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CU football: Buffs roar back but come up short in 35-31 loss to UCLA

  • Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

    Colorado defensive lineman Jordan Carrell forces UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen to fumble as CU s Samson Kafovalu, left, gets ready to scoop up the ball and run it in for a touchdown Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

  • Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

    Colorado defensive lineman Jordan Carrell forces UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen to fumble as CU's Samson Kafovalu, left, gets ready to scoop up the ball and run it in for a touchdown Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

  • Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

    Colorado defensive lineman Samson Kafovalu celebrates after returning a fumble by UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen for a touchdown Saturday.

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Game rewind

What went right: CU found a way to brush off a disappointing first half to rally in the second half. The defense came up with big plays in the second half, and the offense found a way to take a lead in the fourth quarter.

What went wrong: Four trips to the red zone in the first half resulted in 13 points, but seven of those went to UCLA. CU managed to get just a pair of field goals in those four trips.

Turning point: With 8:55 to play, CU led 31-28, but UCLA needed just three plays to go 69 yards and take the lead, 35-31. CU never found a way to get the lead back.

CU player of the game: Jordan Carrell. The defensive lineman made four tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage. He also had a huge sack and forced fumble in the fourth quarter, leading to teammate Samson Kafovalu scoring a touchdown.

Bottom line: Another close loss for the Buffs, who continue to make a habit out of coming up short.

— Brian Howell

PASADENA, Calif. – Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre stood in front of the media on Saturday at the Rose Bowl and talked for nearly eight minutes after the Buffaloes’ loss against UCLA.

The head coach pretty much summed up the game in four words, though.

“Coulda, shoulda, woulda today,” he said.

His Buffs put together a valiant effort in their 35-31 loss to the No. 24 Bruins, but ultimately, this game will be remembered for the opportunities CU had and lost.

“It is frustrating when you feel like you kind of controlled the game, so to speak, and didn’t come out on top,” MacIntyre said. “If you watch the game and never saw the scoreboard, I think you’d think we would have won the game. That’s disheartening.”

Statistically, CU (4-5, 1-4 Pac-12) dominated the host Bruins (6-2, 3-2).

CU ran a school-record 114 plays on offense – one shy of the FBS record – and held the ball for 41 minutes, 5 seconds, compared to UCLA’s 59 plays and 18:55 time of possession.

The Buffs outgained the Bruins 554-400, and had 34 first downs to just 16 for the Bruins.

CU got a solid game from quarterback Sefo Liufau (37 of 57, 312 yards) and a breakout performance from freshman tailback Patrick Carr (100 yards, one touchdown). Defensively, they mostly shut down the UCLA running attack and kept freshman sensation quarterback Josh Rosen from burning them too badly.

All of that added up to CU having a chance to win until the final minute, when UCLA’s Nate Meadors picked off a Liufau pass with 51 seconds to play. That gave CU its sixth Pac-12 loss by a single score in the last two seasons.

“It’s very tough,” Liufau said. “Any time in life when you continually go for something and you fall short, it’s definitely frustrating.”

It was frustrating because, once again, the Buffs failed to make enough plays when it mattered most.

“We were right there and we were feeling like we were going to get that win, but we just couldn’t finish,” receiver Nelson Spruce said.

While this one came down to the final minute, it was really the first half that will eat at the Buffs.

CU’s offense reached the red zone (inside the 20) four times – and inside the 10 on three of those possessions – before intermission, and the Buffs came away with just six points. Three times they settled for field-goal attempts, one of which missed.

The most devastating play, though, came early in the second quarter.

Down just 7-0, CU marched to the UCLA 8, and on the 16th play of the drive, Liufau started to run, changed his mind and tried to hit Devin Ross on a pass that was picked off by Ishmael Adams, who sprinted 96 yards the other way for a Bruins touchdown.

“I changed my mind last second,” Liufau said. “I was going to throw it to Devin and I couldn’t follow through. I think I hit my lineman or a D-lineman. I probably should have just pulled it down and probably would have saved the hassle.”

CU was so dominant on ball control that at one point, UCLA ran just a single play on offense in a span of 19:25. That one play, however, was an 82-yard run by Paul Perkins that put the Buffs in a 21-3 hole.

Despite their first-half dominance, CU trailed 21-6 at the break.

“We just didn’t make the plays,” Spruce said. “I think we could have dialed up a few things a little bit different, but they’re a good team. They’re a ranked team and they found a way to stop us. If want to win games like this, we have to find ways to score.”

In the second half, they did.

Donovan Lee scored on a 1-yard run, and then defensive tackle Samson Kafovalu scored on a 33-yard fumble return to pull the Buffs within 28-23 early in the fourth quarter.

At that point, it felt that this day might be a little different for CU.

“I was like, ‘Man, stuff like that never happens to us,’ ” Spruce said. “That’s the type of momentum we needed.”

CU took that momentum and ran with it, forcing a UCLA punt and then needing just two plays – a 62-yard pass from Liufau to Ross and a 6-yard TD run by Carr – to take the lead, 31-28, with 12:04 to play.

Like so many CU games in recent memory, though, the Buffs weren’t good enough to come out on top.

“It definitely sucks to keep falling short, but by no means are we quitting or hanging our heads,” Liufau said. “We’ll learn from this and we’ll move on next week.”

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