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Arizona blown out at Colorado for first shutout in 9 years as losing streak reaches 18

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arizona-wildcats-colorado-buffaloes-final-score-2021-pac12-football-gunner-cruz-recap-shutout Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

It turns out there is no end to Arizona’s new lows.

The UA’s 18th consecutive loss may be its most embarrassing yet, even more than falling at home to NAU last month, as the Wildcats made a similarly struggling Colorado team look like a somewhat competent squad in a 34-0 loss on Saturday afternoon at Folsom Field in Boulder.

It was the first time in 109 games that the UA (0-6, 0-3 Pac-12) failed to score, going back to a 49-0 loss at Oregon in September 2012. The Wildcats had only two legitimate scoring chance but turned it over on downs in the red zone both times, including once when they had four chances from the 1-yard line and couldn’t convert.

Arizona allowed big plays on defense, special teams and even on offense while doing almost none of those things itself. Colorado (2-4, 1-2) scored touchdowns on a 36-yard blocked punt return, a 50-yard interception return and a 62-yard pass, all in the third quarter to turn a still-in-doubt 6-0 game at halftime into another backslide for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats turned it over twice, were outgained 365-280 and punted on eight of its first 10 drives, including the first four. It didn’t help that five of their first eight snaps on first down went for negative yards, leading to a 3-of-15 performance on third down.

Gunner Cruz made his third start, the first since the San Diego State game, and looked very much like the hesitant passer that was pulled in the second half of that blowout. He made it about just as long in this one, getting replaced by Will Plummer after throwing a pick-six midway through the third quarter and finished with 82 yards on 13-of-22 passing after starting 12 of 15.

Cruz may be out for the season due to a thumb injury, coach Jedd Fisch said after the game. He appeared to injure his right thumb on a run two plays before the pick-six.

Plummer was 7 of 17 for 71 yards and a pick. Arizona’s only offensive bright spot was freshman running back Jalen John, who ran for 71 yards on 11 carries, while Stanley Berryhill III had eight catches to give him 48 in six games, keeping him ahead of the pace needed to break Bobby Wade’s single-season school record of 93 set in 2002.

The UA went scoreless in the first half for the first time since last November at Washington, managing only 99 yards of offense before halftime to trail 6-0. Its defense kept it in the game, however, by holding Colorado to a pair of red-zone field goals despite three pass plays of 25-plus yards.

The Wildcats forced 3-and-outs on Colorado’s first two drives after the break but could do nothing with that effort, punting both times. The second, after three straight incomplete passes, resulted in a block and return for a touchdown by Colorado’s Trevor Woods to make it 13-0 with 6:46 left in the third quarter.

Three plays later, Cruz was intercepted by Carson Wells, who returned the pick 50 yards for a TD to make it 20-0. Cruz whiffed on a poor tackle attempt along the way, and on the next drive he was replaced by Plummer.

Plummer did no better, getting stripped one on play and severely underthrowing his receiver on another, and not long after Colorado made it 27-0 on a 62-yard TD pass from Brendon Lewis to Brenden Rice.

An 11-yard TD catch by Dimitri Stanley with 4:08 left in the fourth made it 34-0, giving Colorado as many passing scores against Arizona as it had in its first five games.

The UA had one last shot to avoid the shutout, getting into the Colorado red zone in the final two minutes, but Plummer’s fourth-down pass to Jalen Johnson in the end zone was incomplete.

Arizona’s first four drives all ended in punts, the first two on 3-and-outs. The Wildcats started to move the ball in the second quarter behind the backfield combination of tailback Jalen John and fullback Clay Markoff, but a holding penalty on a 12-yard John run killed that momentum.

The UA’s best scoring chance of the first half was their last, and how it ended was so painfully familiar. A 23-yard John run got the Wildcats down to the Colorado 1-yard line with 4:10 left in the second quarter, but after that they couldn’t get that one last yard.

A Cruz sneak got nothing, followed by two John runs that went nowhere, setting up a 4th-and-goal play where Cruz rolled right and threw incomplete to tight end Alex Lines.

The Wildcats return home but have a short week, hosting Washington Friday at 7:30 p.m. MT. The Huskies were the team the UA lost to at home in October 2019 to begin the longest active skid in FBS.