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Mistakes doom Colorado in loss to UCLA

The Buffaloes lost 27-23 in a game they had every chance to win.

Colorado v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As we’ve come to expect from the 2017 Colorado Buffaloes, mistakes defined what could’ve been and what wasn’t. CU is now 0-2 in Pac-12 play because dropped passes, dubious playcalling and frustrating penalties doomed the Buffs chances in a 27-23 loss at UCLA.

From the very get-go, Steven Montez and Phillip Lindsay were the stars of the day. They tried to carry the team as much as possible but it just wasn’t enough. Montez had one of the most impressive sub-50% passing performances you’ll ever see. When he wasn’t throwing away the ball to avoid a sack or picking up 108 yards on the ground, he was escaping pressure and dropping dimes all over the field. It’s not his fault many of those passes were dropped, or that the line couldn’t even block a three-man rush from the worst defense in the Pac-12. Montez showed that he can be lethal if he mitigates mistakes like he did today.

Lindsay, meanwhile, was fantastic as he picked up 130 yards from scrimmage on 23 touches. Against a porous rush defense, he consistently gashed UCLA for big gains. His best play of the game came on a 21-yard receiving touchdown immediately after Lindsay took a helmet-to-helmet hit that was ruled a targeting. It’s terrifying to see Lindsay hit like that, but it’s relieving that he’s evidently immune to physical harm.

Despite Montez and Lindsay’s respective performances, the Buffs struggled to score against the worst defense in major college football. That’s because, once again, CU couldn’t help but shoot themselves in the foot. All game, Montez was running for his life because the offensive line couldn’t handle whatever three- or four-man rushes UCLA had coming. The offensive line also had holding called on them on several successful runs, including runs of 15+ yards for Lindsay and 30+ for Laviska Shenault.

When Montez created magic to avoid the pass rush, all too often were perfect throws dropped by receivers. No drops were more egregious than Juwann Winfree’s in the end zone at the end of the second quarter, or Bryce Bobo’s in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. To make matters even more frustrating, Bobo’s drop was only possible because he was called for holding on Montez’s would-be rushing touchdown only a couple plays before. (In Bobo’s defense, that was a weak penalty call.) Those drops combined to cost the Buffs 11 points in a 4-point loss, and considering CU lost at UCLA in 2015 because of dropped passes, this is especially painful.

Of course, we’re (probably) only here discussing a loss because of one of the worst playcalls we’ve ever seen from Mike MacIntyre. With a minute left in the first half, the Buffs were down 14-10 and were about to receive the kickoff after halftime, so on 4th-down at the UCLA 11-yard line, the Buffs made the brilliant move to, uh,

That play looked disastrous immediately, and as soon as the UCLA linebacker started running towards James Stefanou, it was obvious MacIntyre made a mistake calling a pass play for his 30-year-old Australian kicker. Those three points lost loomed over the rest of the game. Stefanou’s final field goal should’ve given the Buffs the 26-24 lead late in the fourth quarter. Colorado might have still lost, but it wouldn’t have been this frustrating.

This game was frustrating to watch and it’s difficult to see the Buffs squander a road win, but at the same time we should take a step back and look at where CU is. Road wins are never easy, so it’s a good sign that CU can be in position to throw away what would’ve been a quality win.

Next week, the Buffs will have an easier time as they host the Arizona Wildcats 2-2 (0-1). Arizona isn’t very good, so hopefully Colorado can work out the kinks in their gameplan.