Even as losses piled up in the middle of the season, the Colorado Buffaloes had hope that they could turn things around and at least achieve bowl eligibility.
That goal is now unattainable.
Following Saturday’s 44-20 loss at UCLA, the Buffaloes have two games left in what has been a disappointing season. The goal now is to try to stay engaged before spending the holidays at home.
The Buffs (3-7, 2-5 Pac-12) will host Washington (4-6, 3-4) on Saturday at Folsom Field before visiting South division-leading Utah (7-3, 6-1) on Nov. 26.
Washington is hoping to avoid its first losing season since 2009. Utah jumped into the Associated Press rankings, at No. 24, on Sunday and might need to beat the Buffs to wrap up the division title.
“We’ve got some seasons to ruin still if we want to,” tight end Brady Russell said. “I know Washington’s having a poor season, but Utah, we can affect them in a big way. That’s some motivation for sure. And just pride also. That’s big, going out with some dignity. I know we don’t want to go out like we did today for the rest of the season. That’s embarrassing.”
It was an embarrassing second half against the Bruins that put an end CU’s bowl hopes. After building a 20-7 lead at one point, the Buffs got outscored 37-0 over a 21-minute stretch.
For head coach Karl Dorrell, it’s a new feeling. This is his seventh season as a head coach – including five, 2003-07, at UCLA – and the first one in which his team won’t finish the campaign in a bowl game.
The feeling is all too familiar for the Buffs, however.
Since winning the Pac-12 South in 2016, the Buffs have had four losing seasons, three head coaches and the same large mountain to climb. The pandemic-shortened season of 2020, when the Buffs went 4-2, is the only bright spot in that time.
To be fair, Dorrell didn’t have anything to do with 2017-19, and he did guide the Buffs to the Alamo Bowl just a year ago.
On Saturday night, however, he was left clinging to a good first half – and not the final result, of course – for hope.
“We still feel that we have some qualities of a really good football team,” Dorrell said. “But at moments like this, it’s hard to really find those threads right now when everybody’s feeling so down and down-and-out with that type of performance.
“We’ll get back to the drawing board and our guys aren’t going to quit. They’re going to just keep pounding through the season and trying to play competitive football. We’re back at home next week. So they’re going to get themselves right. We’re going to try to turn the corner here quickly and play a really good game next week.”
To the Buffs’ credit, their good qualities did show up in the first half Saturday. Quarterback Brendon Lewis led the Buffs on four scoring drives, Jarek Broussard ran for 102 yards and Alex Fontenot scored a pair of touchdowns.
The offense had its highest-scoring half since the season opener against Northern Colorado, and it gave the Buffs 57 points in a six-quarter (plus overtime) stretch.
On the other side of the ball, the Buffs’ defense gave up some big plays early, but also made enough plays to hold the Bruins to just one touchdown and 10 points.
It was the Buffs’ bad qualities that defined this game – and this season – however.
UCLA, which had been reeling coming into Saturday, got healthy with its performance. The Bruins had a season-high 502 yards, matched their season-high in points (they also had 44 in a rout of Hawaii on Aug. 28) and shut out an opponent for an entire half for the first time in over a year.
With the win, UCLA achieved bowl eligibility for the first time since 2017 and left CU once again going into the final games of a season playing for pride.
“Football, you win some, you lose some and we just know to get back to work,” cornerback Christian Gonzalez said. “Even when we win, you win or you lose you keep your head down, forget about it, move on. And that’s just how we’re built. We’re ready to work and just keep going.”