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What went wrong in Colorado’s loss to Stanford?

The Buffs got complacent against Stanford and it came back to bite them.

Stanford v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Buffaloes’ loss to Stanford was nothing short of disastrous. Colorado went into halftime up 29-0, but completely imploded in the second half. That begs the question: what exactly went wrong? The answer to that question is a lot to unpack, but the Buffs lost that game for four main reasons.

1: Poor decision making at the worst possible times.

First of all, the Buffs had some pretty bad lapses in judgement in absolutely crucial situations. Three plays in particular stand out as especially bad in the second half, being the two fourth down attempts and the interception in overtime.

As for the fourth down attempts, Colorado’s play calling during those plays was simply too risky. The Buffs attempted to convert on fourth down twice against Stanford, both of which were from fourth and short from their own side of the field. Those two attempts resulted in Shedeur dropping back to pass and getting sacked, giving Stanford the ball with phenomenal field position.

The Buffaloes got over ambitious on fourth down and it came to bite them in the ass. Perhaps they could have picked up both fourth downs if they would have called simple run plays that pick up easy yards. Alton McCaskill looked very good in his return and was running the ball well all game. Just punting the ball to Stanford probably would have been the smartest decision though. Giving the Cardinal the ball with significantly worse field position would have required them to burn more time off the clock, giving them less time to kick that last minute field goal to go to overtime.

In contrast, Shedeur’s interception in double overtime is as cut and dry as it gets. The Colorado quarterback throw up a desperation heave on third and goal from Stanford’s two yard line which was picked in the end zone. Simply put, Shedeur tried too hard to force a play. He was already outside of the tackle box and could have thrown the ball away instead of trying to throw cross-body to a receiver who had no separation. Even if the pass was incomplete, the Buffs would have still had one more opportunity to score from the two yard line.

“It was a dumb pass. I just threw it up.” said Shedeur postgame.

Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s also hard to overlook how the Buffs bungled these situations. If the Buffs cleaned up their fourth down play and Shedeur would have just thrown the ball out of bounds, we might not be having this conversation.

2: Defensive blunders and blown man coverage.

Colorado’s defense couldn’t stop Stanford in any meaningful capacity in the second half. Pretty much every time the Cardinal got the ball, they would drive and score a touchdown. This begs the question: what happened to the Colorado defense? Let’s break down the exact moment the floodgates opened for Stanford, being the 97 yard touchdown catch.

That touchdown catch from is a bit hard to watch as a CU fan. After lining up in man coverage, Stanford decided to run a short slant route with wide receiver Elic Ayomanor crossing to the middle of the field. The cornerback covering Ayomanor, Omarion Cooper, got tripped up and fell down after Ayomanor made his cut. This gave the Stanford wide receiver about 20 yards of open field and nobody could catch up to him.

Cooper wasn’t the only Buff to struggle in man coverage either, as it just wasn't working for the Buffs on Friday night. Despite having major issues in man, Colorado never decided to switch off of it. Ayomanor was running the same exact crossing route for the entirety of the second half and none of Colorado’s corners could do anything about it. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly was specifically lining Travis Hunter against of Ayomanor and Travis was getting burned all night.

Making his return after a liver injury, the two-way had a really rough game on the defensive side of the ball. You could tell just by watching him play that he wasn’t back to 100% health, as he just didn’t have the jump off the snap that he usually does. Ayomanor dusted Hunter the entire second half, setting Stanford’s single game receiving record in the process.

We all knew exactly what was coming when Stanford QB Ashton Daniels dropped back to pass: he was going to throw to Ayomanor on that short crossing route. Apparently, the Buffs didn’t quite get that memo. Kelly and his unit were simply too slow to make the necessary adjustments.

Perhaps it would have been wise to switch up the coverages after Colorado’s initial second half game plan proved to be ineffective. Instead, the Buffs decided to ride or die with the Kelly’s classic cover two man scheme.

3: Penalties, penalties, and more penalties.

The Buffs got flagged seventeen times against Stanford. Seventeen. Just take a moment to let that number sink in. This was the most undisciplined football game we have seen out of this squad all season. What happened to the team we saw against TCU who barely even got a penalty? Let’s break down the penalties that Colorado got called for on Friday.

The offense got called for eight penalties for 65 yards. Along with your classic false start and hold calls, Colorado’s offense got called for unsportsmanlike conduct two separate times and got an ugly intentional grounding call. Getting moved back 65 yards definitely isn’t ideal, but it doesn’t even compare to how bad the defensive flags were.

Colorado’s defense got flagged nine times for 62 yards, many of which were inexcusable errors. The Buffs got called for having twelve men on the field four times. Being called for having twelve men on once is bad, two is even worse, three is inexcusable, but FOUR times? That’s an absolute disaster. Charles Kelly and his unit were unorganized on the sidelines and it cost the Buffs big time.

4: Colorado got complacent.

After halftime, the Buffs thought they had this game in the bag. They came out to play the second half slow and sluggish. It looked everyone thought that the win was in the bag. They even had backup quarterback Ryan Staub warming up on the field in between possessions as if he was going to come into the game soon. Colorado didn’t have the right mentality to close that game out and it showed.

“I felt complacency going into the second half because we stalled offensively. We come back out and here comes the complacency,” said Coach Prime postgame. “I can’t understand how in the world that happens to us but it did.”

Colorado let off the gas and it came back to haunt them. Deion pinpointed the exact time he felt that the complacency really set in for the Buffs, on the 97 yard touchdown from Ayomanor.

“I think it all started when we gave up the 97-yard touchdown. That was just flat out ridiculous. That’s when it all started,” said Sanders. “That’s when all the foolishness, all the complacency started. Our secondary did not play the best game, especially at the cornerback position.”

Overall, the Buffs didn’t do themselves any favors in that second half. As a team, they were just a disaster. No single person is at fault for this game, as everyone on that sidelined had a hand in that historic collapse. The Buffs couldn’t execute at many meaningful level on either side of the ball. Sean Lewis’ play calling in crucial moments caused chaos. Charles Kelly’s strategy proved to be ineffective and he failed to adjust. Deion couldn't keep his guys calm on the sidelines, as arguments and finger-pointing was occurring. It’s was just a disaster-class through and through.

Adding insult to injury, this happened during what should have been a “get right” game for the Buffs. Colorado were 13-point favorites against Stanford and they bungled the opportunity to get an easy win. Now, Coach Prime and the Buffs have to run a gauntlet of very good Pac-12 teams to close their season. Four of their final five opponents will likely be ranked top 25. This may be the low point of the season thus far, but let’s hope the Buffs learned their lesson and move past that ugly game.