Colorado was expected to lose to Michigan on Saturday, and did. The Wolverines rallied past the Buffs for a 45-28 victory, scoring the final 21 points of the afternoon.
The Buffs (2-1) didn't leave Michigan Stadium pleased to have played a tough game with the Wolverines, but they did leave with a measure of confidence in knowing their ultimate goal is still attainable.
"We leave with just our dreams that we want to be Pac-12 champs," receiver Shay Fields said. "Non-conference play is always good to do, but we're about what's ahead in store for us, which is the Pac-12 games. Just go out, come back on Monday, correct things and get ready for Oregon."
CU opens Pac-12 play on Saturday at Oregon (2-1). The Ducks are also coming off a road loss to a Big Ten foe, falling 35-32 at Nebraska on Saturday.
All along, CU players have felt they have a team that can compete for a Pac-12 title, despite the fact that they are 2-25 against the conference under the direction of head coach Mike MacIntyre.
Playing well - at least in two phases of the game - at Michigan somewhat validates CU's self-confidence. MacIntyre maintained that Saturday did nothing to damage CU's top priority.
"Our goal is to win the Pac-12 championship; win the South and get to the Pac-12 championship game," MacIntyre said.
Senior linebacker Kenneth Olugbode, one of the team's captains, said the Buffs need to regroup quickly and prove they can challenge for a conference crown.
"Of course we're frustrated," Olugbode said. "Nobody likes to lose, but I think as a team we went out there and fought hard. But I still think we have more fight in us and we're going to see when we get to the Pac-12."
Early in the second quarter, when the Buffs led 21-7, CU running back Phillip Lindsay caught a pass and was dropped for a 3-yard loss. A Michigan defender flew into the play late and landed on Lindsay.
Michigan was momentarily flagged for a late hit - which would have given CU a first down on the Michigan 40-yard line. Instead, the officials picked up the flag, and the Buffs faced a third down, which they failed to convert. That led to the Alex Kinney punt that he booted into the back of his blockers for a 7-yard loss. And, that, in turn, set up a Michigan touchdown.
"Extremely frustrating," MacIntyre said. "I have no idea why it was picked up. The guy is laying on the ground and they hit him on the ground. That was a big play that turned out to be a big play for them the next play."
We'll never know, but had the flag stood, it could have kept the CU momentum going and given the Buffs a chance to increase their lead.
3rd down woes
Through two games, the Buffs ranked fourth in the country in third-down conversion rate (66.2 percent), but converted just one of 13 third downs against the Wolverines. The only conversion came on the penultimate play of the game, when Kyle Evans had a 7-yard run on 3rd-and-2.
On average, CU needed 9.5 yards on third downs, and eight times needed at least 10 yards to convert.
"We had too many third and longs," MacIntyre said. "That was the problem on that. If you get some more third and mediums and third and shorts, you've got a better chance."
Quarterbacks Sefo Liufau and Steven Montez dropped back to pass on 11 of the third down attempts. On those dropbacks, Liufau and Montez combined to go 2-for-9 for 0 yards and they were sacked twice.
- After Liufau connected with Fields for a 70-yard touchdown on the third play of the third quarter to give CU a 28-24 lead, the Buffs had 312 yards of offense on 43 plays. From that point on, they had 13 yards on 24 plays.
- Junior tailback Michael Adkins II made his first appearance in nearly a year, but it was hardly memorable. Entering the game late in the fourth quarter, Adkins had two carries for minus-4 yards and caught a pass for one yard. He had not played injuring his hamstring against Colorado State on Sept. 19, 2015.
- Michigan finished with 397 yards in total offense, meaning CU has held all three opponents below 400 yards. Last time CU did that in three straight is when the Buffs did it during the first four games of 2011.
- Liufau became the first quarterback in CU history to surpass 8,000 yards in career passing. He now has 8,165 yards in his career.
- Fields became the 14th player in CU history with 100 career catches; he now has 101.
- Redshirt freshman Aaron Haigler made his first career start, at right tackle.
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.