UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen looks downfield against Colorado on Saturday.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen looks downfield against Colorado on Saturday. (Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News)
PASADENA, Calif. — The Colorado football team has raised the bar of expectations.

Now, the pressure is cranking up.

On Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, missed opportunities - a growing trend this season - piled up and the Buffaloes wasted another strong performance from their defense in a 27-23 loss to the host UCLA Bruins.

"It's frustrating. It's real frustrating, actually," sophomore quarterback Steven Montez said after the Buffaloes' second consecutive loss. "I thought there were a lot of plays out there that could have went our way. Obviously they didn't. We need to get back on Monday, get back in practice, and just use this as motivation. If this doesn't fire you up, then I don't know what will."

Since the end of last season, the Buffaloes' motivation has been to win the Pac-12 championship that eluded them a year ago. Just two games into conference play, however, the defending South champion Buffs (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) are the bottom of the division.

"You have to have things bounce your way. Period," running back Phillip Lindsay sad. "Last year, we had a lot of things bounce our way. This year, we have to go in there and we have to make them bounce your way again. That's just how it is."

In this one, they bounced the way of the Bruins (3-2, 1-1), who snapped their two-game skid by suddenly figuring out how to play defense.

"We played better tonight offensively than we've played," head coach Mike MacIntyre said, "against an extremely, extremely talented defense.


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Very, extremely talented. We won't play many more talented defenses than that defense."

The Bruins may have talent on defense, but they came into the night as one of the worst in the country. Through the first four weeks, UCLA ranked 124th nationally in scoring defense (allowing 43.3 points per game) and total defense (524.8 yards per game), and they were dead last - out of 130 teams - against the run (307.5 yards per game).

Despite opening up its playbook a bit, CU, which has sputtered on offense throughout this season, couldn't find the same holes in the Bruins that other teams had.

It wasn't only the Bruins stopping the Buffs, however. The Buffs didn't do themselves many favors.

Late in the first half, while trailing 14-10, the Buffs missed an opportunity to put points on the board.

Montez directed an impressive drive in the final four minutes of the half and appeared to cap with it with a touchdown pass to Juwann Winfree, but Winfree couldn't hold onto the ball.

On the next play, the Buffs tried a fake field goal that didn't fool the Bruins. That was a 13-play drive that resulted in no points.

Late in the third quarter, with the Buffs trailing 21-17, Montez had a touchdown run wiped out by a holding penalty. Three plays later, Bryce Bobo was unable to haul in a Montez pass in the end zone. The Buffs settled for a James Stefanou field goal after that long drive.

"We moved the ball and did some good things," MacIntyre said. "We got in the end zone and had it called back; had a catch in the end zone and didn't make it. That's 14 points right there. I thought we moved the ball and did some good things. They did a little bit better than we did tonight."

In all, the Buffs managed just one touchdown in five trips to the red zone.

"I think we played a great game; we just have to finish," Montez said."That's as simple as it gets."

While the results weren't what the Buffs wanted, their young quarterback had a gutsy performance.

Although plagued by several drops and spending half of his night trying to avoid sacks, Montez completed 17 of 36 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown and ran for 108 yards.

Montez was never sacked, but was hit hard several times. He was slow to get up after a couple of hits.

"I'm healthy," he said. "It's football. Football is a physical sport."

CU's defense was certainly physical, and did its part in this one.

UCLA came in with one of the nation's top offenses, but the Buffs held the Bruins to season lows in points and yards (467). It was the first time UCLA was held below 500 yards this season.

"We just played hard all game," said safety Evan Worthington, who had an interception. "They just came out with some big plays on us. That's just what happens. We played hard and physical. That's what we emphasize every day in practice."

The defense kept CU in the game all night, but couldn't come up with a crucial stop late in the game.

After CU pulled within 24-23 with 6:46 to play, UCLA started its next possession at its own 8-yard line. Bruins star quarterback Josh Rosen then engineered a clock-melting drive. The junior hit several big passes in a 14-play march that took more than 6 minutes off the clock.

CU's defense avoided giving up a touchdown, but after a UCLA field goal, the Buffs' offense had just 21 seconds left.

"At the end of the day, we can just try to battle and get a stop," safety Afolabi Laguda said of the final UCLA drive. "That's what we did, we just didn't do it in a good amount of time."

Montez hit Jay MacIntyre for 31 yards on first down, but three plays later, his final toss sailed out of the end zone, leaving the Buffs with an uphill climb in the Pac-12 South.

"All we can do now is move forward, go back to the drawing board, sharpen up a little bit and we play ball," said Lindsay, who ran for 83 yards and scored both CU touchdowns. "We're still not down and out. The season just started. There's a lot of big games coming up for everybody. We just have to go make the best of what we've got right now."

UCLA 27, Colorado 23

How it happened: The two teams traded points all night, but CU's inability to finish in the red zone proved costly. The Buffs scored just one touchdown in five red zone trips. They had two drops in the end zone and a failed fake field goal.

Turning point: CU was in it all night, but UCLA's 15-play, 79-yard drive late in the fourth quarter all but sealed the Buffs' fate. That drive, which ended with a Bruins' field goal, took 6:15 off the clock and left the Buffs with only 21 seconds.

CU's stars of the game

RB Phillip Lindsay: Finished with 130 yards in total offense (83 rushing, 47 passing) and scored two touchdowns.

QB Steven Montez: A very gutsy performance, as he threw for 243 yards and a touchdown and ran for 108 yards.

S Evan Worthington: Led a good defensive effort with seven tackles, one tackle for loss and an interception.

Bottom line: Just two weeks into Pac-12 play, the Buffs are already in a deep hole, at 0-2 in conference games. It's time to stop talking of repeating as South champs, and figure out a way to simply get back on the winning track.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.