"We're in the heavyweight battles; it's what we wanted to be in. We're there now and now we've got to perform in the heavyweight fights," Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre said Tuesday in his pregame press conference.
Thursday night in Boulder the 15th ranked Buffs overcame 4 turnovers and 12 penalties (8 of which were personal fouls) to earn a hard-fought 20-10 win over UCLA. It was Colorado's fifth Pac-12 victory this year after managing just five conference wins in their previous five seasons.
The Buffs (7-2 overall, 5-1 Pac-12) also clinched their first winning season since 2005.
MOST VALUABLE BUFF: CHIDOBE AWUZIE, DEFENSIVE BACK
Scouts from 21 NFL teams were in attendance for Thursday night's game vs UCLA and without a doubt they had their eyes on number four in black and gold.
Two crucial plays made by Chidobe Awuzie earn him this week's Most Valuable Buff honors. With 3:50 remaining in the 2nd quarter and the Buffs trailing by 3, the senior defensive back blocked UCLA place kicker J.J. Molson's 26-yard field goal attempt to keep it a 10-7 game. (Interesting side note for all the beer lovers out there: J.J. Molson is a descendant of John Molson who founded North America's oldest brewery in 1786.)
Then with 6:28 remaining in the 3rd quarter, the game tied 10-10 and UCLA facing a 2nd down and 6 from Colorado's 23-yard line, Awuzie came in untouched to sack Bruins quarterback Mike Fafaul. It was the 8th career sack for the San Jose native and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Buffs. Later that drive, Awuzie's presence caused Molson to miss a 44-yard field goal keeping the game knotted at 10 apiece.
MOMENT OF THE GAME: ISAIAH OLIVER'S PUNT RETURN FOR A TOUCHDOWN
With just over 6 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter and the Buffs clinging to a 13-10 lead, outside linebacker Christian Shaver sacked Fafaul setting up a 4th down for the Bruins and this week's moment of the game. On the very next play, sophomore Isaiah Oliver received Stefan Flintoft's punt and took it 68 yards untouched for the score.
TOUCHDOWN | Oliver takes it back and the Buffs are up 20-10 with 5:27 left #beatUCLA #TheRise https://t.co/oUZgM4A8tS— Colorado Buffaloes (@cubuffs) November 4, 2016
It was the first punt return for a touchdown in 11 years for the Buffs and it gave them 20-10 lead which they would not relinquish. Oliver also had a 42-yard punt return which set up Colorado's game-tying field goal early in the 3rd quarter. The defensive back from Goodyear, Arizona finished the game vs UCLA with 5 punt returns for 124 yards.
BIGGEST QUESTION: COLORADO'S OFFENSE
"We found a way to win," said MacIntyre following the game. "You're going to have a game like that every once in a while. I want our team to enjoy the win, but we have a lot to correct."
Entering the UCLA game, Colorado was averaging the fewest penalty yards per game (40.75) among Pac-12 teams. The Buffaloes had also turned the ball over only 8 times in their first 8 games. Thursday's contest vs UCLA saw Colorado flagged for 12 penalties for 128 yards and cough the ball up 4 times. There's no question that Thursday's performance was "uncharacteristic" as MacIntyre put it. Yes the penalties and turnovers are disappointing, but let's even call those mistakes an aberration. The biggest question however that has this scribe concerned is Colorado's offense.
Where is the team that was averaging over 500-yards offense and 39 points per game through the first seven weeks of the season? Where is the team that put up 28-points against Michigan in the Big House and then turned around the following week and dropped 41 on Oregon at Autzen Stadium?
In their last two games (at Stanford & vs UCLA) the Buffs have averaged a mere 331.5 yards of total offense and 15 points per game.
"Definitely struggled on offensive and that definitely starts with me" quarterback Sefo Liufau said following the Buffs 20-10 victory over UCLA. "I will be the first one to say that and the first one to take the blame because the quarterback touches the ball every play and for the majority of plays they are a big deciding factor on how the outcome of each play will be. So, as an offensive we need to be better, look back at film at and see what we can do as a whole."
Regardless of who is to blame for the Buffs lackluster offensive output over the last two weeks, the Buffs will need right the ship soon if they expect to compete for a Pac-12 title.
NEXT UP: NOVEMBER 12 at ARIZONA (2-6, 0-5 Pac-12)
The Buffs stampede towards Santa Clara (site of next month's Pac-12 Championship) goes through Tucson next Saturday. But before they host Colorado, Rich Rodriguez's Wildcats travel to Pullman, Washington to take on the 25th ranked Cougars this Saturday.
Arizona is 0-5 in conference play, but don't let that record fool you. They nearly knocked off 5th ranked Washington at home earlier this year, losing 35-28 to the Huskies in overtime. Jim Leavitt's defense will need to focus their efforts on one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks they've seen all season, Arizona sophomore Brandon Dawkins. In only 6 games, Dawkins has thrown for 1,057 yards and rushed for another 549, leading the Wildcats in both categories. Arizona's defense however ranks 108th in the nation in yards allowed per game (457.9), so expect Liufau and the Buffs offense to turn it around in Tucson.