Colorado had its first win over a Top 5 team since 2007 within its grasp Saturday at Empower Field. Right until… it wasn’t.
Instead of a signature upset as 17-point underdogs to No. 5 Texas A&M, the Buffs were on the wrong end of a bitter 10-7 defeat. A late Aggies’ touchdown was the difference, spoiling an otherwise outstanding performance by CU’s defense.
“We had a chance to win a game, a significant game, and our locker room is more disappointed in us not finishing the game,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “But there are some encouraging signs that this team is better than people think.”
CU led 7-3 until just under three minutes left when Aggies backup quarterback Zach Calzada — who had struggled for most of the day after replacing injured starter Haynes King — connected with Isaiah Spiller for an 18-yard touchdown.
The Buffs’ defense kept CU ahead most of the game, limiting Texas A&M to 291 total yards. The Buffs took full advantage of the handicap presented by Calzada, who was inconsistent throughout and had a fourth-quarter touchdown run reversed by review when it ruled he fumbled before scoring.
CU came out with underdog energy from the opening kick despite there being as much maroon in the stadium as black-and-gold, if not more.
The Buffs forced a three-and-out on the opening possession, and on the Aggies’ second drive, stuffed King on a run and knocked him out of the game. Texas A&M’s Seth Small then missed a 53-yard field goal.
King limped to the locker room with the help of trainers, and Calzada came on for the Aggies’ next series. That changed the tone of the game as Calzada looked lost in the pocket, airmailing and under-throwing passes as the A&M’s offense screeched to a halt.
Meanwhile, the Buffs found a rhythm on their third drive after their first two possessions ended in an interception and a punt. Quarterback Brendon Lewis engineered a nine-play, 65-yard drive that was capped by Jarek Broussard’s two-yard TD run to give CU a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
But as CU’s defense continued to dominate, its offense squandered opportunities to add to an early lead. And it did next to nothing in the second half, allowing Texas A&M to claw back into the game.
Freshman kicker Cole Becker missed a 46-yard field goal to end a promising drive in the second quarter. On CU’s next possession, the Buffs drove down the field but turned the ball over on downs at the Aggies’ 5-yard-line. Lewis was stuffed on consecutive quarterback keepers.
Dorrell said the Buffs’ decision to go for it on fourth down is one that he and offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini would make again.
“We want to be aggressive, particularly in games like this where you need touchdowns more than field goals,” Dorrell said. “When you’re playing against a really good team, field goals don’t amount to anything. You need touchdowns, and we knew that in this game.”
Following six straight three-and-outs, Texas A&M finally found some traction just before half with its first down with 1:46 left in the second quarter. That led to a 41-yard field goal by Small as CU led 7-3 at the break.
In the second half, it became clear the game was to be decided by the defenses. Neither side scored in a third quarter where all seven possessions ended in a punt, and Broussard departed with an injury.
The defensive slugfest continued into the final quarter. But Texas A&M got some momentum rolling on its opening drive of the frame, and Calzada’s 29-yard pass to Jalen Wydermyer set the Aggies up at the Buffs’ 20-yard line with 10:16 left. The play was also Texas A&M’s first of 20-plus yards.
“We have to do a better job of finishing there late (in the game), keeping the quarterback in the pocket and rallying out to those little flat throws,” CU linebacker Carson Wells said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to pick (the offense) up more than we did at the end.”
On 3rd-and-3, Calzada ran for a 13-yard touchdown that appeared to put the Aggies ahead at the 8:45 mark. But as Calzada stretched the ball toward the goal line, it came loose, and CU recovered. The touchdown was reviewed and overturned as a touchback, to the maddened delight of the Buffs’ crowd and stunned silence of the marooned parts of the stands.
But Calzada bounced back the next possession and hit Spiller for a TD on third-and-long to give Texas A&M its first lead with 2:41 left. CU then turned the ball over on downs its next possession.
“This is a tough pill to swallow,” said CU tight end Brady Russell, who had three catches for 20 yards. “It was tough because our defense went out there and played so hard, and we put them in so many bad positions. We showed glimpses of greatness, especially in the first half, but we should be a second-half football team.”
CU (1-1) now turns its attention to hosting Minnesota at Folsom Field next week. The Golden Gophers hung on for a 31-26 win over Miami of Ohio on Saturday for their first win of the season.
“There’s no excuses (for blowing a late lead),” Dorrell said. “We’ve got to get better. We’re not where we need to be right now.”