Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Game at a glance
Matchup: Colorado Buffaloes (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) at UCLA Bruins (2-2, 0-1)
Kickoff: 8:36 p.m. MDT
Where: Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif. Capacity: 80,616; Turf: Grass
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Odds: UCLA by 7 ½
Coaches: Colorado — Mike MacIntyre (5th season, 23-32; 39-53 career); UCLA — Jim Mora Jr. (6th season, 43-26)
Series: UCLA leads 9-3 (5-1 in Los Angeles)
Steven Montez never saw it coming.
Colorado’s sophomore quarterback took the snap, looked to his left and fired a pass to Bryce Bobo. It never got to Bobo, however, as Washington’s Myles Bryant stepped in front of the pass and took it the other way for a touchdown.
It was a game-changing play in the Buffs’ 37-10 loss last Saturday, but CU coaches are hoping it’s a play that can ultimately make Montez better.
On Saturday, the Buffs (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) visit UCLA (2-2, 0-1) in a pivotal South division game. It’s a big one for CU’s goal of winning the Pac-12, but it’s also another step in the maturation of Montez.
“I think there’s been some really positive things and there’s been some mistakes,” co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Lindgren said of Montez. “I think you’re going to have that any time with a young guy that hasn’t played a ton.”
The back-breaking interception against Washington was a perfect example of Montez’s room for growth.
On the possession before that interception, Washington showed blitz with its two inside linebackers. Montez picked that up, the backers blitzed and Montez hit Bobo on a slant route for a 16-yard gain and a first down.
When the Huskies showed blitz again, Montez figured it was coming again. He got the snap and never looked to see that the linebackers dropped back to cover the inside receiver. That allowed Bryant to roam free, read Montez’s eyes — which never left Bobo — and jump the route.
“It was a tough read, but it’s one that he was pretty frustrated with and I know that he can make,” Lindgren said. “It’s a hard lesson to learn, but it’s one I hope he won’t make again.”
Head coach Mike MacIntyre credited Washington for having a great plan on that play, but knows Montez will learn from it.
“That’s just a process you learn from,” he said. “You teach and you do it.”
A year ago, the Buffs had a veteran, four-year starter in Sefo Liufau at quarterback. While he wasn’t perfect, he knew the offense like the back of his hand.
Montez has made just seven starts. He’s done enough good in those starts — including a 5-2 record — to make his coaches and teammates believe in him, even through some growing pains.
“He’s our starting quarterback and we’re going to have faith in him, no matter what,” senior receiver Shay Fields said. “He’s catching up to where we need to be and he’ll get it.”
With so much talent on the roster, and high hopes for a second consecutive South title, the Buffs wish the growth was faster. Lindgren, however, said he likes how Montez is progressing.
“Sometimes you want it to be quicker,” he said. “But if you really watch the entire game, see a lot of the plays and things that he’s making, I do like the development. You just want him to get there quicker and you want him to play a little bit more consistent.
“He’s just got to reduce the number of mistakes and just be smart in situations where the first read may not be there and he’s got to work through to his progression.”
CU is hoping to see Montez take another step forward against UCLA. The Bruins have struggled on defense all season, ranking near the bottom of the country in many key categories.
While he’s thrown a couple of ill-timed interceptions, Montez has completed 70.3 percent of his passes — ranking 11th nationally — and has started making more plays with his feet, rushing for 117 yards on 25 carries over the past two games.
“I think I’ve been playing decent,” Montez said. “I don’t think I’ve been playing phenomenal. That leaves a lot of room for improvement. I haven’t been playing perfect football, obviously. There’s tons of room for improvement in my case for sure, so I’m just working hard every day.”
The Buffs are confident that as long as Montez keeps working, good things will come.
“You can’t really teach experience,” receiver Devin Ross said. “He’s just got to keep playing. Keep playing and the results will come. He has the arm strength, he has the ability, he has the legs, he has everything we need. We just have to execute.”
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.