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Questionable decision making dooms Buffaloes against Arizona

Colorado once again lets a winnable game escape from their grasp.

Arizona v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Colorado’s 34-31 loss to Arizona on Saturday was an absolute heartbreaker. It felt as though the Buffs were in the drivers seat up until the final five minutes, when penalties and poor decision making put the nail in Colorado’s coffin. This week’s loss is especially frustrating because this game was right there for the Buffs’ taking, as the Wildcats didn’t have the lead until the final play of the game. This marks the second time this season that the Buffs have let a game they had a good grasp on slip away from them, with the first instance being that horrid loss to Stanford.

“It seemed like we were the better team. We just couldn’t get it done.” said Coach Prime after the game.

Colorado’s offense had a resurgence on Saturday, which was a very welcome sight. After going quiet these last two weeks, the Buffs managed to lay 31 points on the 21st ranked team in the nation. In his second game calling plays for Colorado, offensive analyst Pat Shurmur had the Buffs’ offense looking better than last week. CU managed to scrounge up 337 yards of total offense against the Wildcats, which is miles better than last week’s 238 total yards.

Shurmur continued the strategy of having Buffs quarterback Shedeur Sanders get the ball out relatively quick, which worked decently well today. Shedeur finished the game with 262 yards passing and two touchdown through the air, along with another touchdown on the ground. The offense under Shurmur seems to spread the field more often than before, which allows for easier separation for Colorado’s receivers. Shedeur took full advantage, completing 22 passes for an average of 11 yards per attempt. The tradeoff is that spreading the field slows the Buffs’ offense down, which can burn valuable time off the game clock.

As per usual, Colorado’s run game was none existent on Saturday. The coaching staff decided to try to mix things up this week, starting Sy’veon Wilkerson at running back to middling results. Wilkerson finished the game with 21 yards on seven attempts, along with a one yard rushing touchdown. Colorado’s leading rusher wasn’t even a running back against Arizona, but instead it was their QB. Shedeur led the Buffs with 29 rushing yards, as he was running for his life all game. Deion said he liked the job that Shurmur did commanding the offense, giving him high praise post game.

“We’re not as tempo as we once were. Because instead of going fast, I wanted to get it right,” said Prime. “I think [Shurmur] called a phenomenal game. He really did.”

Whether or not Shurmur and Coach Prime actually called a phenomenal game is up for debate. A couple instances of bad play calling and poor decision making came back to haunt the Buffs, especially during the fourth quarter. After picking up eight yards on first down, the Buffs had three more tries to get an additional two yards to move the chains. After a one yard run, Shurmur called a pass on 3rd and 1 which fell incomplete and the Buffs punted. Colorado punted on fourth and short around midfield three separate times on Saturday, which is probably a decision they’d like to have back.

When asked about why he made the decisions to punt postgame, Deion wanted to shift the focus to what decisions went his way. Coach Prime didn’t like that we were focusing on his questionable decisions and tried to shift the attention on what he’s done well.

“I think we punted the ball to the two [yard line] and then we held them and they had to punt. What happened after that? We scored. Why don’t you say nothing about that?” said Sanders. “Can we start off with that, about that great decision you made coach?”

Perhaps Deion has a point. Two of the three punts on fourth and short resulted in Colorado getting the ball back in a favorable field position battle. It was just that last punt that really killed it for Colorado.

Speaking of punting, I’d be remised if I didn’t mention that Buffs punter Mark Vassett absolutely balled out on Saturday. Vassett averaged 49 yards on six punts, three of which pinned Arizona down within their own five yard line. Vassett was the unsung hero of the game against the Wildcats and he deserves to get some attention for his heroics.

Coach Prime and the Buffs fall to a record of 4-6 on the season, meaning the they now have to win out in order to go bowling. Colorado has to travel to Pullman to play Wazzu next Friday night in what could turn into some Pac-12 After Dark wackiness, followed by a trip to Salt Lake City to face off against a very scary Utah team. It looks unlikely that the Buffs will reach bowl eligibility in 2023, but there still is a slim chance. Saturday’s game was a dagger to the heart in so many different ways, but what’s done is done.