May 28, 2024

PASADENA, Calif. — Shedeur Sanders‘ tired demeanor and the box score from Colorado‘s 28-16 loss to UCLA on Saturday told a similar story.

Over the course of 60 minutes at the Rose Bowl, Sanders was sacked seven times, hit 17 other times and knocked down 13 times, and he was pressured in the backfield on countless more occasions.

While the Buffaloes’ offense failed to score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, Sanders spent his night scrambling, sliding or crumpling under the weight of the Bruins’ defenders. Colorado managed only 25 rushing yards and 242 total yards, a crippling combination that prevented its quarterback from doing what he does best: throw the ball down the field.

“I’m a little biased because I’m his father, but I think we have the best quarterback in the country,” Buffaloes coach Deion Sanders said of Shedeur, who was 27-of-43 for 217 yards. “I don’t think any other quarterback could put up with having to stand and deliver like he has to every week in, week out, taking a beating.”

What wasn’t clear at first was later revealed by Deion: The hits Shedeur has absorbed in recent weeks and on Saturday led to him receiving an injection at halftime to “block some of the pain.” Deion said he would give Shedeur the next few days off.

While Deion Sanders did not specify what kind of pain Shedeur was dealing with during Saturday’s game, he did express regret in how poorly the quarterback has been protected.

“Overall, we just don’t have the fight and the passion to do what we want to do,” Deion Sanders said of the offensive line, which has been depleted by injuries. “The line has to improve. We have to have enough depth to be able to accomplish the goals that we set out to accomplish.”

Colorado — and by extension Shedeur — has been one of the most pressured teams in the nation. Going into Saturday’s game, the Buffaloes were allowing five sacks per game, ranking 132nd out of 133 teams in the country. The trickle-down effect of poor line play has led to a rapidly declining running game, putting far more pressure on Shedeur to make magic happen in the backfield.

“It’s really frustrating because I just need to get feedback just knowing what’s open and what’s not,” Shedeur Sanders said, while taking responsibility for the offense not being on the same page. “I just got to make my mind up faster and get the ball out of my hands quicker.”

Against the Bruins, Colorado’s offensive game plan appeared to prioritize quick throws from Sanders to cutting receivers or on screens. But the UCLA defense, one of the best in the country, quickly snuffed out the strategy. By the time Colorado found itself down in the game, its play on the line did not suit the need to throw downfield.

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

Despite a strong start for the Colorado defense — which featured two acrobatic interceptions by two-way star Travis Hunter — the unit eventually broke down without safety Shilo Sanders, who was ejected due to targeting, and without much help from the offensive side of the ball. The Bruins finished with 487 yards of offense and 14 points in the fourth quarter to seal the result.

Deion, as he is wont to do, did not mince words on what Colorado needs to improve and compete at a higher level. He said the Buffaloes have to get a better offensive line. But when asked about whether he is mindful of the Buffaloes’ quest to six wins and a bowl berth, he bristled at the notion that he or the team — currently 4-4 after a 3-0 start — was focused on that.

“I don’t give a damn about no bowl,” Deion Sanders said. “We’re trying to win, period. The consistency there just isn’t there at this point because of the lack of talent in certain positions.”

Despite the loss and the climb to Colorado’s first bowl appearance since 2020 looking tougher, Coach Prime, the showman, was still present after the game. The smiles and the quips were still plenty and so were the harsh truths. But as always, the message of long-term optimism persisted.

“I would love to win. I’m accustomed to winning, and we will win,” Deion Sanders said. “Just put your seat belt on and hold on. We’ll win.”

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