more efficient. Competing against mostly high-level Pac-12 opponents thus far, CU finds its margin for error thinner than razor thin. The Buffs are not yet capable of overcoming two or three key mistakes a game – as they discovered again Saturday.
“I don’t mean we’ll play a perfect game – nobody does that,” MacIntyre said. “But we have to execute our fundamentals a little closer. We’re getting better at that and we have to do that right now against some of these teams that have good offenses.”
Examples: CU lost a fumble on a kickoff return that led to the second of two quick UCLA scores (21-10) late in the first half. In the second half, the Bruins took advantage of a 24-yard Buffs punt for another TD that pushed UCLA’s lead to 35-13.
CU found itself looking uphill for the rest of the night, but MacIntyre never saw his players look away. He only saw their looks in the locker room afterward and knew defeat is still unacceptable for them.
“When you can tell it hurts them, and the way they kept fighting and battling and rallied around each other was special to see,” he said. “But we definitely need to get one (win) – there’s no doubt.”
Liufau continues to grow into his role as a starting Pac-12 quarterback. He completed 25 of his 36 pass attempts for 247 yards and a 7-yard TD to Paul Richardson. Slot receiver D.D. Goodson said Liufau is “looking way more comfortable than his first start. That helps with the team, seeing a comfortable quarterback back there. He’s poised under pressure.”
Liufau’s 25 completions were spread among seven receivers, topped by Richardson’s seven receptions for 70 yards and the 7-yard TD. MacIntyre also acknowledged Nelson Spruce’s six catches for 49 yards. Goodson and running back Tony Jones each made three catches for 42 yards.
“I take what I can get,” Goodson said. “I try to make the most of all my opportunities.”
Goodson also said Liufau and the Buffs’ offense took a positive step in converting eight of 17 third-down attempts: “It’s because we’ve worked on that a lot in practice. Everybody’s believing.”
But the Buffs defense still is struggling to pressure quarterbacks. Bruins QB Brett Hundley accounted for 345 yards in total offense and four touchdowns (two each passing/running). The Buffs failed to sack him once, but they had their chances.
“I’ve got to do a better job of some way getting more pressure on the quarterback without bringing everybody,” MacIntyre said. “We’ve got to work on that.”
The Buffs were minus leading rusher Michael Adkins II, who is recovering from a concussion but could be available for next Saturday’s game at Washington (6 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Networks). In Adkins’ place, sophomore Christian Powell carried 22 times for 97 yards and impressed MacIntyre.
“Christian is so tough and he’s starting to understand exactly the runs we put him in,” he said. “He was a fighter tonight.”
MacIntyre said his players continue to “come to work every time we ask them to; they’re listening, asking questions and just not sitting there in the meeting room or practice and saying, ‘Let’s just get it over with.’ . . . That’s very encouraging as a coach. You have an employee who’s not just putting in his time and wanting to get out of there.”
Despite the defeat, Goodson believed CU took positive steps on Saturday. “We’ve all seen ourselves grow,” he said. “We all fight during the game. We’re down a little bit because of the loss, but we all see us moving forward.”
Four Saturdays remain in November for the Buffs’ improvement to continue. Their goal: get past coming close, play a complete game and get a Pac-12 win.
Said Orms: “We’ve got to win; we’ve got to do whatever it takes to win.”