DENVER – Freshman quarterback Haynes King‘s backup started out slowly, finished precious few drives and even fumbled the football a whisker from the goal line.
Sophomore Zach Calzada came up clutch in the end, though, throwing an 18-yard touchdown pass to running back Isaiah Spiller with 2:41 remaining to help fifth-ranked Texas A&M edge Colorado 10-7 Saturday.
“The one thing you can say he made the plays on those drives that mattered, right there at the end,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said.
And Fisher didn’t want to hear about how his Aggies should have walloped the Buffaloes, either.
“First and foremost, Colorado played a heck of a football game. We got a very good football team,” Fisher said. “They were a lot of the reason why we had issues today. We can sit here and say we blame it on ourselves, but they did a really, really good job, physically and schematically.
“We were fortunate to come out of that one.”
Unbeaten if not unscathed.
Spiller’s TD gave the Aggies (2-0) their first lead on a day in which they lost their star freshman starting quarterback to a lower right leg injury and eight of their first nine drives were three-and-outs.
Colorado’s hopes of an upset over the 17-point favorite Aggies ended when Brendon Lewis‘ pass to Dimitri Stanley on fourth-and-13 from his 22 covered just 12 yards before he was smothered by a bevy of defenders.
“It gives us an identity,” Spiller said of the hard-fought victory. “It was our first adversity game, it was a great challenge for us.”
Maybe it’ll give the Buffs an identity, too.
“There’s no reason to hang our head low for anything,” Colorado coach Karl Dorrell said. “We had a chance to win a game, a significant game, and our locker room is more disappointed about not finishing the game.
“I thought defensively we played really well, but offensively we had some good moments but struggled at times, couldn’t put anything together in the second half.”
The Aggies (2-0), whose 10-game winning streak is second longest in the nation to Alabama, took over with 1:39 left and ran out the clock on the Buffs (1-1), who managed just one first down after taking a 7-3 halftime lead.
The former Big 12 adversaries hadn’t played each other since 2009 before the Aggies bolted to the Southeastern Conference and the Buffs headed to the Pac-12.
The old rivals put on a dazzling defensive performance, but an offensive dud in front of 61,203 fans at the home of the Denver Broncos.
The Buffs had a chance to pull off their first win over a top-five team in 14 years when Joshka Gustav forced a fumble inches from the goal line and cornerback Mekhi Blackmon recovered it in the end zone to prevent a touchdown by the Aggies midway through the fourth quarter.
The Buffs went three-and-out again, however, and the Aggies began their game-winning drive from their 23 with 7:50 remaining.
The Buffs lost their best rusher, Jarek Broussard, to an unspecified injury midway through the third quarter after he was smoked by nickelback Antonio Johnson just as he caught a pass in the right flat. He slowly walked off and didn’t return.
King hobbled off the field favoring his right leg after a 2-yard keeper on the Aggies’ second possession. He spent the second half watching from the sideline in street clothes, on crutches and with a walking boot on his right foot. Fisher said he had no update after the game on King’s injury or his prognosis.
Calzada, a sophomore, completed just two of his first eight passes for 2 yards until heating up in the two-minute drill just before halftime and Seth Small’s 41-yard field goal pulled A&M to 7-3 at halftime.
That drive began with a 15-yard run by Devon Achane. Before that, the Aggies were in danger of becoming the first team to head into halftime without a first down against Colorado since Nebraska in 1961.
Broussard scored from 2 yards for Colorado in the first quarter, but another long drive ended with a missed field goal by Cole Becker and a third ended when Lewis was stuffed on back-to-back attempts to gain a few inches inside the Aggies 5-yard line.
Dorrell wasn’t second-guessing any calls.
“We lost a really tough game, where we had a great chance of winning, that’s really the bottom line,” he said.
Texas A&M escaped a huge upset and has big questions at quarterback. “Today is judgment day,” Fisher said. “We found out that we have heart, but we have to find out if we can get execution and precision.”
Texas A&M: Although Calzada completed just 18 of 38 passes for 183 yards, he got it done in crunch time. And the Aggies limited Lewis to just 89 yards through the air and 76 on the ground. Johnson had nine solo tackles and two of A&M’s seven pass breakups, outshined only by Colorado LB Nate Landman (10 solo tackles, two of them for loss and two pass breakups).
Colorado: The Buffs still haven’t beaten a team in the top five since knocking off No. 3 Oklahoma 27-24 in Boulder on Sept. 29, 2007. But a defiant Dorrell insisted his team proved it’s on its way back: “Damn right I’m optimistic! I think everybody thought that we wouldn’t be close to this team. I told you all we’re a better team than you think.”
Texas A&M hosts New Mexico on Sept. 18.
Colorado hosts Minnesota on Sept. 18.