Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
DENVER — Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell is aware of what outsiders think of his program.
He knows the Buffaloes were picked to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 South. He knows his team was projected as a 17-point underdog on Saturday.
So, yeah, he was a bit salty when told he sounded somewhat optimistic during his postgame press conference after a 10-7 loss to No. 5 Texas A&M at Empower Field at Mile High.
“Damn right I’m optimistic,” he said. “I think everybody thought that we wouldn’t even be close to this team. I told you all along, we’re a better team than you think. I told you that. And I still believe that.”
No question, the Buffs surprised many by not only hanging with the highly-touted Aggies but coming three painful minutes away from beating them.
CU’s optimism, however, was outweighed by the disappointment of an opportunity that slipped away.
In a game that far too often showed the talents of the punters, CU (1-1) led 7-3 until Texas A&M’s backup quarterback, Zach Calzada, threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to running back Isaiah Spiller with 2 minutes, 41 seconds to play.
That left CU and freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis with plenty of time to either take the lead or tie the game, but the Buffs’ anemic offense went nowhere before turning the ball over on downs and letting the Aggies (2-0) melt the final 100 seconds off the clock.
“Disappointing game, when you’re leading for most of it to the very end,” Dorrell said. “As you can imagine, there’s some disappointment about that. But there’s no reason to hang our heads low for anything. We had a chance to win a game, a significant game, and our locker room is more disappointed in us not finishing the game.”
CU was seeking its first win against a top-five or top-10 team since Sept. 29, 2007, against No.3 Oklahoma, 27-24, at Folsom Field in Boulder. A remarkable effort by the defense nearly got the job done.
The Buffs held the Aggies to 288 yards in total offense and limited their talented run game to only 97 yards. It wasn’t until 1:44 to play in the first half that A&M gained a first down and through its first 10 possessions, it had eight punts and went 1-for-2 on field goal attempts.
On their 11th possession, in the fourth quarter, the Aggies drove 87 yards and nearly took the lead, but Calzada lost control of the ball on his dive into the end zone. CU recovered the fumble and kept its lead.
“I think we did a lot of good things on defense,” linebacker Nate Landman said. “We left a lot of plays on the field, but I think it’s a good learning experience and a good confidence booster for our defense going into next week.”
On offense, there are concerns.
After a lackluster performance in last week’s 35-7 win against Northern Colorado, the Buffs managed just 260 yards against Texas A&M.
While A&M is regarded as one of the best defenses in the country, the Buffs had success in the first half. They had none in the second.
Jarek Broussard scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 2:24 to play in the first quarter. Then, the Buffs drove to the A&M 5-yard line late in the second quarter. That drive was stuffed, however, when Lewis’s back-to-back quarterback sneaks went nowhere.
From that point on, the Buffs gained 63 yards on 25 plays, recording just one first down and punting six times.
“That was tough,” tight end Brady Russell said. “It was tough because our defense went out there and played so hard, and we put them in so many bad positions as an offense. It’s tough when you’re a leader of that offense and we can’t put anything on the field that’s worth anything.
“I think we showed glimpses of greatness, especially in the first half. But we should be a second-half football team. We’re better conditioned than them, we’re in better shape. We should be able to run up the score in the second half and we didn’t do any of that. So yeah, it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Even through some optimism, the Buffs couldn’t hide their disappointment.
“The body of work of that game, we had our chances and unfortunately, it didn’t work out,” Dorrell said.
“We’ve still got a lot to fix, but … we were in the game for 95% of it today. Unfortunately, we didn’t win it and that’s what we’ve got to learn from. And that’s how you guys have to look at this. We’re getting better and we will and we’ll work. We’ll get there. I promise you.”
No. 5 Texas A&M 10, Colorado 7
Play of the game: Texas A&M didn’t get in the end zone until 2:41 to play in the fourth quarter, but that was the pivotal play. Zach Calzada connected with running back Isaiah Spiller for an 18-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the winning score.
Turning point: CU was five yards away from taking a 14-0 lead late in the first half, but got stuffed on back-to-back plays, on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. While more than two quarters remained, that would be the last great opportunity for the CU offense, which snapped the ball in A&M territory just one more time the rest of the game – and that was to punt.
Top 3 Buffs of the game
1. LB Nate Landman: All over the field from the start, he recorded 10 tackles, including two tackles for loss, and registered two pass breakups.
2. OLB Guy Thomas: Played his best game as a Buff. While not officially credited with a tackle for loss, he was in the backfield a lot and wreaked havoc on the A&M offense. He was credited with five tackles.
3. CB Christian Gonzalez: He and Mekhi Blackmon were stellar all day in pass coverage, but Gonzalez was also great against the run. He finished with six tackles and two tackles for loss.
No. 5 Texas A&M 10, Colorado 7
Texas A&M 0 3 0 7 — 10
Colorado 7 0 0 0 — 7
First Quarter: COLO — Broussard 2 run (Becker kick), 2:24. Second Quarter: TXAM — FG Small 41, :25. Fourth Quarter: TXAM — Spiller 18 pass from Calzada (Small kick), 2:41.
First downs 15 14
Total Net Yards 288 260
Rushes-yards 29-97 38-171
Passing 191 89
Punt Returns 6-50 2-18
Kickoff Returns 1-21 0-0
Interceptions Ret. 1-0 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 19-40-0 13-25-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 1-2 1-3
Punts 8-49.0 7-49.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 7-65 2-17
Time of Possession 31:26 28:3
RUSHING — Texas A&M, Achane 9-50, Calzada 7-28, Spiller 8-20, A.Smith 1-3, King 1-2, (Team) 3-(minus 6). Colorado, B.Lewis 9-76, Broussard 12-51, Fontenot 12-39, Clayton 3-8, Stanley 1-(minus 1), (Team) 1-(minus 2).
PASSING — Texas A&M, Calzada 18-38-0-183, King 1-2-0-8. Colorado, B.Lewis 13-25-1-89.
RECEIVING — Texas A&M, Spiller 6-56, Wydermyer 4-66, Achane 3-24, A.Smith 3-19, Lane 2-19, Chapman 1-7. Colorado, Arias 3-37, Russell 3-20, Stanley 3-19, Rice 2-10, Penry 1-2, Broussard 1-1.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Texas A&M, Small 53. Colorado, Becker 46.