MIAMI — When the curtain opened on their spotlight moment Saturday, the Colorado Buffaloes forgot their lines.
After two weeks of preparation and years of waiting, CU lined up against a Miami Hurricanes team crying to be beaten in front of 51,228 fans and half a nation. Instead of grasping that opportunity, and making a statement to the rest of college football, however, the Buffs let it fall to the floor.
The result was a 23-3 loss in a game that, despite the score, wasn’t really in doubt after the first drive of the second half. But even though most experts predicted the outcome, few could have foreseen that it would be caused as much by CU’s breakdowns as it would Miami’s superior talent.
“We didn’t play our best game in an environment in which you have to play it,”
Buffs coach Gary Barnett said. “We shot ourselves in the foot too many times.”
The hard truth for the Buffs is they didn’t have to be world beaters in order to defeat the Hurricanes on Saturday. A solid, well-executed performance likely would have been enough to make the day competitive.
CU’s largely untested defense held Miami’s formidable rushing attack to a manageable 123 yards, only 44 of which came from featured back Tyrone Moss. It also limited sophomore quarterback Kyle Wright to 264 yards and one score.
But even though CU had the spirit, the desire and the defensive game plan necessary to win, it made several small mistakes that, in their sum, became too crippling to overcome against a foe like Miami:
The Buffs committed 16 penalties for 106 yards against the Canes, and nearly all of them were the kind coaches expect to disappear after the first fall scrimmage.
The defense lined up offside five times — including one stretch at the end of the first half where they were whistled for it on consecutive plays as Miami was kneeling down to kill the clock. The offense committed several procedural penalties including four false starts, one delay, one illegal formation and one illegal substitution.
“The mental mistakes were something I thought we’d be a lot more on top of considering we’re a mature team,” senior tight end Joe Klopfenstein said.
Senior defensive tackle James Garee said most of his teams’ penalties “were just stupid.”
Affected by a foot injury he suffered in the first quarter, third-year starter Joel Klatt threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, mistakes that kept the Buffs’ already sputtering offense out of the end zone. Klatt’s offense also converted only 5 of 18 third-down plays.
The senior still managed to complete 25 of 41 passes to nine different receivers for 228 yards, but his few bad throws didn’t go unpunished by Miami’s gifted defense, and he failed to make the big throw when the Buffs needed it.
“I tried to get us into the end zone and make this a game, but I made too many mistakes,” Klatt said. “It was one of those games that they did a good job on third down and we didn’t, and ended up being the ball game.”
Even Colorado’s Mr. Automatic wasn’t himself Saturday. Kicker Mason Crosby missed a 28-yard field goal that would have given the Buffs a 3-0 lead on their first drive of the game. It was his first regular-season miss from less than 40 yards in his college career.
Although Crosby preserved the school’s scoring streak — it stands at an even 200 after Saturday — and legitimized his leg by kicking a 58-yard field goal at sea level in the fourth quarter, his miscue set the tone for a disappointing day.
Although offensive coordinator Shawn Watson’s plan showed signs of effectiveness Saturday, and was hobbled by player mistakes, he failed to effectively run the ball outside against the Hurricanes’ superior speed.
Watson’s most dubious call came on third and inches late in the first quarter, when he ran speedy back Hugh Charles around the right end for a loss of three yards, forcing CU to punt.
“In those situations, they had been making personnel changes, and that time they didn’t. If they substituted there, we would have been heroes,” Watson said. “We knew we had to run the ball north and south against them, but we also tried to change it up. They just have too much speed.”