Fresh off a demoralized 38-13 loss to TCU, the Colorado Buffaloes headed down I-25 to take on the Air Force Falcons, perhaps the best team in the Mountain West. The Buffs were 17-point underdogs to an in-state rival and they were unable to cover even that wide gap in this 41-10 loss. The bad thing is that they had a chance in the second half, but didn’t take advantage of their chances and just kind of gave up after that.
On a cold, wet day on the road, the Buffs looked like they wanted to be at home, snuggled up in a blanket and crouched over a hot cocoa (with marshmallows). Cozy fall days are the best. I don’t fault this team for starting the game like they had their blanket ripped off, hot cocoa poured out, shoulder pads strapped on and sent outside.
J.T. Shrout, ungloved debutant, did not make the most of his first career start. It started poorly, went poorly and ended poorly. On the second play of his first drive, the shotgun snap slipped through his fingers and was recovered by Air Force. They immediately scored, taking a 7-0 lead just 33 seconds into the game.
Shrout, newly begloved, looked more settled on his second drive. However, his dart to Daniel Arias was dropped and his 8-yard scramble was short of the first down. Colorado’s defense looked better on the ensuing Air Force drive and forced Troy Calhoun to go for a 54-yard field goal in bad conditions. Matthew Dapore crushed the kick, his career long.
Down 10-0, the Buffs went 3-and-out. But it wasn’t that bad — Shrout threw a 40-yard dime to Chase Penry, but there was great coverage and the Cherry Creek receiver couldn’t secure the one-handed catch. The Buffs and Falcons then traded punts before Dapore hit another booming 47-yard field goal. Somewhere in there Trevor Woods had some great tackles, freshman Tyus Martin stuffed a run and Air Force’s Zac Larrier took a couple jet sweeps 20 yards a piece.
Things started to look hopeless after Shrout committed another turnover, this time an interception that was slightly off target but should have been caught instead of tipped to Camby Goff. Air Force turned that short field into Brad Roberts’ second touchdown, extending the lead to 20-0.
To everyone’s surprise, the Buffs turned things around, seemingly out of nowhere. Alex Fontenot broke off a 21-yard run, their second first down of the day. Deion Smith then took a carry 23 yards, then another 25 yards to the end zone. After putting up maybe the worst 3.5 quarters of Colorado football since the dreaded Embree days, the Buffs eased into a 4-play, 71-yard touchdown drive.
Air Force matched them with their own meandering drive into the red zone, but just as John Eldridge III reached out to cap a 10-play, 66-yard drive, big Jalen Sami knocked the ball out at the goal line. Josh Chandler-Semedo dove on top and suddenly Colorado had the break they needed to get back into the game.
The Buffs did nothing on that next drive, but they got a do-over when Woods forced yet another fumble that Chance Main pounced on. The Buffs did nothing with that drive as well, but they were already deep into Air Force territory so Cole Becker just had to hit a field goal to make the score 20-10 going into halftime.
For those morbidly curious, these teams combined for 28 yards passing. Air Force’s Haaziq Daniels went 0/3 and Shrout was 3/12 with an interception and a fumble.
The defense continued its great play in the early second half, although with some early misfortune when Woods was ejected on an arguable targeting call. It probably was a targeting, but it was the same motion as the tackle that forced the fumble earlier, and it was only called because Roberts was airborne and tucked his helmet to brace for contact, meaning he created the helmet to helmet contact. But it happened, the Buffs lost their best defender, and they still forced a stop.
Forced to punt, the slippery fingers plagued the Air Force long snapper, and he sent the ball wayyy over the punter’s head. The Falcons recovered, but deep inside their own territory and by rule a turnover on downs. Of course, nothing is easy for this Colorado offense, and instead of punching it in, Jeremy Mack
headbutted punched the ball out of Fontenot’s hands as he was crossing the goal line. It could have been a TD, or maybe a targeting call, but the original call stood and the Buffs missed a golden chance.
Backed up at their own 1-yard-line, the Falcons went 3-and-out and punted from inside their end zone. All credit should go to Na’im Rodman and Quin Perry, who continued their excellent play and had clutch stops on this possession. The offense was gifted yet again with great field position at the AFA 40. Some weirdness ensued when Shrout threw a terrible pass that the AFA safety bobbled into the hands of Brady Russell for a very fortunate 40-yard gain, only to for everything to be called back on a holding penalty. (It was a very weird game.) CU eventually got to a 4th-and-2 and (correctly) went for it, but Smith was stuffed.
Air Force’s drives were less weird, at least at this point in the game. CU’s defensive line kept making plays, but Daniels kept the chains moving long enough for the inevitable big play to occur. Eldridge — the back who fumbled at the goal line earlier — got loose and weaved through the CU defense for a 40-yard gain. A few plays later Daniels broke contain and extended the lead to 27-10.
Colorado didn’t deserve as many chances as they got, but they kept on coming. Air Force looked like they were going to extend the lead after Ben Jefferson broke off a 48 yard run. Then, just before getting into the red zone, Omar Fattah fumbled and the Buffs pounced on it again.
In the first half, Colorado scored 3 points off their turnovers, and that was only because they had recovered one of those fumbles at the AFA 25-yard-line. Now in the second half, their points off turnovers was a very solid 0. This latest fumble recovery was wasted when on 4th-and-3, Shrout scrambled for the first down, but despite having plenty of room to run, he started his slide before the yard to gain. Air Force took over and Roberts immediately scored a 46-yard TD, his third of the game, extending the lead to 34-10.
At some point, the Falcons scored another touchdown, but I had stopped watching.
That was kind of just how it went to CU today. The offense was dreadful, aside from those positive runs from Smith and Fontenot, and Shrout in particular was all over the place with his accuracy and decision making (5/21 passing with an interception). Still, the defense played very well in spurts — aside from the three runs of 40 yards or more — and had a lot of good fortune go their way. Maybe things would have been different if Fontenot’s fumble would have been ruled a touchdown, but CU didn’t really do anything to deserve this win.