The usual “Sko Buffs” chants from Colorado Buffaloes fans did not reverberate across Folsom Field Saturday. Although 2020 will not allow Colorado Buffaloes fans to scream it together, they were chanting it from home. Despite playing in front of a very limited number of spectators due to COVID-19 protocols, Colorado held on for a 48-42 victory over the UCLA Bruins on Saturday.

Defense’s Opportunistic Turnovers Became Storyline for Buffaloes

Colorado quarterback Sam Noyer was the story leading into this game. The fifth-year senior had not started a game at quarterback since his senior year of high school. Buffaloes fans were wondering about how the quarterback would fill the void left by Steven Montez.

While Noyer was the story before the game, turnovers became the story once the game started. The Buffaloes capitalized off two UCLA turnovers to take an early 14-0 lead. Noyer did not have to carry the team, as the offensive line came ready to play. They created holes for running back Jarek Broussard. The sophomore got the first two rushing touchdowns of his career. It was exactly the start Karl Dorrell and the entire Colorado Buffaloes team needed in 2020.

More Opportunistic Turnovers Help Buffaloes Get 28-Point Lead

Once the Buffaloes built their lead, the UCLA offense started to figure out the Buffs’ defense. They allowed UCLA to score a touchdown on a screen pass to cut CU’s lead in half. This 28-yard touchdown for UCLA was a screen play on a 2nd-and-16. Defending the screen was a problem for the Buffaloes’ defense all night. Too many of these plays happened. If the Buffaloes want to win consistently this season, they must clean this aspect of their game up.

Despite the defense playing very opportunistic, the offense showed great consistency throughout the entire game. The timing between Sam Noyer and a receiving corps that was missing senior K.D. Nixon looked great. This recipe led the Buffaloes to dominate most of the second quarter.

Credit: University of Colorado Athletics

After Noyer found Brady Russell for a touchdown, Derrion Rakestraw recovered a Dorian Thompson-Robinson fumble. Even though the Buffaloes could not capitalize on that drive, they recovered another fumble deep in UCLA territory on the Bruins’ next possession. Another Jarek Broussard score gave the Buffs a 28-7 lead. Broussard would have 100 rushing yards before halftime. If the Buffaloes can consistently produce on the ground, they will be able to compete against anyone in the Pac-12 this season.

UCLA would go three-and-out on the next possession. That led to the Buffs getting another rushing touchdown, this time from sophomore Jaren Mangham. The Buffaloes were 6.5-point underdogs, but they were winning 35-7 with 5:46 remaining in the second quarter.

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Despite Opportunistic Turnovers, Defense Got Exposed On Multiple Occasions

However, the defense would be exposed on the next possession. They gave up a 52-yard touchdown on a blown coverage. Momentum was creeping towards UCLA, as James Stefanou missed a 51-yard field goal attempt before halftime.

To start the second half, the Buffs’ defense would give up a 65-yard touchdown run to Dorian Thompson-Robinson. On the ensuing Buffs possession, UCLA blocked a field goal. The first bad break for the Buffs all game would turn even worse. UCLA would score a touchdown on another screen pass to make the game 35-28 with 10:10 left in the third quarter. In what was a bit less than 10 minutes of gameplay, UCLA was able to make a game out of what was looking like a CU rout.

The most encouraging thing about this game for Buffs fans was that the offense was putting up consistent production all game. They responded to the flurry of UCLA points by methodically marching down the field on the next drive. Noyer would get a 1-yard rush touchdown, and the Buffaloes led 42-28.

However, another possible deficiency on defense for the Buffs was exposed. They were getting numerous pass interference calls all night, and the majority of them were on freshman cornerback Christian Gonzalez. UCLA was targeting in the pass game all night. It was frustrating to see pass interference calls go against the Buffs, but they did not give up touchdowns because of them. Once again, the Bruins would score on a screen play to cut the lead to 42-35. These types of plays should not be able to work against a defense as often as they did for UCLA.

Special Teams Also Showed Deficiencies for Colorado Buffaloes In First Game of 2020

Nonetheless, one area that started to look better for the Buffaloes was their kicking game after missing two field goals in the first half. Evan Price replaced an injured James Stefanou for a 45-yard field goal at the end of the third quarter. After having low-scoring games at home in the second half of the 2019 season, the opening game of the 2020 season looked nothing like those games. Despite that, the Buffaloes were winning the game 45-35.

The game tightened up in the fourth quarter, as the Buffaloes’ defense stepped up and stopped UCLA on a 4th-and-1 from the CU 30-yard line. The Buffs’ offense was able to drive down the field, but UCLA’s defense was able to hold them to a field goal. With a 48-35 lead, the Buffaloes’ defense put UCLA into a 4th-and-11 situation from the CU 40. Once again, UCLA was not able to convert.

The Buffaloes had a chance to put the game away for good. However, UCLA would get their second blocked kick of the night, this time on a 44-yard attempt from Evan Price.

UCLA was able to drive down the field and score a touchdown with 1:45 left. Consequently, the Bruins had burned through all their timeouts already. Thus, CU was able to recover the onside kick and run out the clock. It wasn’t perfect, but being able to beat UCLA was a great way for Karl Dorrell to start his CU coaching tenure.

James Stefanou retired from football on Monday. He finished eighth on CU’s all-time scoring list with 199 points.

Colorado Buffaloes Defeat UCLA Bruins 48-42 In First Game of 2020 Season

Dorrell said that there was no added emotion going up against UCLA, which is his alma mater. He also coached there from 2003-07. It’s all business for Dorrell. This mindset is a great mindset for a team who is trying to go on an ascending path. He also said the team won without playing their best football. Despite the defensive inefficiencies, Dorrell stated the need to outscore opponents in the Pac-12.

The opponent CU will try to outscore next week will be the Stanford Cardinal. Stanford’s quarterback situation looks murky, as Davis Mills is currently in COVID-19 protocol. On defense, if the Buffaloes are able to limit penalties and big plays off of screens, they should have a good chance to win this game.

Last year, they beat Stanford 16-13. That win and the confidence the Buffs gained from it should carry over into the matchup this year. Do not expect the Buffaloes to put up 48 points against the Cardinal, but they should not give up 42 points to them either.

The Buffaloes are not far off from the majority of Pac-12 teams as far as their talent. Thus, the expectation should be for them to compete against whoever they play this season. They should be able to get the job done too, and they demonstrated that in their Week 1 win against UCLA.

James Stefanou Retires After Game

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