CU beats UCLA – The Denver Post

BOULDER — The foundation for Colorado’s dream season had been laid with discipline and execution, poise and toughness.

That was before a national spotlight was turned Thursday night onto Folsom Field, where No. 21 CU had a chance to show just how real “The Rise,” a marketing slogan that has turned into a rallying cry, really was.

Nearly all the ingredients that had cooked up a Pac-12 championship dream disappeared Thursday night. But somehow, someway, the title hopes will keep rolling. When all else failed, grit remained.

CU survived its own heavy dose of self-inflicted wounds Thursday night, beating UCLA 20-10 in a mistake-laden game that nonetheless pushed the Buffaloes to 7-2 and 5-1 in the Pac-12, a record that guarantees CU’s first winning season since 2005. The Buffs remained in sole possession of first place in the South division while matching their total number of league wins from their first five seasons in the Pac-12 combined.

“We struggled on offense,” CU quarterback Sefo Liufau said. “It starts with me, and I’ll be the first one to say that. I’ll be the first one to take the blame.

“As an offense, we need to be better.”

Shooting itself in the foot all night with turnovers and penalties, CU finally found a championship gear. Leading 13-10 midway through the fourth quarter, a sack by Christian Shaver, one in a long line of life-raft plays by CU’s defense, forced a punt.

Isaiah Oliver fielded the ball at his own 32-yard line, made a cut, avoided a tackle and sprinted down the left side for a touchdown that allowed fans to breathe after holding their collective breath nearly all night.

“It was probably the first time I smiled all night,” Liufau said.

“It was a feeling of relief,” the sophomore Oliver said of his key return. “We knew if we could get one more touchdown, or a few more points, we could punt it away.”

An avalanche of turnovers for CU were bewildering, each more perplexing than the previous. The Buffs entered the game second in turnover margin in the Pac-12, having coughed up the ball only eight times all season.

They had half of that total in the first half. Sefo Liufau threw two interceptions — his first of the season — and lost a fumble after being sacked in the second quarter. That play knocked temporarily knocked Liufau out of the game, and backup Steven Montez then added turnover total with a drive-killing interception of his own.

The mistakes weren’t limited to giveaways. CU committed 12 penalties (as did UCLA) for a season-high 128 yards. The Buffs missed blocks, missed throws and missed golden opportunities to make a statement.

To wit:

— After a fumble sailed over the head of UCLA quarterback Mike Fafaul on the Bruins’ opening drive, CU took over after the ensuing punt at the UCLA 30-yard line. Seven plays later, Liufau’s pass was tipped, and intercepted by Tahaan Goodman.

Colorado Buffaloes running back Phillip Lindsay
Colorado Buffaloes running back Phillip Lindsay (23) celebrates his touchdown with teammate George Frazier (5) in the first quarter against UCLA at Folsom Field on Nov. 3, 2016.

— Trailing 10-7 in the second quarter, CU was finally on the move and reached the UCLA 33-yard line. But Liufau was tattooed by blitzing pass rusher Takkarist McKinley. The ball popped into the arms of linebacker Jayon Brown, who returned it 49 yards to the CU 18-yard line. Chidobe Awuzie blocked the ensuing a field-goal attempt to keep the deficit at three points.

— After finally sustaining a lengthy drive early in the third quarter, CU faced third-and-goal at the 1-yard line. The Buffs fumbled the exchange between Liufau and Lindsay. CU recovered but had to settle for a 21-yard, game-tying field goal.

— CU was knocking on the door of a go-ahead touchdown at the end of the third quarter after Liufau rushed to the 1-yard line. But as the play ended, receiver Bryce Bobo was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty that cost the Buffs a shot at the end zone. They settled for a 37-yard field goal by Graham and a 13-10 lead.

Then there were the penalties.

“That’s not us,” linebacker Kenneth Olugbode said. “We have to clean it up.”

“If you want to be a Pac-12 championship team, you can’t be doing that stuff,” Liufau said. “As a team, we can’t let other people get under our skin.”

That the Buffs survived all the uncharacteristic miscues was a testament to a defense that continues to be remarkable.

“It’s a testament to their hard work over the summer,” Liufau said of the Buffs’ defense. “They are very good now. They are doing really well at carrying the team right now. It’s great, but if the offense can fire on all cylinders, we’ll make it a lot easier.”

UCLA tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter when a blown coverage led to a 39-yard touchdown pass from Fafaul to Darren Andrews.

CU surrendered almost nothing after that. UCLA’s go-head field goal in the first quarter came only after Cameron Judge intercepted Liufau and returned it to the CU 28-yard line.

Awuzie, CU’s senior star, led the charge. In addition to the blocked field goal, Awuzie had a sack that halted a UCLA drive, and he generally blanked the Bruins receivers all night. Despite all the penalties, CU’s defense simply refused to break. After starting 3-of-4 on first down, UCLA went just 1-of-10 the rest of the way.

The Buffs won ugly. The rise, even after some heavy turbulence, keeps going up.

Game balls

Phillip Lindsay, RB, Colorado. The junior set a school record for receptions by a running back with 11, totaling 76 yards. He also rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Chidobe Awuzie, DB, Colorado. The senior defensive standout blocked a field goal, had a drive-killing sack and generally caused chaos for UCLA’s offense.

Isaiah Oliver, DB, Colorado. The sophomore’s 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter helped seal the deal for the Buffaloes.


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