PASADENA, Calif. — Colorado’s defense kept the Buffaloes in the game but CU’s offense never found a rhythm Saturday night as the Buffs dropped a 28-16 decision to No. 23 UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders’ Buffs lost their second in a row and fourth in their last five games to fall to 4-4 overall and 1-4 in Pac-12 play. UCLA improved to 6-2, 3-2.

CU’s defense forced four UCLA turnovers in the first half — two interceptions by Travis Hunter and two fumble recoveries that halted UCLA drives in the red zone — and the Bruins led just 7-6 at intermission.

But the Buffs’ offense had no answer for a fierce UCLA pass rush that produced seven sacks of CU quarterback Shedeur Sanders and held the Buffs to their second-lowest yardage (255) and point total of the season. The Bruins scored three touchdowns after the break while Colorado managed only a field goal and late touchdown.

Colorado finished with just 255 yards offense, including only 38 on the ground. Sanders was under pressure all night behind an injury-riddled offensive line that was missing several regulars and he finished 27-for-43 for 217 yards and a touchdown.

UCLA finished with 487 yards, with quarterback Ethan Garbers finishing 20-for-27 for 269 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Collin Schlee also threw an interception for the Bruins. UCLA’s run game controlled the game on the ground — especially in the second half — with 218 yards rushing on 45 attempts.

“Offensively, we’ve got to improve,” Coach Prime said. “Our quarterback is taking a beating. (Shedeur Sanders) got an injection at halftime just to block some of the pain… We have to do a better job of protecting him … Running the football, we’ve had a couple lineman go down (with injuries), but that’s no excuse.”

HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado opened the game with a 62-yard drive that produced an Alejandro Mata field goal and 3-0 CU lead.

Hunter then recorded his first interception on UCLA’s opening possession and the Buffs turned that into another Mata field goal from 39 yards out for a 6-0 lead.

But that was the last threat from CU’s offense and the Bruins finally found their offensive footing two series later — with the help of the Buffs.

A short CU punt and penalty gave UCLA the ball at the Colorado 45. Nine plays and one Colorado penalty later, the Bruins scored on a 3-yard Ethan Garbers pass to Carson Steele in the first minute of the second quarter. The PAT gave UCLA a 7-6 lead and that ended the scoring for the first half.

CU’s offense never managed to mount another serious threat for the remainder of the half. Sanders found himself under pressure every time he dropped back and the Buffs gave up five sacks in the first two quarters.

But Colorado’s defense kept the Buffs in the game. CU stopped one UCLA possession by forcing a Steele fumble, which Omarion Cooper recovered at the Colorado 20-yard line. Hunter then recorded his second interception of the half on the Bruins’ next possession and the Bruins missed a 24-yard field goal on their next try with the ball.

Colorado’s defense took a hit late in the second quarter when safety Shilo Sanders, the Buffs’ leading tackler, was ejected for targeting on a hit on UCLA running back Carsen Ryan.

Still, the Buffs’ defense came up with another big play. After CU’s fifth punt of the half, the Bruins looked ready to add to their point total before Steele fumbled again. Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig recovered at the Colorado 6-yard line and the Buffs ran out the clock to head into the locker room trailing by just one, 7-6, at the break.

Along with Hunter, Colorado rush end Jordan Domineck had an outstanding game on the defensive side, finishing with nine tackles and two sacks.

“I think both the offense and defense played really hard,” Domineck said. “I can’t be more proud of the defense and the way we executed. Now it’s just go back, watch film and keep improving.”

But it didn’t take the Bruins long to extend their lead after halftime. UCLA took the opening kick and went 75 yards in just two plays for a touchdown. Garbers threw a 49-yard pass to Logan Loya, then followed with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Moliki Matavao to push the Bruins’ lead to 14-6.

The two teams then traded punts before Colorado closed the gap. Sanders — despite taking his sixth sack of the game — led a 64-yard drive that resulted in Mata’s third field goal. With 4:13 still left in the third quarter, Colorado trailed by just five, 14-9.

But the Bruins answered with another touchdown drive that started in the third quarter and finished in the fourth. UCLA methodically drove 80 yards in 13 plays, including a key 14-yard completion awarded via instant replay. TJ Harden took it in from 3 yards out and UCLA pushed its lead to 21-9 with 14:13 to play.

Colorado’s offense again failed to put together a drive. The Buffs gained one first down on their next possession before punting and the Bruins finally put the game away with an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Schlee scored from 7 yards out as UCLA took a 28-9 lead with 6:34 to play.

“It’s a struggle to run the ball, and we’ve got to figure that out because now we’re one-dimensional,” Coach Prime said. “It’s easy to stop a team when you’re one-dimensional. That’s who we are at this point in time.”

Colorado finally found the end zone on the ensuing possession as Sanders, who took a beating all night, directed a nine-play, 86-yard scoring drive. Sanders connected with Jimmy Horn Jr. for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 2:37 to play to pull the Buffs within 28-16 and wrap up the scoring for the night.

TURNING POINT: The Buffs trailed by just one at the half, but UCLA took control with a two-play, 75-yard scoring drive in just 35 seconds to open the second half.

KEY STATISTIC: CU quarterback Shedeur Sanders was sacked seven times. He has now been sacked 41 times this season.

WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs were in position to win a rare defensive battle, but couldn’t muster enough production out of their offense. CU still needs two more wins to become bowl eligible with four games remaining.

NEXT UP: The Buffs return home next Saturday for an 8 p.m. game against Oregon State at Folsom Field (ESPN). The Beavers entered the weekend ranked No. 11 in the nation.


Story by Neill Woelk, Contributing Editor for Content courtesy of the University of Colorado at Boulder.