Jimbo Fisher was in a sleeper hold, two minutes and 42 stinking seconds away from nap time. Saturday night should’ve been the longest flight home of the man’s adult life, although it’s a solid bet that the Texas A&M boosters would’ve forced him to walk from Bryant Street all the way to College Station.
The Twitter knives were out. Tens of thousands of Aggies fans at Empower Field started doing the math in their heads, wondering how to make a $7.5 million salary go away, and started to pass the hat.
The CU Buffs let Jimbo off the hook.
No. Scratch that.
The CU Buffs coaching staff let Jimbo off the hook.
“We were fortunate to come out of that one,” Fisher said after he and the No. 5 Aggies escaped Mile High with a 10-7 win, on a Zach Calzada touchdown pass with 2:41 left in the game. “I’ll give our kids credit for one thing: We didn’t play well. But we always played hard.”
The Buffs played harder.
And Nate Landman deserved better. Carson Wells deserved better. The CU students who stomped and swayed and screamed themselves hoarse deserved better.
Ralphie VI deserved better, wherever she was.
Buffs quarterback Brendon Lewis deserved better, too.
CU ran the ball nine times in the second half for 31 yards. Nine. That’s it. Which was something of a head-scratcher, in hindsight, after you piled up 140 rushing yards over the first two quarters, and given that you were nursing a 7-3 lead for much of the afternoon.
They got away from what they are. Or what they should be, when everything’s right. Even if Jarek Broussard is hurt, and he barely left the game under his own power midway through the third quarter, CU is at its best under coach Karl Dorrell when it commits to running the ball. Especially running the ball with its quarterback.
As a rush threat, Lewis is electric. As a passer, he’s a crap shoot. The freshman from Texas led the Buffs in net rushing, with 76 of CU’s 171 yards on the ground. He carried the ball all of twice in the second half. Twice. That’s it.
“That was tough,” CU tight end Brady Russell said after the Buffs slipped to 1-1 on the young season. “Because our defense went out there and played so hard. And we put them in tough positions (as an) offense.”
This CU defense played well enough to beat the No. 5 team in the country. To shock the world.
Alas, four of the Buffs’ first five drives in the second half ended as 3-and-outs. Even if Lewis was dinged up, CU goes three-four-five deep at tailback. It’s almost as if they were daring Jimbo to get off the mat. To start swinging.
Which the Aggies did, eventually, finding their running backs in the flat and tight ends up the seam after it became clear that Calzada couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from 10 feet out.
A half-dozen Calzada passes were tipped or touched, wounded ducks that should’ve been up for grabs. The man lived dangerously.
After getting tossed to the turf by CU linebacker Guy Thomas, the Aggies’ starting quarterback, freshman Haynes King, spent the rest of the afternoon in a walking boot. The A&M offense spent the rest of the day in a straightjacket.
The Aggies, 17-point favorites, didn’t manage a play of more than 20 yards until there was 10:26 left in the fourth quarter, when Calzada found a wide-open Jaylen Wydermyer for a 29-yard gain.
They left it all on the field, these Buffs. Including, sadly, a bunch of points.
And, alas, what might’ve been. The Buffs took a 7-3 lead into the break, but it could’ve easily been 10-3 or 13-3, CU. It should’ve been, in hindsight.
CU drove to the Aggies 28 early in the second quarter but Cole Becker’s 46-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
The Buffs looked a cinch to extend their lead to double digits at the end of their next drive, but a 13-play jaunt stalled at the A&M 5 when Lewis hit a wall of Aggies on successive 1-yard-to-go sneaks. The first appeared to be marked short while the second was stone-walled for no gain.
“I’ll do it again,” Dorrell vowed. “We’re going to be aggressive.
“I’m not going to second-guess that. We got yardage on the first one. It’s OK, it’s going to happen.”
Dorrell was on edge after the game, understandably emotional after watching a signature victory — CU hasn’t toppled a top-5 foe since 2007 — slip through his fingers.
At the worst, we know the Buffs have a defense that can carry some serious water, so long as Landman and Wells are healthy. We know Lewis will grow as a passer. We know this team learns from its mistakes — after a sloppy, chippy opener against Ed McCaffrey’s UNC Bears, CU played relatively clean against the Aggies: two penalties for 17 yards and just one turnover.
Now we’ll see just how well they rebound, emotionally, from getting their guts ripped out on national television.
Most of the teams on the rest of the Buffs’ fight card are coin-flips. But Minnesota (1-1), their dance partner at Folsom Field on Saturday, is the first one up. And maybe the first true barometer of just how far this ship can sail.
“There’s no excuses,” Dorrell said. “We’ve got to get better.”
And when you’ve got a giant on the ropes, for the love of Pete, you have to finish him.
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