CU at Oregon, at a glance
What went right: Quarterback Steven Montez was brilliant, leading the offense to 593 yards against a poor Oregon defense. Defensively, the Buffs buckled down when needed.
What went wrong: During the third quarter, CU nearly let the wheels fall off. After going up by 16, they coughed it up and couldn't slow down Oregon for a while. The Ducks dominated the end of the third quarter and scored 21 points in a row.
Turning point: Montez's 31-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Bobo with 8:43 to play was initially ruled incomplete. Had that call stood, the Buffs would have had to punt. Instead, it was ruled a touchdown and it gave CU the confidence it needed to finish the game.
CU player of the game: Montez. He threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 135 yards and a score in his first career start.
Bottom line: For the first time since joining the Pac-12, the Buffs look like a team that can legitimately contend for a top spot in the conference. This was a huge win for a team that hasn't had a huge win in years.
EUGENE, Ore. - In the visiting locker room at Autzen Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre had a message for redshirt freshman quarterback and El Paso, Texas, product Steven Montez.
"I told him, 'Keep doing this and you'll be in the El Paso Hall of Fame, for sure,'" MacIntyre joked.
Heck, keep doing this and Montez might find himself in the CU Hall of Fame.
Playing for injured starter Sefo Liufau, Montez put together a brilliant individual performance and delivered the Buffaloes' biggest victory since they joined the Pac-12, stunning Oregon 41-38 in front of 53,974 fans.
Montez threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 135 yards and another score - becoming the first player in CU history to hit the 300 and 100 milestones in the same game.
"Pretty much a legendary game for his first one," MacIntyre said. "I knew he was good, but to set the record for Colorado history, I would say he exceeded my expectations."
Safe to say Colorado exceeded everybody's expectations on Saturday.
The Pac-12 doormat since joining the league in 2011, the Buffs (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) got the better of the team that has set the bar in the conference, and showed that maybe, just maybe, they are a force to be reckoned with.
"I would say this is a signature win," said MacIntyre, whose team was 0-5 against the Ducks since joining the league. "These kids believe they can beat anybody."
This one wasn't in hand until the final minute, though.
Oregon drove to the CU 7-yard line and was poised to steal this one from the Buffs. It was Ahkello Witherspoon with thievery on his mind, though, as the senior cornerback stepped in front of Dakota Prukop's pass in the end zone and pulled it down for an interception with 48 seconds on the clock.
"It was big," Witherspoon said. "I love playing for my team. Just having them coming over, hugging me and celebrating, that means everything to me. I was actually in the moment shaking my head. That's so much of God's work. I'm thankful he put me in position to make that play, the opportunity."
Nobody quite seized the opportunity like Montez, though.
Liufau, who holds nearly 80 records at CU, has been one of the country's most efficient passers this season, but he left the game early in the third quarter at Michigan on Sept. 17 with a sprained right ankle. He spent all week trying to get back, but couldn't go.
Without him, not many people gave the Buffs a shot, especially after watching Montez go 0-for-7 in relief of Liufau last week.
"I can understand how people were a little nervous about Sefo not playing, especially after the Michigan game; 0-for-7 is tough," Montez said. "But, I wanted to come out here and show our fan base and show our team that they could believe in me and that I could get it done on the road."
He started strong, completing his first three passes.
"It definitely calmed me down," he said.
He was so calm, in fact, that he completed 17 of his first 18 throws, with the one incompletion coming on a throwaway.
Montez connected with Shay Fields on a first-quarter touchdown pass, and then ran for a 3-yard touchdown that gave the Buffs a surprising 23-7 lead.
Devin Ross then made a brilliant catch for a 48-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to give the Buffs a 33-17 lead.
They were on the move for another score when adversity hit.
Montez was picked off by Oregon's Brenden Schooler - the first interception thrown by the Buffs this season - midway through the third quarter.
From that point, the game turned in a hurry, as Oregon went on a 21-0 scoring surge. The Ducks turned that Montez interception into a touchdown. Then, Montez threw another pick that Oregon converted to a touchdown.
The Buffs went into the fourth quarter trailing 38-33, and judging by social media, the CU fan base sensed a crushing finish for the Buffs.
The Buffs never got down.
"I sensed the momentum change," Montez said. "I knew it wasn't going to slip away because we're a different Colorado team. We're way different. We're mentally tough, we're mentally strong and we prepare and we're confident."
With Montez leading the way, the Buffs went on a seven-play, 70-yard scoring march and capped it with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Montez to Bryce Bobo, who made a one-handed catch and barely got his foot in bounds. The play was initially ruled incomplete, but after review, officials said the catch was good.
Asked his thoughts during the review, Montez recalled the ESPN SportsCenter theme and said, "What were my thoughts? Da-na-na, da-na-na! Top 10."
It was a top 10 performance by Montez, too, as he surprised everybody with his play against the Ducks.
"I knew he was capable of having that type of performance," quarterbacks coach/co-offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said, "but I have to say, I was a little bit surprised that he came out in his first start and was able to settle down and go play and start that fast."
Ross said of his quarterback, "He was crazy. He did so good. That was amazing."
The same could be said for the game, in general. After years of being the Pac-12 punching bag, the Buffs and their backup quarterback won a prize fight.
"They know now they are a heavyweight boxer," MacIntyre said. "They can box with the heavyweights. When you know you can box with the heavyweights, you keep punching."