To describe this game in two words, it would be "ROCK FIGHT". The difference between UCLA and CU, of course, would be that you can’t win a rock fight against a team with all of Boulder behind them.
No. 15 Colorado hosted UCLA in a Thursday night nail-biter that will be remembered as the one we endured. This game had all the makings of a nightmare outing, but the defense and Sefo "Ultimate Warrior" Liufau saved the day and kept the dream alive.
The rock fight began in the first as Colorado and UCLA exchanged grueling, yet unsuccessful drives that netted nothing more than botched snaps, a punt and an interception. That was pretty much the entire game.
Entering this contest, Sefo Liufau was the only quarterback in FBS with more than 100 attempts and zero interceptions. That stat – part of a school record streak – ended soon after kickoff. On Colorado’s first offensive possession, Liufau’s streak perished on a deep pass that was overthrown, tipped, tipped again, and finally picked off by blue-and-gold gloves. Liufau’s struggles in the passing game would be by his side for the remainder of the game.
UCLA’s next drive saw one of Colorado’s finest sent off. UCLA replacement quarterback Mike Fafaul scrambled to his left, turned up field and did a half-slide once he saw the defense coming. On this hesitant half-slide, star edge linebacker Jimmie Gilbert dove onto Fafaul, hit him helmet-to-helmet and was ejected for targeting. These hits are not to be dismissed — concussion issues in football may be the biggest threat to its very demise — but this hit was barely a nick. Gilbert was (unfairly) thrown out and Colorado was missing their best pass rusher.
Colorado got the ball back on that punt and would use that drive to put the first points on the board. Sefo Liufau found Shay Fields on an 18-yard catch-and-run, but Fields was tackled just short of the goal line. Immediately after, junior running back Phillip Lindsay scored a his 10th rushing touchdown of the year, a milestone touchdown for arguably Colorado's most valuable offensive player.
The ensuing kick return was a sizable gain for the Bruins, but an unsportsmanlike penalty on embattled Buffalo N.J. Falo gave UCLA an extra 15 yards. A few moderately successful plays later, Fafaul scrambled to his left and found receiver Darren Andrews wide open down the left hash for an easy 39-yard touchdown. The defense that allowed that – busted coverage on a third-and-long – has been almost entirely avoided all season by Jim Leavitt’s crew. The defense used to be defined by that, so even though the Buffs allowed a touchdown here, we have to appreciate the absence of those all season. Every bit of success should be contrasted with previous experiences of demoralizing failure.
If you want to blame anyone, blame the refs. The edge Fafaul scrambled around was the side Gilbert rushes and contains, and he was absent because of a controversial call from the refs. Yes, it could still have happened with Gilbert playing, but the reason we scapegoat is because it’s convenient and easier than addressing the real problems.
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The second quarter was much of the same, sans all the fun and touchdowns. On Colorado’s first possession of the quarter, Liufau’s struggles continued. After overthrows and poor runs, Liufau threw a pass over the middle that found a previously invisible UCLA linebacker.
After a UCLA made field goal on that drive, Liufau dropped back to pass and was almost immediately surrounded by pass rushers, as he had on nearly every pass play leading up to then. This particular play ended in disaster, as opposed to the near disaster of the preceding plays. Liufau stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush, but the rush found him mid-throw. The ball popped out and was caught by UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown. He returned it 49 yards as Liufau lay injured where he had been crushed. He would leave the game and would return in the second half.
UCLA started their next possession where Brown was tackled on the fumble return. As stout as the Colorado defense was all game the Buffs’ stand was possibly its most impressive of the night. UCLA’s drive went as follows: 1-yard rush, 8-yard CU penalty (unnecessary roughness on Jordan Carrell), 0-yard rush, 0-yard rush, incomplete pass. The next play was a field goal attempt that was blocked by the omnipresent Chidobe Awuzie.
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The second half was a horror show that was so focused on mayhem and gore that they forgot to develop anything close to an exciting plot.
For each UCLA drive, the Colorado defense pushed back something fierce. Midway through the third quarter, UCLA drove down to the Colorado 30-yard-line with their best chance to score for the rest of the half. Here is when Chidobe Awuzie came off the edge, went unseen as he ran around the offensive line and exploded quarterback Fafaul. Awuzie’s sacks come at just the right time seemingly every game; it’s a shame if he isn’t an All-American or All-Conference. This defensive stand forced a long field goal the Bruins would miss wide right.
Colorado forced a punt on the very next UCLA drive. That punt return proved to be their most successful play up until a later punt. Isaiah Oliver caught the punt at the 45-yard-line, split two UCLA defenders, ran to the right and put on the burners before getting pushed out at the 9-yard-line. The Buffs offense had an almost impossible situation to screw up, and they almost did. Instead, the Buffs got to the three-yard-line and the adventurous Chris Graham hit an ugly, no good, very bad kick that still went through the uprights to tie the game at 10 apiece.
Once again, Colorado forced another punt. Sefo Liufau and the offense got the ball back and were determined to take the lead, and that they did. Liufau did everything in his nature to avoid and run through any and all defenders who dared deny him victory. He carried the Buffs into field goal range before the drive stalled out. There, Graham hit the biggest field goal he’s ever hit, giving the Buffs the 13-10 lead.
A few minutes later – after a forced punt, can you believe it? – Graham had the chance to hit the field goal and secure his spot in immortal mediocrity. Instead, UCLA deflected it and the ball rolled peacefully and quietly to its death in the end zone.
The ensuing UCLA drive was one of the most intense in recent memory AND ITS RESULT WAS UNFORGETTABLE. (Sorry about that.) On the first play, Fafau ran back to avoid oncoming pass rusher N.J. Falo and intentionally grounded the ball. But because Falo touched Fafau as he was falling back, the refs called roughing the passer. Shortly thereafter, the CU defense made amends by sacking Fafau for a 10-yard loss on third down. UCLA punted, which proved fatal. Isaiah Oliver fielded the punt at the Colorado the middle of the field, ran right past a couple defenders, cut left, then outrain the rest of the Bruin defense en route to a 68-yard touchdown.
UCLA drove the ball down to the Colorado red zone but were denied on fourth down, giving the ball back to the Buffs with only a few minutes to play. Phillip Lindsay ran the ball a couple of times to set the clock in motion and waste UCLA’s timeouts, but it wasn’t enough for the first. The punt team came out to give the ball back, but a UCLA offsides penalty gave the Buffs the first down with only two minutes to run out. Ballgame.
Nothing went right for the Buffs and everything went right, all at the same time. In the end, the Buffs came away with a 20-10 victory over a fearsome opponent. They’re on track to win the Pac-12 South and can only get better from here.