Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Game at a Glance
Matchup: UCLA Bruins (0-3) at Colorado Buffaloes (3-0)
Kickoff: 7:05 p.m. MT
Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Capacity: 50,183. Turf: Grass.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 760 AM
Odds: CU by 9.5
Coaches: Colorado — Mike MacIntyre, 6th season (28-38; 44-59 career); UCLA — Chip Kelly, 1st season (0-3; 46-10 career)
Series: UCLA leads 10-3, including 4-2 in Boulder
Nearly 90,000 people dressed in red packed into Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium and created a ringing in Steven Montez’s ears like nothing he’d experienced before during a football game.
Two years ago, the Colorado quarterback might have buckled. In fact, two years ago, he did buckle, going 0-for-7 off the bench in front of 110,042 fans at Michigan.
On Sept. 8 at Nebraska, however, nothing seemed to faze Montez during the 33-28 victory.
In the first quarter, one of his linemen was flagged for a false start and Montez simply put his hands out to signal to his team, “It’s OK, remain calm.” Three plays later, Montez threw a touchdown pass.
In the waning moments of the game, Montez’s third touchdown pass lifted the Buffaloes to a come-from-behind victory in hostile territory.
On Friday night at Folsom Field, the Buffs (3-0) open Pac-12 Conference play against UCLA (0-3), and they go into the game knowing their quarterback has taken a leap this season in his execution, his command of the offense and his poise.
“It’s just fun to watch as a coach,” CU quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper said. “He’s a really talented player and he’s starting to understand the game. Part of that is simply through a ton of reps. Probably what I’m most proud about right now is he’s practicing at a high level and that’s what you have to do win football games.”
Much has been made of what Roper has done to help Montez take his game to a new level. Hired in January, Roper has helped Montez’s study habits, getting him to a point where he can read defenses better and be more prepared than ever going into a play and a game.
It’s not just the hiring of Roper that’s made a difference, though. Montez’s maturity to accept and apply Roper’s teaching has been vital, as well.
“If we would have had Roper here when I was a freshman, I kind of would have just been like, ‘Alright, I know you want me to watch film,'” Montez said. “I don’t think it would have stuck as well. I think now that I’m starting to understand a little bit more and just understanding the process of it, his advice came at the perfect time.
“I want to soak it all up like a sponge.”
Combining Roper’s advice with his own maturity has allowed Montez to play with more confidence and command of the offense this season.
“I definitely feel that,” said Montez, who takes a 10-8 record as a starter into Friday’s game. “It’s me already seeing a bunch of games and starting for a little bit and understanding what that is and what that feels like and how to handle it.
“The other half is Roper contributing to making me more comfortable and adding to the calmness and the experience by instilling in me that I need to watch tape or study, go over our play concepts; I need to do all the extra stuff so on Saturdays I feel more comfortable.”
The need to focus on the details was hammered home even more this summer when CU head coach Mike MacIntyre had the Buffs read, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead And Win.” One of the principles taught in the book is that having the discipline to take care of every detail leads to freedom.
Over time, Montez has applied that concept to his game. During the past couple of years, Montez has become more disciplined in taking care of his body, studying the game and preparing for each contest.
Montez is now playing the best football of his career, while also developing as a leader, regardless of the fact that he wasn’t named a captain this season.
“I’m going to lead the only way I know how to lead,” he said. “I’m not going to be a different person just because it gives a better image of ‘what a leader looks like.’ I just do my thing every day. I think guys feed off that because it’s genuine.”
What Montez has done on the field thus far has certainly been genuine. Statistically, he’s completed 73.4 percent his passes (ranking fifth nationally) for 855 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s on pace to shatter several of CU’s single-season passing records.
Most importantly, he has combined his experience and maturity with the discipline to learn from Roper and others to become comfortable and confident on game day.
“I’m having a great time,” he said. “When you’re winning, you can’t complain. As long as you’re winning games, a lot of people are happy, so I’m happy.”
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at email@example.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.