The Colorado Buffaloes played host to the UCLA Bruins on Friday night at Folsom Field in both teams’ Pac-12 Conference opener. An explosive third quarter combined with solid performances from sophomore wideout Laviska Shenault, Jr. and junior quarterback Steven Montez ultimately launched the Buffs to a 38-16 win.
For the first time since 1998, Colorado is 4-0 to begin a season, while the last time UCLA began a season 0-4 was 1971.
Colorado’s offense performing in a less than impressive manner and the Bruins on the whole playing better than expected were themes of the first half. The Buffs clung to a 14-13 lead at halftime, but aside from a 57-yard touchdown connection from Montez to Shenault, Jr. in the first quarter, the Buffaloes offense lacked a continuous spark.
That said, in the end, Colorado’s offensive 11 launched effective scoring drives in the third quarter, while the Buffs’ defense forced the Bruins’ offense into kicking three field goals, while steadily shutting down UCLA’s offensive capabilities as the second half progressed.
“At halftime, we got together and we made a few adjustments,” said senior tailback Travon McMillian. ” . . . We just came out in the second half with a different attitude. We just tried to execute [and] focus on the details.”
Ultimately, Colorado allowed the Bruins just 99 yards of total offense in the second half.
The Buffs won the opening coin toss and deferred, handing UCLA the ball to begin the game. Both the Buffaloes and the Bruins traded punts on their first respective drives, but it was UCLA that drew first blood, going up 7-0 around halfway through the first quarter.
Colorado answered in quick fashion, though, as Montez hit Shenault, Jr. way downfield for a 57-yard scoring strike. After that, UCLA’s JJ Molson made a 21-yard field goal with under a minute left in the opening quarter, putting the Bruins up 10-7.
Montez found the end zone on a 10-yard rush after the Buffs and Bruins again traded punts, this time to begin the second quarter. The score capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive and put Colorado ahead, 14-10.
Before the game, Montez had owned a pass completion rate just north of 73 percent. He finished Friday’s game having completed 22-of-26 passes, good for 85 percent. Montez tossed for 237 yards and a touchdown in the win, while also scoring two touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s grown up a lot [and] continues to grow every day, said senior wide receiver Jay MacIntyre of Montez. “He’s a leader on this team and a great quarterback . . . he’s really going to help our team.”
The Buffs averaged just 4.3 yards per play in the second quarter, the lowest mark of the game in that department. Before both teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime, Molson drilled another field goal, this time from 50 yards, putting the Bruins within one, although they still trailed, 14-13.
As the Buffs received the ball to begin the second half, more of the same seemed to be on the horizon, as Colorado punted on its opening possession and Molson made yet another field goal for the Bruins, giving UCLA a 16-14 lead.
However, from there, a total flip of the script occurred. From about midway into the third quarter until the game clock read all zeroes, the Buffs’ offense found its stride and relentlessly wore down UCLA’s defense, while Colorado on defense was stout.
After Molson’s third and final field goal of the game, UCLA’s remaining offensive drives resulted in four punts and a turnover on downs late in the fourth quarter.
Heading into the game, UCLA’s freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and his noted mobility was a point of concern for the Buffs. But in the end, Colorado neutralized him on the ground and limited the damage he did through the air.
“We knew we had to put pressure on him because he’s a great mobile quarterback,” said senior defensive back Evan Worthington. “We knew we had to shut him down and then we would be good.”
The Buffs started to get some separation on the scoreboard early into the third quarter. A trick play from the Bruins’ 40-yard line that had MacIntyre tossing a ball to senior tailback Kyle Evans resulted in a 31-yard gain and put the Buffs at UCLA’s doorstep. Colorado went up 21-16 after a direct snap rush by Shenault, Jr., who burst into the end zone.
UCLA punted on its ensuing drive and Colorado began to put the pressure on.
After getting the ball back, CU’s offense marched down the field with ease. Facing a 3rd-and-5 from the Bruins’ 17-yard line, Montez escaped a crumbling pocket and escaped upfield for an 11-yard gain. The play set up a 6-yard touchdown run by McMillian.
While Montez and Shenault, Jr., the latter of whom had team-highs with 12 catches for 126 yards and two total touchdowns, McMillian was a major hammer for the Buffaloes on offense. He was a key player in the wearing down of UCLA’s defense, running for 102 yards on 21 carries.
Overall, Colorado racked up 477 yards of total offense.
Up next for the undefeated Buffaloes is a home matchup against the Arizona State on Saturday, Oct. 6. The Buffs and Sun Devils kick off at 2 p.m. MST.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.