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CU football notes: Steven Montez breaks Buffs passing record in loss

Harry Caston/CU Athletics
Colorado quarterback Steven Montez looks for an open receiver on Saturday against Utah in Salt Lake City.
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SALT LAKE CITY – Steven Montez didn’t rack up nearly as many wins as he wanted as the starting quarterback of the Colorado Buffaloes.

He did close his career with a bunch of records, however, and he added a pair of big ones in Saturday’s 44-15 loss to Utah in the season finale at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Against the Utes, Montez completed 17-of-26 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns. In the process, he set new records for career passing yards and career total offense.

Montez wraps up his career with 9,649 passing yards and 10,609 yards of total offense; both records were held b his predecessor, Sefo Liufau. Montez also added to his record for career touchdown passes, finishing with 63.

“Steven, he’s a good football player and I have a lot of respect for him and the way he competes,” head coach Mel Tucker said. “He’s got really good arm talent and he’s gotten better in what we were asking him to do in this particular offense this season. He embraced our new staff; he worked well with Jay Johnson.

“I saw him emerge; I saw him grow as a leader on our team, as well, and just how he went about his business, how he helped his teammates, and that’s a credit to him. Having multiple offensive coordinators and then having the character to be able to embrace our new coaching staff and work with Jay Johnson and our offense and learn and get better. I believe that he’ll have a shot at the next level. As we look back on him at some point and see that he was a pretty good player and did some really good things for us.”

Montez, who went 17-22 as a starter, finished with 39 career starts, including all 36 in the past three seasons – the longest starting streak ever for a CU quarterback. Only Liufau had more career starts, with 40. In all, Montez, broke or tied nearly 50 records during his career.

In the trenches

Utah has dominated teams at the line of scrimmage all season and did so again on Saturday.

The Utes came in with the nation’s No. 1 rush defense, allowing just 55.9 yards per game. They held the Buffs to 60 yards on 31 carries. Utah’s defense also sacked Montez five times.

Utah also came into the game as the Pac-12’s leader in rushing offense, with 215.3 yards per game. The Utes finished with 207 on 41 carries.

Onu misses final game

Starting safety Mikial Onu missed the game with a fractured left tibia. The Buffs’ senior, who had started each of the first 11 games, was injured during practice last week.

“It hurt me because I know he wanted to play,” senior star backer Davion Taylor said. “He loves the game of football. Who knows, it might be his last football game ever. After the game you can just see all the emotions come out. We were trying to win it for him, but we just came up short.”

A graduate transfer from SMU, Onu finished his lone season at CU with 67 tackles, a team-high four interceptions and five pass breakups. He finished third on the team in tackles.

“Mikial has done a great job for us,” Tucker said. “The guy came in, a grad transfer from SMU … and really added to our football team maturity, defensive experience. He did a great job for us all year. I know he really wanted to play this game. He was not able to do that and it’s next man up.”

Senior Lucas Cooper, a former walk-on who was put on scholarship this year, got his first career start in place of Onu. Going into Saturday, Cooper had played 33 career snaps on defense. He had seven tackles against the Utes.

“Lucas Cooper steps in and gives us everything he’s got,” Tucker said. “We don’t make excuses for guys because of injuries and the guys not being able to play. You get an opportunity to go in there and play and he gave us what he had. He threw his body around, he was physical in the game and he competed his butt off and that’s what I expect out of him.”

Special teams woes

Throughout the season, the Buffs have been up and down on offense and defense, but special teams has been solid. On Saturday, the Buffs’ punt teams had a rough night.

In the first quarter, returner Dimitri Stanley muffed a punt to give the ball back to the Utes.

“It was just me trying to do some extra stuff that didn’t need to be done, honestly, especially at the beginning of the game,” Stanley said.

Then, late in the third quarter, Utah’s Demari Simpkins returned a CU punt 66 yards for a touchdown to give the Utes a 31-7 lead.

Simpkins had the first punt return for touchdown against CU since Nov. 26, 2016, when Utah’s Boobie Hobbs returned a punt 55 yards for a score.

Third down difference

CU finished 2-for-11 on third downs and didn’t get its first conversion until the fourth quarter. Utah, meanwhile, went 8-for-13.

“It’s impossible to sustain drives and score points if you can’t convert on third down,” Tucker said. “The same thing on defense; if you can’t get off the field on third down, then they’re going to continue to drive the ball, control the ball and then eventually score. And, you can see that on both sides of the ball in the game.”

Notable

Buffs punter Alex Kinney set a new school record for most career punts pinning the opponent inside the 20-yard line. With two on Saturday, he finished with 96 for his career, topping the previous record of 95 by Darragh O’Neill (2011-14). … CU has lost 11 in a row when playing for bowl eligibility. … Senior center Tim Lynott Jr. tied the school record for regular season starts by an offensive lineman, with 44.