The Buffaloes had the task of defeating USC, a team they are winless against in 13 tries. The setting was perfect. The Folsom Field blackout was ferocious, and the fans brought the energy. But somehow, the Colorado Buffaloes found a way to lose a gut-wrencher 35-31 after leading 31-21 in the 4th quarter of week 9.
Let’s trackback to late in the third quarter, when the Buffaloes had the football with the chance to go up by three scores and, in theory, put the game away. Steven Montez was down after taking a ferocious hit. It was the turning point of the game and completely changed the game dynamic. Montez would pass the concussion protocol test, but after he came back to start the fourth quarter, he was not the same quarterback. He was playing so well and looked to have a legacy-defining game in his senior year. He could have been the first quarterback in Colorado history to beat USC. He should have been the first quarterback in Colorado history to beat USC.
Encouraging First Half, but Colorado Can’t Get a Lucky Bounce
There was concern about how the Buffaloes would perform after their last two losses were by a combined score of 86-13 (45-3 to Oregon, and 41-10 to Washington State). USC scored one minute into the game, but the defense was able to hold their own in spurts. They forced a turnover on USC’s second possession, as freshman K.J. Trujillo picked off USC quarterback Kedon Slovis. The offense would score two touchdowns on their next two possessions after the interception. It felt as if the stars were aligning for the Buffaloes, as they were up 17-7.
However, on USC’s next drive they drove into the red zone. The defense was determined to make a stop though. On a second down play, Slovis was trying to get rid of the ball and threw it dangerously into the group of Buffaloes chasing him. Somehow, it eluded all three of them. On the next play, Slovis would run for a first down and fumble. Again, the Buffaloes could not take advantage and fall on the football even though it was within their grasp. Next play: USC scores to cut the lead to 17-14. The Buffaloes could have gone back on offense with a two score lead. Seven points were huge in a four-point game, and if the Buffaloes get one of two separate bounces to go their way, their chances to win the game were much better.
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Third Quarter Sets Up for Buffs Victory, but Montez Gets Hit
The offense was able to get the big play from their star, wide receiver Laviska Shenault, to start the third quarter, as he caught a 71-yard touchdown on a pass from Montez. Shenault, possibly a high-end first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, had his best game of the season with nine receptions for 172 yards and a touchdown. Despite USC scoring on their next drive, the Buffaloes were able to respond by marching right down the field. Montez would score on a 17-yard touchdown run to take a 31-21 lead, and USC would miss a field goal on the subsequent possession. The Buffaloes would get the ball back primed to go up by three possessions.
Then Montez was hit. There were collective boos from the CU faithful, as USC could have been arguably been called for roughing the passer. The Buffaloes could have folded, but the defense would respond by forcing USC into another punt. Montez would be back. The team could have quit, especially after enduring two straight 30+ point losses and after losing seven straight games to close out the 2018 season. They did not, and looked as if they were going to get a signature Pac-12 win for first-year coach Mel Tucker.
So Close to a Great Buffaloes Moment, but Unable to Attain It
The Buffaloes were penalized 13 times for 109 yards, and on the next drive they would be called for holding to stop the drive, and USC would turn it up on offense the next drive to cut the lead to 31-28. Montez was throwing inaccurately as the offense only gained one first down on the next two drives. However, Mel Tucker had a decision to make, as the team was down on the USC 38 facing a 4th-and-4. Even though the defense has given up 30 points in every game this season, he trusted them to get a stop and keep USC under 30 points.
Would his decision pay off? At first, the defense looked ferocious, as they sacked Kedon Slovis and made him fumble again. The Buffaloes were not able to get the turnover, as USC got the lucky bounce yet again. They would gain 19 yards on 2nd-and-20 to get into a manageable third down. While this play did not determine the game, 2nd-and-20 was such a letdown because the defense practically gave their first down sack away.
USC would convert the third down, and would score four plays later on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Kedon Slovis to Michael Pittman Jr. The Buffaloes’ defense had a chance to allow under 30 points for the first time this season. They failed to allow under 30 points for the first time this season.
The Buffaloes offense would have 2:15 to score a touchdown and win the game. After getting one first down, the Buffaloes faced a 2nd-and-4. Montez was unable to connect with K.D. Nixon and Shenault on the next two plays, as the timing between them seemed off. On fourth down, Montez would throw a swing route behind the line of scrimmage to Alex Fontenot that would only gain three yards. Being one yard short of the first down seemed fitting for the Buffaloes in this game, as they were so close to a great moment. They were unable to attain that great moment.
Where do the Colorado Buffaloes go from here?
Mel Tucker harped on penalties as the main reason the Buffaloes lost this game. While there were no specific penalties that were the main cause of the Buffaloes losing this game. On their drive to go up 10-7, the offensive line had two separate false start penalties in the goal-to-go situation even though they would end up scoring. They were playing with fire, as they were unable to be disciplined in many aspects of the game.
Mel Tucker said in his post-game comments that he believes the Buffaloes can beat every team that remains on their schedule. He also said that every team on the Buffaloes schedule can beat them. Playing disciplined will be key for the Buffaloes, as there is now even less room for error if they want to make a bowl game. Making it to 6-6 would be a resounding success for the 2019 Colorado Buffaloes, but that goal is looking less attainable with every loss, regardless of the margin of defeat.
They sit at 3-5 going into College Football Week 10 against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. This is a game that some will pick the Colorado Buffaloes to win despite being a 6.5-point underdog. The Buffaloes were able to beat UCLA 38-16 last season, and will go into the game encouraged by many aspects of their performance against USC. However, discipline and situational game-management will be key to the Buffaloes getting win number four. If being competitive in six out of their first eight games is any indication, the Buffaloes will have a chance in the fourth quarter. It will depend on if they take full advantage of that chance.