The Colorado Buffaloes football team hosted the Stanford Cardinals for their 105th homecoming game at Folsom Field in Boulder. In honor of Veterans Day on Monday, Nov. 11, Saturday’s matchup against Stanford served as CU’s annual Military Appreciation Day.
For the Buffs, last week’s dreadful effort defensively in the first quarter against UCLA put them in a 17-0 hole, which eventually proved too much to overcome. Inconsistent play from redshirt senior quarterback Steven Montez and an inexperienced secondary has plagued Colorado during their five-game losing streak.
Meanwhile, the return of senior quarterback K.J. Costello last week sparked the Cardinal offense. Costello threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-31 victory over Arizona on Nov. 2. The Buffs were tested by a balanced Stanford attack that has the ability to stretch the field with Costello at quarterback.
Colorado showed balance during their first drive. Sophomore running back Alex Fontenot carried the ball four times for 34 yards. Fontenot’s success on the ground led to a Montez touchdown rush on a read-option keeper around the left side. The redshirt senior recorded 22 yards rushing during the Buffs’ first offensive possession. Following the score, Montez eclipsed 10,000 career all-purpose yards. Colorado led 7-0 early.
Stanford responded with a balanced drive of their own. Costello completed passes to four different receivers, but a tackle for loss from senior outside linebacker Davion Taylor forced the Cardinals to settle for a field goal just outside of the red zone. Stanford cut the Colorado lead to four.
Head coach Mel Tucker said after the game that scoring defense is vital.
“In order to play good defense, you have to hold people to low numbers,” Tucker said. “The most important stat is scoring defense. To hold a team to 13 points or less is really our goal. We played probably our best defense of the season in that regard. Guys continue to chop wood, play hard, be physical and have relentless effort.”
A holding penalty against the Buffs on fourth down wiped out a muffed punt fumble recovery, which would’ve set up Colorado inside the red zone. Instead, the Cardinal retained possession after the re-punt. The Buffs defense held though after deflecting a Costello pass on third down. Colorado led 7-3 after one quarter.
“To hold a team to 13 points or less is really our goal. We played probably our best defense of the season in that regard.”
Mel Tucker, CU head coach
After a 29-yard reception from junior wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. early in the second quarter, Montez threw an interception on a slant pattern ending a promising Colorado drive. The ensuing Cardinal drive stalled in the red zone and ended in a field goal after freshman safety Mark Perry force a hurried throw from Costello. Stanford trailed 7-6.
The Buffs were unable to find success on offense after Stanford’s second field goal. But, Colorado’s defense stood tall, putting pressure on Costello and forcing a turnover. Junior safety Derrion Rakestraw came up with the interception.
Tucker mentioned and eluded to the idea of “complementary football” multiple times after the game, something the Buffs executed defensively, maintaining slim leads, forcing turnovers and limiting the big play in order to give the offense a chance.
Montez distributed the ball well on the Buffs’ possession late in the second quarter. The senior completed passes to Shenault Jr., sophomore wide receiver Maurice Bell and junior wide receiver K.D. Nixon. However, the drive ended in a field goal after back-to-back quarterback hurries from the Cardinal defense. The Buffs led 10-6 at the half.
A pass interference penalty on Taylor deep in Stanford territory extended the opening drive of the second half for the Cardinals. Nine plays later, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jalen Sami came up with a stop on third down in the red zone for Colorado. Stanford missed the ensuing field goal.
The Buffs struggled on offense in the third quarter, but the defense held strong. Junior defensive end Mustafa Johnson and sophomore defensive end Terrance Lang came up with back-to-back sacks and forced a Stanford punt late in the third quarter. Colorado maintained a four-point edge.
Tucker said the plan of attack on defense was to force Stanford into third down and obvious passing situations.
“We knew that if we got them to third down, we would be able to attack their protections and get to the quarterback,” Tucker said. “We just really needed our rush and our coverage to work together. The past three or four games on third down we had been able to get to the quarterback. We have been able to hit him. We just needed to have some sound coverage behind it.”
The Cardinal offense finally found the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter. Costello hit sophomore wide receiver Simi Fehoko in stride for a 79-yard scoring strike. Stanford led 13-10. Colorado responded with a balanced drive, which included a conversion of fourth and one deep in Cardinal territory. The Buffs had to settle for a short field goal, tying the game at 13 with just over seven minutes to play.
On the ensuing Stanford possession, Taylor came up huge for the Buffs, recording a pass break up and tackle on second and third down consecutively. The Cardinals were forced to punt after three plays in their own territory. Taylor talked about the two consecutive plays.
“The last two plays I had a feeling they were going to get (Stanford TE Colby Parkinson) to the sticks,” Taylor said. “I tried to make sure there was great eye discipline and focus on the things we predicted this week. The next play was the same thing. Having eye discipline and not looking back at the quarterback and try to make a play.”
The Buffs took over with six minutes left in the contest. Montez and freshman Jaren Mangham used their legs to start the drive. A pass interference call on Stanford helped continue the possession. Later, Colorado handed the ball off to Shenault Jr. on fourth down and one.
Tucker said the play on fourth and one is just another example of Shenault Jr.’s competitive fire and desire to win.
“I’ve said it every week,” Tucker said. “He is a tough kid and cares about this team. He is going to give us what he’s got, and he is going to show up for us. That was a prime example. Big-time players make big-time plays in the crunch time and that’s what that was.”
The Buffs drove to the 17-yard line and redshirt freshman kicker Evan Price hit a 37-yard walk-off field goal to give Colorado the 16-13 win. Colorado will have the week off following today’s homecoming game against Stanford. The Buffs will host Washington in two weeks on Saturday, Nov. 23. The time has yet to be announced.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Adam Bender at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @adamwbender.