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Colorado Buffaloes struggle early, roll over Northern Colorado

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The Buffs looked solid apart from the penalties and turnovers.

Northern Colorado v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Colorado Buffaloes are about to start Pac-12 play against the No. 6 Washington Huskies, but it looks like they need another week to figure out the kinks. The Buffs looked capable of great things, but penalties and turnovers held them back to a ho-hum 41-21 win over Northern Colorado.

In the first half, the Buffaloes seemed to alternate between 75-yard scoring drives and middling three-and-outs, and that polarization could largely be attributed to how Steven Montez looked on the specific drive. On some drives, Montez looked like a damn magician as he found Devin Ross, Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo for a slew of long passes resulting in first half touchdowns for all three. (He later added another touchdown to Jay MacIntyre on a gorgeous throw.) In addition to terrific throws, Montez sprinkled in a number of successful scrambles and QB keepers. On other drives, the sophomore quarterback looked uncomfortable with defensive pressure and forced bad throws, the worst of which resulting in an interception that killed a promising drive late in the first half.

In the second half, the CU offense looked just as promising as Montez and Phillip Lindsay gashed the Bears defense, and though they eventually put away the game, the offense was held back by an undisciplined offensive line, literally and figuratively. Montez and the passing game has looked solid in the opening three weeks, as has Lindsay on the ground, but if the offensive line continues to be mauled by opposing defenses like UNC’s and Texas State’s, the Buffs will have to figure out how to win the line of scrimmage starting next week against the Washington Huskies.

On the other side of the ball, the Colorado defense had several lapses that suggested the team was just going through the motions as the Huskies loom. Those breakdowns were evident on 33-yard, 52-yard and 27-yard passing touchdowns from the Bears, plus another 52-yard pass that should’ve been a touchdown but the ball was dropped. Other than those plays, the Buffs struggled to contain the ever-mobile Jacob Knipp as he scrambled for critical first downs and generally strained the CU pass defense. They also had three roughing passers and two targeting penalties called on Afolabi Laguda and Chris Mulumba.

But even considering those issues, the Buffs looked solid defensively. Those scoring plays capped off the only decent drives UNC had all game. Giving up three touchdowns to an FCS offense isn’t good, but it’s rare for a team to score every time they cross the 50-yard line. Looking at that 100% conversion rate and that CU had two fluky end zone turnovers, the score should’ve been something around 52-14, which is what you would expect with the Buffs outgaining the Bears 569 to 273.

Before playing Washington next week, the Buffs will surely need to improve their offensive line play and discipline. It will be difficult to beat Washington even with everyone playing their best game, but if the Buffs struggle with what they had issues with today, there’s almost no chance for them. But these kinks should be worked out and the Buffs will almost definitely look better in Pac-12 play.

Additional notes:

  • Colorado’s receivers were fantastic today. Ross led the team with 8 catches for 143 yards. Fields had 8 catches for 68, Bobo had 6 for 77 and Jay MacIntyre had 4 for 53. All four scored touchdowns.
  • Jay MacIntyre started the game as punt returner instead of Isaiah Oliver. We’ve been dumbfounded at why Oliver was back there at all — it’s an unnecessary injury risk for the team’s best defender — so it was relieving to see J-Mac out there. Coach MacIntyre said during the press conference that Oliver was taking too many hits and that he’s going to rotate the returners.
  • It was another day, another game Drew Lewis led the defense in tackles. The first-year starter had 9 tackles (7 solo) today to give him a team-high 25 on the season. He’s only a sophomore and it appears that he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.
  • Tim Lynott played center today after playing a bit of time there against Texas State. He’s probably CU’s best guard, but the Buffs may need him most at center. (He’s also probably the team’s best tackle and center.) It will interesting to see how this plays out.