Three for the Win

There are many who believe that bad things come in threes.

If two celebrities die in quick succession, it seems to be the accepted mantra that a third notable death will be coming shortly.

For the Colorado Buffaloes, the 37-34 double overtime win over Oregon State had a little bit of everything. The Buffs looked good for much of the evening, playing perhaps their most complete game of the season. They looked like they had the game won, then they looked like they would give it away … only to finally finish the game with a 43-yard field goal by Cole Becker.

Cole Becker missed a field goal attempt early … before he made the game winner. Oregon State kicker Everett Hayes missed a 51-yard field goal with less than a minute to play, seemingly losing the game … only to tie a Folsom Field record with a 60-yard field goal to send the game into overtime … only to then lose the game by not connecting on a 38-yard attempt, giving the Buffs a chance to pull out a much-needed win.

Going into the game against Oregon State, I was focused on three keys to the game, all of which, interestingly enough, had the number three as part of the equation:

  • Third down conversions … Colorado entered the game last in the Pac-12 conference in converting third downs. Conversely, Oregon State was last in the Pac-12 conference in defending against third down conversions … One of those stats had to give;
  • Three points … The Buffs, without star linebacker Nate Landman in the lineup, seemed destined to surrender yards to Oregon State on the ground, what with the Beavers leading the Pac-12 in rushing and all. The key to the Buffs staying with the Beavers, to me at least, seemed to be in holding Oregon State to field goals on their inevitable long drives, instead of giving up touchdowns; and
  • Three turnovers …With the Buff offense suspect at best, and the Buff defense likely to give up yards and points, my theory was that the Buffs would have to generate a minimum of three turnovers to win the game.

Well, the Buffs came up with a 37-34 double-overtime win … How did they do on my to-do list?

As it turned out, the number three was crucial … just not entirely how I thought it might be.

My three keys …

Third down conversions … Colorado went 7-for-16 on third down opportunities. The Buffs came into the game converting on only 32.3 percent of third downs, while the Beavers were allowing conversions on 51.6 percent of opponents’ third down attempts. So, the Buffs hitting on almost 50% has to be considered a win for the CU offense.

But, it was not only that the Buffs were able to consistently convert on third down, it was the “whens” and “wheres” which were significant …

On CU’s first touchdown drive, the Buffs converted on a third-and-nine at their 22-yard line, with Brendon Lewis hitting La’Vontae Shenault for 23 yards and a first down. Instead of another (all too familiar) three-and-out, the Buffs moved the chains. A few plays later, a three yard run on third-and-one kept the drive alive, with Brendon Lewis then hitting Daniel Arias for a 43-yard touchdown.

On CU’s second touchdown drive, it looked like the Buffs might waste good field position and two strong Jarek Broussard runs, facing a third-and-goal at the at the OSU five-yard line. There, however, instead of having to settle for a field goal, Lewis hit Brenden Rice for a five yard score and 20-10 Colorado lead.

In the fourth quarter, with the Buffs trailing for the first time in the game, it appeared that Brenden Rice had given CU the lead with a 11-yard touchdown run. Instead, the Buffs were called for holding, all but convincing the Folsom Field homecoming crowd of 47,984 that the Buff had found a new and painful way to lose a game. But … on third-and-15, Lewis hit Montana Lemonious-Craig for a 16-yard score and the lead.

True, the Buffs fell just short of hitting on 50% overall of their third downs, but the conversions came in big spots … something the Colorado offense has repeatedly failed to do much of the season.

Forcing Oregon State to settle for threes … The final game book says that Oregon State went two-for-three in red zone opportunities, with two touchdowns. Not a bad effort by the CU defense, but not usually enough to pull out a victory. If you look just at the final stats, though, you’ll find that this was a consistent theme. Oregon State had more total yards, out-gaining CU 475 yards to 392. The Beavers had 25 first downs to 20 for the Buffs, and did well on their third down conversions (On the evening, Oregon State converted 8-of-17 third downs, but, if you throw in a pair of converted fourth down conversions, the Beavers were able to keep the ball on ten of 17 third down chances).

And yet, the Buffs were able to emerge with the win.

How?

Damned if I know.

When the Buffs finally surrendered the lead with eight minutes to play, many in the Buff Nation assumed the game was over (and with some justification, based upon, oh, say, the past 15 years).

This wasn’t the same CU team we watched fold against Minnesota, Arizona State, and Cal, however. This was a a team which refused to lose. On the ensuing drive after Oregon State took a 24-20 lead, the Buffs seemed to have retaken the lead, only to have points taken off the board. A holding penalty on a Brenden Rice touchdown run? A death sentence for many a Buff team. This team? No problem – the Buffs scored on a Lewis-to-Lemonius Craig pass two plays later.

Then, with the game seemingly in hand, the Buffs had to stand and watch a 60-yard field goal go through the uprights as time expired. Everyone in the stadium (at least those of us who didn’t leave after the Buffs had given up the lead earlier in the fourth quarter), just knew that the Buffs would lose in overtime. Memories of the “Gut Punch” game – the last time Oregon State played in Folsom – came rushing back. In that game the Buffs had a 31-3 lead in the third quarter, yet found a way to lose 41-34 in – ahem – overtime.

But these Buffs showed us something we haven’t seen in some time … moxie … and pulled out a double overtime win.

“We’ve been challenged a lot this season”, said Karl Dorrell after the game. “They’re starting to navigate and find a way, they’re starting to deal with difficult circumstances and overcoming those things. By no means are we where we need to be. I’m not saying that all of a sudden, we got the answers, but I feel that they’re starting to learn how to deal with some stressful moments and how to handle that and tune up their attention to execution in detail and making plays when those opportunities need to be done. There’s some progress being made, and we need to build off those things.”

Forcing three turnovers … The Buffs only had one official turnover, an Isaiah Lewis interception, but at the end of the day, that was all they needed.  Without actually getting any other fumbles or interceptions, the Buff defense still found ways to get the ball back without surrendering points …

Oregon State went for a fourth-and-two early in the third quarter, but the Chance Nolan pass fell incomplete, setting the Buff offense up in OSU territory, leading to a Colorado touchdown.

Then there were the two missed field goals by OSU kicker Everett Hayes. Granted, the Buff defense did not block the kicks, but they forced kicks at crucial times. After the Buffs re-took the lead on the Lemonious-Craig touchdown with 2:24 to play, the Beavers had plenty of time to drive for the winning touchdown. Instead, the CU defense forced a long field goal attempt, which Hayes missed. Then, in the second overtime, the Buff defense didn’t allow a first down. When Hayes missed for the second time, he set the stage for the Cole Becker game-winner.

At the end of the evening, all that really matters is that the Buffs won … by three points.

What a ball game that was,” said Dorrell. “You know, there’s some really good things that happened in that game. We felt that our team grew up from a week prior. I felt like the offense a couple weeks ago was starting to find themselves and that was up there in Eugene.”

And there is one more three that matters … The victory was win No. 3 on the season for Colorado.

Technically, the win kept the 3-6 Buffs alive in their quest for a 6-6 record and a bowl invitation, but that’s remains a pipe dream. A dream which is still alive, but a pipe dream nonetheless.

Realistically, though, what the third win of the season means is that the Buffs won’t finish the season with ten losses … or the burden of carrying a six-game losing streak into the 2022 season.

The win also gives Colorado some much needed respect in the Pac-12. While the Buffs still remain only a game ahead of cellar-dweller Arizona in the standing (The Wildcats defeated a COVID-depleted Cal team to end their 20-game losing streak … in an ugly 10-3 final), there is some reason to at least group Colorado closer to Stanford (2-5, 3-6) and Cal (2-4, 3-6) than Arizona in the conference pecking order. Not much to hang our hats on, but more than we would have had if the Buffs had posted another gut-wrenching loss.

For the long-suffering Buff Nation, we’ll take the small victories when they come.

Now, the 37-34 double-overtime win over Oregon State does not signal the Buffs are “back”.

But the win does – perhaps – signal that the Buffs are not as far gone as we had feared.

Win No. 3 at least gives us that …

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12 Replies to “Three for The Win”

  1. Just so we know.

    The Stout Colorado Buff defense:
    For the last 5 years have given up and average of 32 points per game in conference. Never better than 8th. Leaders are in the low twenties or slightly b below.
    2017 34.6
    2018 30.2
    2019 32.2
    2020 31.3
    2021 30.7

    For the last 5 years the Mighty Buffs scoring in conference:
    2017 24.7
    2018 22.4
    2019 19.2
    2020 32.0
    2021 21.7

    16 to 20 points behind the top teams except in 2020

    Go Buffs.

    Need to score 30 and allow 20

    You got it reversed

  2. I have never seen a position group improve as much as the Oline has after their position coach is fired mid-season.

  3. On one hand kudos to everyone, including HCKD for getting our team back to ‘competent’. On the other I think ALL OF US thought we would be at least competent right out of the gate.
    Regardless, given the situation what is occurring HAD TO happen, and credit to everyone for putting in the work.

  4. So some thoughts:
    1. The offensive line play is better, but more importantly Osu played 2 high safety most of the game which allows you to actually run the ball. On pass pro they are getting help to the tackles as well instead of leaving them on an island.
    2. Lewis is still not seeing the field great, and he is still a little late on a lot of throws but I suspect they have him doing a presnap read based on the play and the defensive alignment and he getting the ball out to that guy pretty effectively. The throw to rice for a td, may signal a change. Rice was a blocker on that play. He had finished blocking and then drifted into. Backside hole as almost an afterthought…. Brendon found him and threw a great throw with velocity.
    3. 2 things on play calling that concern me. A. On the td run in ot by Lewis he said it was not an rpo that means the play call had rpo look but is designed to always hand off. I suspect opposing defenses have picked up on this and have begun playing it that way. Which shuts down the run as the defensive edge is not respecting the Qi as much as they should have. It seems odd to me. If you are going to show rpo you have to make the Qb a threat so the d edge maintains his position and doesn’t collapse in, the issue with MOntez was no one respected him as a runner so the rpo did not work. I wonder if they are not properly respecting the rpo for Lewis either….On the throw to lamonius Craig Lewis said they ran 4 deep routes, that seems odd it worked out but throwing 4 guys into the endzone It ended up working out but it seems to have worked out becuase LC cut is route short and settled and Lewis picked up on that….. like maybe the defense knew where LC was supposed to go and so when LC settled it was a surprise? This drives a question. Is this how Chev’s offense supposed to work? You give the framework of a play and then let the players adapt for what they see? That requires pretty heady and experienced players but can be really successful if they are reacting well. Or have the players basically realized the offensive call is busted and they are making something happen, and when it works out we say man that player did great and when it fails we say Chev sucks…..not sure where I stand on that one yet…. I might have to go watch a few games to see what I think…

    I thought the offense was a mirage at Oregon. They jumped out to a 21 point lead and basically dialed it back down allowing the Buffs to score but this game shows that the offensive line is getting better and Lewis is getting good enough that teams will at least play some straight up against us.

    Perry is developing into a pretty good linebacker. Not sure who is going to play opposite of him next year. Barnes is out of position a lot more than I expected. Lamb and Hamm I am not sure if I have seen enough. I wonder if someone else may come out of the wood work like Perry did.

    Super happy for a win, it is still Oregon State. But at least we are beating the bad teams. Hope they win against Cal and get bowl eligible.

    1. I think, due to the injury at the qb position, the coaching staff planned to have Lewis not run much (or at all). Could not afford to have him “go down.” If Shrout had not been injured, Lewis probably would have been running by design – often.

  5. A win is a win, any day of the week. IMO, this will give our team some much needed confidence going to UCLA next week. GREAT DAY TO BE A BUFF, SHOULDER TO SHOULDER!!!!!

  6. Mornin. Time change must have really gotten you. Next game is in the rose bowl. Ucla plays there. Washington plays in Seattle. And they come to Boulder this year. But by saying “washedups” I am sure you meant ucla.

    Go Buffs

  7. Great recap and analysis! I was hard on B Lewis early in the season but I’m equally complimentary of the amazing growth he’s undergone during this season. He has transformed himself from the high school quarterback I saw under centered for the first half of the season to a legit DI dual threat quarterback in a short period of time. Many would have folded under the intense heat and scrutiny, be he has emerged stronger both mentally and physically. I also give credit to coach KD for staying the course as I don’t think I could have. I would have pulled the plug probably after the Minnesota game just to find out if his back up was a “gamer”. All in all, I think the Buffs are trending in the right direction and this win may be the catalyst of good fortune ahead.

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