With a four-point lead early in the third quarter at Stanford on Oct. 22, the Colorado football team was knocking on the door of the end zone.
The Buffaloes had second-and-goal from the Stanford 3-yard line, and called a play that was designed for quarterback Sefo Liufau to fake the handoff to running back Phillip Lindsay and, on the play-action, turn to toss the ball into the end zone to tight end George Frazier.
Frazier, who doesn't have a catch all season, was wide open. Unfortunately for the Buffs, they didn't block Stanford linebacker Joey Alfieri, who sprinted untouched into the CU backfield and slammed Liufau to the ground before he could even look for Frazier.
"We were hoping they'd come tight to the line and bite on the fake a little bit more than they did," CU co-offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said. "They kind of got us on that one."
Two plays later, the Buffs (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) settled for a field goal attempt, which failed. It was a rare empty trip to the red zone for CU, but the past two weeks have been more of a struggle in that area of the field.
"We felt like we've left some points out there, definitely," Lindgren said.
Six games into the season, the Buffs scored on 92.6 percent of their red-zone trips, with touchdowns on 70.4 percent of those. During the past two games, the Buffs have scored just 72.4 percent of the time (eight-of-11), with only 45.5 percent of those going to the end zone.
"We've got to be able to finish drives and we talk about that all the time," Lindgren said.
On another possession against Stanford, the Buffs had a touchdown wiped out because of an offensive pass interference call. That possession also resulted in a missed field goal.
In all, three missed field goals in the red zone over the past two weeks haven't helped, but on six of their 11 trips to the red zone, they've had to call upon their kickers.
"It's important to go out there and put points on the board, especially touchdowns," Liufau said. "If you want to beat good teams, you're going to want to put up touchdowns and not just field goals."
With a bye this week, the Buffs are working on improving their red zone success rate.
"There's some things I think we'll clean up and some things that we could have done differently (against Stanford)," Lindgren said.
Of course, execution of the play can be better. Get a block against Stanford and Frazier might have hauled in an easy touchdown catch. Take out the penalty in the end zone and the Buffs could have had another score.
Getting the players in the right situation to score is also essential, and Lindgren said mixing up the play selection could help.
"Looking at it, especially with the team we have, you'd always like when you get down there to just be able to run it in," Lindgren said. "There's some times, looking at it, that we could be a little bit more aggressive throwing it, and giving our guys some opportunities to score from higher out, so you don't always get caught down inside the 10. Your play selection is so limited (inside the 10)."
Despite bogging down in the red zone the past two weeks, Lindgren said the Buffs are still confident on offense and ready to roll again in the final four games.
"I like where we're sitting," Lindgren said.
Tight end involvement
While Frazier was supposed to be the target on that third quarter play against Stanford, the Buffs have rarely used their tight end as receivers this season.
In fact, neither of the top two tight ends on the depth chart — senior Sean Irwin and Frazier — have a catch this season. Just three of CU's 170 catches this season have come from tight ends (one each for Chris Bounds, Dylan Keeney and Chris Hill).
Lindgren said the Buffs could possibly use Irwin and Frazier as receivers at some point, but that their skill as blockers has been valuable.
"I still think Sean and George, their biggest attribute is those guys are really strong, physical blockers and they have been really consistent in that way," Lindgren said. "We have things that get them the ball on play-actions and some things and just haven't gotten them called."
The Buffs also have a talented stable of wide receivers and running backs.
"There's only one football to go around," Lindgren said. "There's a lot of play-makers out there that we're trying to get involved."
During the first seven games, CU had 27 pass plays go for 20-plus yards (at least three in each game), but had none against Stanford. ... Shay Fields (563 yards), Devin Ross (491) and Bryce Bobo (468) are all on pace for at least 700 receiving yards. CU has never had a trio reach even the 600-yard mark in the same season. ... For the first time since 1976, the Buffs have had four different players attempt field goals this season.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.