Colorado Buffaloes Week 14 produced yet another forgettable road loss. Coming off of wins against Stanford and Washington, fans had hope the Buffaloes could shake the College Football World by upsetting the Utah Utes. Even the players, including Steven Montez, thought there was reason to believe the Buffaloes would win. The hope faded as the Utes held serve, dishing up a 45-15 beat down of the Buffaloes in Salt Lake City. This loss means the 2019 Colorado Buffaloes will not be bowl eligible for the third straight season.
2019 Colorado Buffaloes Have Third Straight Year of 5-7
The Buffaloes finished 5-7 for the third straight year. This result is frustrating because for three straight years, the team has gone on the road in their last game of the season needing a win to get to the 6-6 benchmark required for bowl eligibility. For the second time in three years, the team lost in Salt Lake City (they lost 33-21 at California in the last game of 2018).
However, this year’s 5-7 had a different feel than last year’s 5-7 record. The Buffaloes were competitive in all their home games, and were able to win close games against comparable Pac-12 opponents. Almost no one nationally thought the Buffaloes would be able to beat Stanford and Washington. Head coach Mel Tucker’s recruiting efforts have also been recognized in Boulder and beyond.
Colorado Strikes First In Imperfect First Quarter
In 2017, both the Buffaloes and the Utes entered the game 5-6, and Utah won 34-13. Some thought Colorado had a chance in that game. This year, it was going to take perfect play from the Buffaloes. They were not able to attain perfect play, as they had a rather imperfect start. After Utah went 3-and-out on their first possession, Dimitri Stanley muffed a punt, resulting in a Utah recovery. However, the defense was able to force a punt from the Utes after they started the drive in Buffaloes territory.
For Colorado to have a chance, they would have to strike first. Laviska Shenault got involved on the drive. He would catch a pass from Steven Montez on a 4th and 5 for six yards in Utah territory. Head coach Mel Tucker took the aggressive approach, knowing the Buffaloes would need to get the early lead. Montez would find Brady Russell for a touchdown with 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter to give the Buffaloes a 7-0 lead.
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Defensively, the Buffaloes stifled the Utes in the first quarter. Utah went three-and-out on their first three possessions. Utah did not get their first 1st down until there were three seconds left in the opening quarter. The Buffaloes were pressuring Tyler Huntley, the Utes quarterback. However, Huntley would be able to evade Buffaloes defenders, causing major problems for the defense for the rest of the game.
Brant Kuithe Torches Buffaloes in 2nd Quarter
The Buffaloes were without safety Mikial Onu for this game, as he suffered shin splints in practice during the week. The Utes were able to break down the Buffaloes secondary with crossing routes and utilizing tight end Brant Kuithe. Kuithe would score both Utah touchdowns in the second quarter. He caught touchdown passes of 38 and seven yards from Huntley.
Down 14-7, the offense was forced into a three-and-out. Utah would get a chunk return on the punt, and the Buffaloes got a personal foul penalty on the play also. Despite the punt return, the Buffs defense was able to prevent Utah from scoring a third touchdown in the quarter. Trailing 17-7 at halftime, penalties and a lack of execution from the Buffaloes was telling to how the second half would go.
Colorado Comeback Hopes Put to Sleep
After both teams traded punts to open the second half, the Utes were able to put any thought of a Buffaloes comeback to sleep. They did this very slowly, as it took them 12 plays to go 48 yards. Taking seven minutes off the clock kept the Buffaloes defense on the field. Once they got off the field, the offense now faced a 24-7 deficit. Utah was able to convert four third downs on this drive. The game was flowing on Utah’s terms, and the Buffaloes could not get anything going offensively.
Frustration boiled over after Montez was sacked on a third down. Tackle Arlington Hambright pushed Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae to the ground. Multiple players were flagged on the play, and it epitomized the Buffaloes’ road struggles the whole season. The Buffaloes have dealt with penalties all season, as they came into the game with the second-most penalties in the Pac-12 (Utah was 1st).
Forced to punt yet again after the scuffle, the Buffaloes special teams completely broke down. Utah returner Demari Simpkins bolted 66 yards to the end zone, giving the Utes a 31-7 lead. Montez would get one more touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to give him 63 passing touchdowns for his career (a CU record), but the Buffaloes were soundly defeated 45-15.
Mel Tucker Has Somewhat Successful 2019, Needs to Show Improvement in 2020
The Buffaloes did not convert their first third down of the game until the fourth quarter. They played losing football and got pummeled for the fourth consecutive road game. Counting all of the matchups against Oregon, Washington State, UCLA, and Utah, the Buffaloes were outscored 162-42. Mel Tucker has had a somewhat successful first year in Boulder. The team showed improvement during the season, and he has been able to lay a solid foundation recruiting-wise (such as with transfer Antonio Alfano). However, in these blowout road losses the team looked lost, and they had trouble adjusting to what opponents threw at them.
No one was expecting the Buffaloes to become world beaters in year one of the Tucker regime, but it is disappointing that the team was unable to make a bowl game. Making a bowl game would have done wonders for the program as far as exposure nationally and recruiting. The future is brighter than it was at the end of last season, but there is still plenty of work to be done. The team is losing star wide Laviska Shenault, who declared for the NFL draft on his Twitter page Tuesday. They are also losing Montez, who has exhausted his eligibility and is looked at as a Day 3 NFL Draft pick.
The Future of The Colorado Buffaloes Football Program
Tucker has made the phrase “Relentless” commonplace in Colorado Buffaloes football, and he will have to deliver in his relentless efforts to improve the Colorado Buffaloes for 2020 and beyond. There is hope for the future, as the Buffaloes were able to secure the services of Antonio Alfano and Jerry Rice’s son Brendan Rice, to name a few. Beating Pac-12 opponents such as Stanford and Washington also give fans hope that the Buffaloes will be able to compete with top Pac-12 competition and possibly accomplish the goal of being bowl-eligible in 2020.