Boulder hash: Sloppy Bruins miss opportunities in 20-10 loss at Colorado

UCLA quarterback Mike Fafaul is brought down by Colorado linebacker Jimmie Gilbert during a play in the first quarter that resulted in a targeting penalty and ejection.
(Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)

Life without Josh Rosen never gets any easier.

UCLA learned it would play the rest of its season without its star quarterback and the Bruins pressed on in familiar fashion.

They played well in spurts. They had a chance to go ahead in the final minutes. They came up empty.

Two special teams breakdowns prevented any last-second drama during UCLA’s 20-10 loss to No. 15 Colorado on Thursday night at Folsom Field. It was a sloppy, penalty-marred game in which the Bruins missed three field goals, converted four Buffaloes turnovers into three measly points and failed to score after having a first and goal at the nine-yard line.


“Incredibly disappointing,” UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. “We had so many opportunities.”

Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver returned a punt 68 yards to give the Buffaloes a 10-point lead with 5 minutes 27 seconds left, sidestepping UCLA snapper Johnny Den Bleyker and punter Stefan Flintoft on the way to the end zone. Mora said the Bruins failed to execute their intended rugby-style punt, kicking the ball down the middle with no hang time.

“If you do that against a good punt returner,” Mora said, “then that’s what’s going to happen to you.”

Things somehow got worse. UCLA receiver Eldridge Massington dropped a pass in the end zone on the Bruins’ next possession and freshman kicker Andrew Strauch pulled a 36-yard field goal wide left to seal his team’s fourth consecutive defeat.


The Bruins (3-6 overall, 1-5 Pac-12 Conference) are assured of their most losses in a season under Mora and face the strong likelihood that they will not play in a bowl game for the first time since 2010. UCLA needs to win its final three games — against Oregon State, USC and California — to become eligible for a bowl.

“I’m not worried about me,” Mora said. “I’m concerned about our young men. This is a test for them and it’s unfortunate and it’s hard but it’s also a great learning opportunity for them.”

The opportunities are far more tantalizing for Colorado.

The Buffaloes (7-2, 5-1, No. 21 AP) maintained their hold on the Pac-12 South Division lead while matching their win total in conference play from the previous five seasons combined. UCLA had won all five previous games between the teams since Colorado joined the Pac-12 before the 2011 season.


It was a day of disappointment for the Bruins. Mora disclosed before the game that Rosen was out for the rest of the season because of the lingering effects of a shoulder injury suffered last month against Arizona State. UCLA quarterback Mike Fafaul said after the game that Rosen would have surgery on his shoulder next week.

Fafaul did not have one of his stronger showings, completing 15 of 29 passes for 185 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The Bruins renewed their commitment to running the ball, without much to show for it. UCLA gained 25 yards rushing and averaged 0.8 of a yard per carry. Tailback Soso Jamabo gained 66 yards in 23 carries, but Fafaul was sacked three times and the Bruins also lost 22 yards after a snap sailed over Fafaul’s head, the result of center Scott Quessenberry’s balky right shoulder that had limited his participation in practice earlier in the week.


Nevertheless, UCLA trailed by only three points with 6 1/2 minutes left after defensive end Rick Wade blocked Chris Graham’s 36-yard field goal attempt, but the Bruins’ next drive featured more foibles, including a dropped pass by Jamabo and a sack of Fafaul on third down.

Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau had two passes intercepted, ending a school-record streak of 152 consecutive passes without a turnover, but he showed some grit late in the third quarter when he twice escaped sacks on the same play to complete a first-down pass. UCLA’s defense showed some senselessness on the same drive by registering penalties for a facemask, unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct.

But Bruins defensive end Takkarist McKinley sacked Liufau on third down and Graham was forced to kick a 37-yard field goal that gave the Buffaloes a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.

UCLA’s defense forced four turnovers in the first half, but the Bruins converted the takeaways into nothing more than freshman kicker J.J. Molson’s career-best 48-yard field goal.


The Bruins also failed to score after getting a first and goal at the nine-yard line. Two runs that went nowhere and an incompletion were followed by a blocked field goal.

It felt like a metaphor for UCLA’s season.

“Terrible,” Fafaul said when asked to describe how he was feeling. “I don’t like losing. It’s just hard right now, but we’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to keep swinging until the last play of the last game.”


Twitter: @latbbolch