There was, finally, a celebration in the Colorado locker room on Saturday afternoon.
The opponent didn’t matter and, frankly, neither did the recipe for success. But, head coach Karl Dorrell, his staff and his players all needed this one.
Sparked by the special teams and defense, the Colorado Buffaloes routed hapless Arizona, 34-0, in front of 49,806 fans at Folsom Field.
“Feels good to get a win,” Dorrell said. “Definitely feel good about what our team did today. It was a good performance.”
The Buffs (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) snapped a four-game losing streak while handing Arizona (0-6, 0-3) its program-record 18th consecutive defeat.
It was CU’s first shutout since a 48-0 victory against Nicholls State on Sept. 26, 2015, and the first in a conference game since beating Oklahoma State 34-0 on Oct. 1, 2005, when the Buffs were in the Big 12.
“I like how we finished the game,” Dorrell said. “That’s a big thing. I think that means more important things to me than probably anybody in this room is how we finished the game. We haven’t been a great finishing program for a while and we are learning that process.”
CU hadn’t been great at starting or finishing in recent weeks. The Buffs came in riding a four-game losing streak and the last three were ugly.
For a while, this one wasn’t too pretty either.
Dorrell had hoped some subtle changes during last week’s bye would spark the offense. Turns out, it was the special teams and defense that did the trick. CU returned a blocked punt and an interception for touchdowns within a 74-second span of the third quarter to break open a tight game.
Freshman Trevor Woods blocked an Arizona punt and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown with 6 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third quarter. That was CU’s first touchdown in almost 60 minutes of game time – 58:32 to be exact – and it gave the Buffs a 13-0 lead.
“Special teams can either win or lose you the game and in this case, it won us the game I feel like,” outside linebacker Carson Wells said. “That was a big tide change right there.”
Five plays later, Wells stepped in front of a Gunner Cruz pass and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown and a 20-0 lead.
In an instant, the entire CU sideline got a boost.
“I believe that’s what our team felt,” Dorrell said. “We needed someone to step up and make a play and it was great to see Trevor do that. It gave everybody kind of a spark. It was a 6-0 game for almost three quarters, so it was something that we needed some boost, some shot in the arm, so to speak.
“Particularly when we’ve lost four games in a row and you’re trying to figure out your way of winning, you need someone to step up and make a play so everybody responds.”
After Woods and Wells staked the Buffs to a 20-0 lead, the Buffs’ offense finally started to click.
Freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis threw touchdown passes to Brenden Rice – for 62 yards – and Dimitri Stanley in the final 17 minutes to help the Buffs pull away.
Lewis completed 12-of-19 passes for a career-high 248 yards and two touchdowns.
“I feel good about B-Lew’s progress today,” Dorrell said. “I felt good what he was doing the last couple of weeks that it was going to be a matter of time where he’s going to start to feel very confident in what he can do.”
Rice finished with three catches for a career-high 111 yards, while Wells led the defense with a sack and four tackles for loss.
The 34-point margin of victory was the largest for CU in a conference game since a 47-6 win against Oregon State on Oct. 1, 2016, and the overall performance built confidence for not only Lewis but the entire team.
“We’re going into the second half of the season, so it’s critical that we finish that first half the way we’re supposed to and just kind of stick to the plan and keep our heads down,” Isaiah Lewis said. “We’re not going to over-do it or underdo it. Just stick to the script.
“Coach Dorrell kind of told us it’s just one step in the direction we need to go.”
Colorado 34, Arizona 0
Play of the game: Late in the third quarter, with CU leading 20-0, Brendon Lewis dropped back to pass and threw a laser to Brenden Rice down the field and Rice took it the rest of the way for a 62-yard touchdown. It was the longest scoring play of the season for the Buffs.
Turning point: In a 74-second span of the third quarter, CU turned a 6-0 lead into 20-0. Trevor Woods blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. That was followed by Carson Wells picking off an Arizona pass and returning it for a score.
Top 3 Buffs of the game
1. OLB Carson Wells: He was a monster all game, finishing with a sack, four tackles for loss and an interception return for a touchdown.
2. WR Brenden Rice: Posted three catches for a career-high 111 yards and a touchdown, and also ran twice for nine yards.
3. QB Brendon Lewis: He had the best game of his career to this point, completing 12-of-19 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
Colorado 34, Arizona 0
Arizona 0 0 0 0 — 0
Colorado 3 3 21 7 — 34
First Quarter: COLO — FG Becker 19, 8:26. Second Quarter: COLO — FG Becker 37, 7:14. Third Quarter: COLO — Woods 32 punt return (Becker kick), 6:46. COLO — Wells 50 interception return (Becker kick), 5:32. COLO — Rice 62 pass from B.Lewis (Becker kick), 1:42. Fourth Quarter: COLO — Stanley 11 pass from B.Lewis (Becker kick), 4:08.
First downs 20 18
Total Net Yards 280 365
Rushes-yards 31-127 39-117
Passing 153 248
Punt Returns 1-4 2-63
Kickoff Returns 0-0 0-0
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 2-50
Comp-Att-Int 20-38-2 12-19-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-6 1-1
Punts 8-45.625 4-48.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 9-68 6-77
Time of Possession 31:06 28:54
RUSHING — Arizona, John 10-61, Plummer 2-15, Cruz 3-12, Hausman 1-10, Berryhill 2-9, C.Young 1-7, Simpson 1-7, Wiley 7-7, Joiner 1-5, Rocker 1-1, Anderson 1-(minus 1), J.Johnson 1-(minus 6). Colorado, Broussard 13-53, D.Smith 5-23, Fontenot 11-19, B.Lewis 5-11, Rice 2-9, Stacks 1-4, (Team) 2-(minus 2).
PASSING — Arizona, Cruz 13-22-1-82, Plummer 7-16-1-71. Colorado, B.Lewis 12-19-0-248.
RECEIVING — Arizona, Berryhill 7-46, Wiley 4-29, Casteel 2-25, J.Johnson 1-23, Joiner 1-10, Simpson 1-10, Markoff 1-9, D’Angelo 1-2, Anderson 1-1, Rocker 1-(minus 2). Colorado, Rice 3-111, Lemonious-Craig 3-52, Arias 2-12, Stanley 2-11, Fontenot 1-43, Carpenter 1-19.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.