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Strong game from Steven Montez provides silver lining for CU Buffs

Senior quarterback accounted for 369 yards and four touchdowns in loss to USC

Colorado's Steven Montez, right, celebrates his touchdown run with Brady Russell on Friday at Folsom Field against Southern California.
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Steven Montez, right, celebrates his touchdown run with Brady Russell on Friday at Folsom Field against Southern California.

Consecutive lackluster performances by any quarterback are going to make the critics chirp.

Even the great Tom Brady had his starting status questioned after a rough start to the 2014 season. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick rightfully scoffed at that suggestion and Brady, now 42, has won three Super Bowls since and is still playing at a high level.

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Steven Montez, right, threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns against USC on Friday.

Colorado’s Steven Montez isn’t in Brady’s class (not many are), but the Buffaloes’ senior has been a Brady and football fan long enough to know that criticism doesn’t help him or his team get better.

“You always hear it, but I mean, it comes with the position,” Montez said Friday after a heart-breaking 35-31 loss to Southern California at Folsom Field. “If you don’t want to be criticized, then don’t play quarterback. It’s that simple. So take those criticisms, get better from them, ignore them, whatever you want to do with them. But you’ve just got to come out and play clean football, kind of like we did today.”

In the wake of a fourth consecutive defeat for the Buffaloes (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12), head coach Mel Tucker talked of trying to focus on the positives as they look forward. There was no greater positive for the Buffs than Montez’s bounceback performance.

After throwing six interceptions and no touchdowns in back-to-back blowout road losses to Oregon and Washington State, Montez completed 27 of 43 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns against USC, while rushing for a season-high 45 yards and another score.

Tucker wasn’t surprised to see the senior play well.

“That’s not the first time he’s played like that this year,” Tucker said. “He’s played a lot of good football for us. We had a tough stretch, but like I said before, I feel like he’s a good player. We had to try to help him play better around him and he had to make some better decisions.

“I have a lot of confidence in him and he works really hard at it and it’s important to him and he cares. He’s becoming a leader for us. I have a lot of respect for Steven with the way he’s hung in there and the way he’s handled himself. He had a strong performance tonight.”

Of course, the critics will find something to pick at it, especially in a loss. After taking a 31-21 lead with 24 minutes to play, the Buffs failed to score again, closing the game with four consecutive punts and a fourth-down pass that came up a yard short.

“I’m sure the criticism will come from any drive of the game,” Montez said. “I miss a throw, I’m going to get some criticism for it, which I was fully prepared for when I signed up to play this position.”

Fortunately for the Buffs, they’ve got a guy playing the position that brushes off the criticism and continues competing.

With four games to play, CU’s bowl hopes are quickly fading, but if the Buffs are to stop their losing streak and salvage this season, they will need Montez to be more like he was on Friday and less of what he did the previous two weeks.

Friday’s loss was excruciating because it was in the Buffs’ grasp – they had three separate 10-point leads – and it would have been monumental for a team that is desperate not only for a win against the Trojans (who are now 14-0 all-time against CU), but for a win against anyone.

If nothing else, Tucker can move forward knowing his quarterback is back on track and when Montez is playing well, the Buffs have a shot to win.

“There was never a doubt in our mind going into this game that we could win this game,” Tucker said. “Even all the way to the end, we felt like we could make a play. We’re going to have to build on the positives from this game.”

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