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Bad second half dooms CU Buffs in loss to UCLA

After Buffs start fast, Bruins close game on 37-0 run

Quarterback Brendon Lewis #12 of the Colorado Buffaloes runs for a first down against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA Football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, November 13, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)
Quarterback Brendon Lewis #12 of the Colorado Buffaloes runs for a first down against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA Football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, November 13, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

PASADENA, Calif. – In following up last week’s thrilling, double-overtime victory against Oregon State with an impressive first half on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, the Colorado Buffaloes showed that the future could, indeed, be bright for this program.

In the second half, they proved that the future has yet to arrive.

Not even close.

CU was embarrassed after intermission, coughing up a first-half lead and getting routed by UCLA, 44-20.

“That was an unfortunate performance,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “We shot ourselves in the foot. It was really all of, in my opinion, our fault as a team. We didn’t execute, we didn’t have the right play calls. It was one of those things where we could have been much better and unfortunately, it didn’t end up that way.”

That’s been the story of CU’s season, which is now officially another losing campaign. Slim hopes for bowl eligibility were squashed for the Buffs (3-7, 2-5 Pac-12), while UCLA (6-4, 4-3) secured bowl eligibility for the first time since 2017.

It was the Bruins who were getting embarrassed early on, but everything that worked for CU in the first 30 minutes didn’t in the last 30.

UCLA responded to a 20-7 deficit by scoring the final 37 points in the most dramatic single-game collapse for CU since a stunning overtime loss to Oregon State in 2018.

“That’s probably the only one other than that,” tight end Brady Russell in comparing Saturday to the 2018 game against OSU. “I mean, that’s tough. It was really unexpected, so I guess that’s probably what was so frustrating about it because we showed what we can do (early).

“I don’t think it was that they elevated their game that much (in the second half). Credit to them; they did do an awesome job, but I felt like we brought our level down after playing so well in the first half.”

Two Alex Fontenot 1-yard touchdown runs and two Cole Becker field goals lifted CU to a 20-7 lead with 57 seconds left in the first half, and the lead probably could have – maybe should have – been bigger than that.

On the first play of the second quarter, the Buffs had fourth down at the UCLA 40 and Brendon Lewis found wide-open receiver La’Vontae Shenault, who dropped the ball. Instead of a big gain and potential score, the Buffs turned the ball over on downs.

Two other times, the Buffs had first down inside the UCLA 15-yard line but settled for field goals.

Still, it was a 10-point lead at the break and CU’s highest-scoring half offensively since the Sept. 3 opener against Northern Colorado. The Buffs also generated 242 first-half yards – just 24 shy of their per-game average.

“Played a decent first half, I thought, offensively,” Dorrell said. “There was definitely some positive signs of we got some run game established, we hit a few things in the passing game, but it was good to churn out some points and get some drives going.”

Defensively, the Buffs picked off a pass, got a fourth-down stop and forced a long field goal attempt – which the Bruins missed.

“We were handling their offense fairly well, from our defensive standpoint, in the first half,” Dorrell said.

It was a dramatically different story in the second half.

Running back Zach Charbonnet scored three touchdowns, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson added a TD run of his own, Kyle Phillips returned a punt 82 yards for another score and the Bruins shut down the CU offense after intermission.

UCLA gashed the Buffs with big runs up the middle and passes to wide-open tight end Greg Dulcich.

“Those were things that we consciously talked about at halftime because there was a couple plays that (Dulcich) was making even in the first half,” Dorrell said. “The unfortunate thing is we weren’t able to have a level of coverage that was really to neutralize what he’s been doing to us.

“They did a nice job. I take my hat off to them. They made the right adjustments at halftime and we thought we were making the right adjustments, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.”

Offensively, the Buffs managed just 117 yards after the break and got into UCLA territory just once – missing a 43-yard field goal that would have tied the game at 23-23 late in the third quarter.

CU’s run game went from dominant in the first half (155 yards on 29 carries) to almost non-existent in the second (38 yards on 18 carries) and the Buffs converted just one of seven third downs in the final two quarters.

Freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis threw for 158 yards but wasn’t able to connect on explosive plays through the air in the second half.

“I don’t think (UCLA) really changed what they were giving us because, I mean, they pressure dang near every play, which is kind of what we expected,” Russell said. “Especially with a young dude (Lewis) back in the pocket, and I think he did a great job but we need to do a better job protecting him and then just doing what’s working I guess and finding out what’s working.”

In the second half, not much was working for the Buffs, who seemed to turn their season around with the win against Oregon State on Nov. 6 and then carrying it over to Saturday’s first half.

The dismal second half, however, will send the Buffs back to the drawing board.

“I don’t really know,” Russell said of why the Buffs’ level went down in the second half. “We have so much fight and guys were trying. They were working, but it was just a matter of them making more plays than us. I don’t really know what changed. It was weird. I don’t know. It was a weird feeling. It was deflating for sure. But it didn’t change what we need to come back and do next week.”

UCLA 44, Colorado 20

Play of the game: UCLA’s Kyle Phillips avoided a couple of tacklers after fielding a fourth-quarter punt and then raced past the rest of the Buffs for an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. It was the first punt return for touchdown by a CU opponent in five years.

Turning point: After CU took a 20-7 lead with a field goal late in the first half, UCLA had 57 seconds on the clock. The Bruins made quick work of the CU defense, marching downfield for a field goal to end the first half. UCLA carried that momentum into the second half.

Top 3 Buffs of the game

1. RB Jarek Broussard: Posted his second consecutive 100-yard game, gaining 108 yards on 16 carries. He was given just four carries (for six yards) after halftime, though.

2. TE Brady Russell: He caught a team-high five passes for 60 yards, including a 35-yarder that set up a CU field goal attempt.

3. CB Christian Gonzalez: Led the team with seven tackles, while also having a pass breakup.

UCLA 44, Colorado 20

Colorado 7 13 0 0 — 20
UCLA 0 10 20 14 — 44

First Quarter

COLO — Fontenot 1 run (Becker kick), 4:53.

Second Quarter

COLO — FG Becker 23, 8:32.

UCLA — B.Brown 1 run (Barr-Mira kick), 7:56.

COLO — Fontenot 1 run (Becker kick), 5:22.

COLO — FG Becker 40, :57.

UCLA — FG Barr-Mira 40, :00.

Third Quarter

UCLA — Charbonnet 2 run (kick failed), 11:33.

UCLA — Thompson-Robinson 23 run (Barr-Mira kick), 6:07.

UCLA — Charbonnet 3 run (Barr-Mira kick), :30.

Fourth Quarter

UCLA — Charbonnet 2 run (Barr-Mira kick), 12:12.

UCLA — Philips 82 punt return (Barr-Mira kick), 10:10.

First downs 19 26
Total Net Yards 360 503
Rushes-yards 47-194 41-246
Passing 166 257
Punt Returns 1-0 2-93
Kickoff Returns 3-68 4-84
Interceptions Ret. 1-15 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 18-29-0 18-27-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 4-49 1-1
Punts 3-48.333 2-47.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 7-48 10-82
Time of Possession 32:51 27:09


RUSHING — Colorado, Broussard 16-108, Fontenot 11-52, D.Smith 10-44, Russell 1-0, B.Lewis 8-0, Carter 1-(minus 10). UCLA, Thompson-Robinson 9-99, Charbonnet 17-67, B.Brown 6-58, K.Jones 9-22.

PASSING — Colorado, B.Lewis 17-26-0-158, Carter 1-3-0-8. UCLA, Thompson-Robinson 18-27-1-257.

RECEIVING — Colorado, Russell 5-60, Arias 4-70, Rice 3-14, Shenault 2-13, Broussard 1-7, Stanley 1-4, D.Smith 1-1, Fontenot 1-(minus 3). UCLA, Philips 8-99, Dulcich 3-87, Cota 3-43, B.Brown 2-21, Charbonnet 1-6, K.Brown 1-1.

MISSED FIELD GOALS — Colorado, Becker 43. UCLA, Barr-Mira 47.