BOULDER – All Myles Bryant had to do was watch Steven Montez’s eyes.
The University of Colorado faced third-and-4 from its own 30-yard line. Montez stood in the shotgun with a five-wide receiver set – three to the far side, two to the near. He’d been pressured often Saturday night by the Washington defense, sacked twice to that point and continuously flushed from the pocket. But after showing blitz with two linebackers, the Huskies rushed only three on the play.
Montez took the snap and within 1.8 seconds, the ball was out of his hands. The problem? Out of five available targets, Montez, a redshirt sophomore, never glanced off wide receiver Bryce Bobo, paying no attention to Bryant, Washington’s defensive back, who sat in his zone, jumped the route and returned the interception 35 yards for a touchdown. The play put the seventh-ranked Huskies up 24-10 with 2 minutes, 3 seconds remaining in the third quarter, and effectively out of reach.
It was that kind of night for Montez. He has the physical tools to be an elite Pac-12 quarterback, but showed he still has a way to go before he gets there.
“I saw the corner, he was pressed, and then bailed. We had an under-call, which is like a five-yard in-route, so I was thinking, ‘the corner bailed, we should have it,’” Montez, who has seven career starts, said of his final interception of the night. “When I released the ball, I saw what I want to say was the nickel buzz right under it … bad decision.”
He whispered again: “Extremely bad decision.”
Montez completed 21 of 27 passes for 171 yards and a trio of interceptions in the Buffs’ 37-10 loss to Washington at Folsom Field. He was sacked four times. Two of his pass attempts were dropped, another went off the fingertips of running back Phillip Lindsay, landing in the lap of Washington’s Jordan Miller – his first of two picks Saturday.
It’s hard to win when you throw three interceptions in a game, Montez said, adding the light rain and cold temperatures didn’t affect his play. But his mental lapses weren’t limited to his throws. He also misjudged a down-and-distance situation in the second quarter, costing the Buffs a first down — and worse.
With a reputation of toughness and a willingness to grind for an extra yard like a running back rather than slide, Montez protected himself on a third-and-3 play in the second quarter. Instead of diving or waiting another half-second longer to slide, Montez gave himself up after a two-yard run with green grass in front of him, leading to fourth-and-inches from the Buffs’ 29. The next play, CU punter Alex Kinney had his kick blocked. Washington (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) recovered the ball on the 12 and scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 7-7, erasing CU’s only lead of the night.
“I was just trying to play football. That’s really all I was doing. On that third down, I just got to know down and distance. I got to know that I got to put my head down and run them over, or try to make him miss or do something to get that first down. I definitely can’t slide on (third-and-3) and come up short.”
The 171 passing yards Montez threw for Saturday were the fewest of any of his career starts, and the three interceptions were his most. It was also the first game he’s started that he hasn’t thrown a touchdown.
Improved decision making will come with experience, but opening the Pac-12 schedule with a loss and heading to Los Angeles to face Josh Rosen and UCLA next week, Montez will have to grow up quickly. The Buffs (3-1, 0-1) hope Saturday’s defeat will be a learning experience for their quarterback, and if nothing else, CU coach Mike MacIntyre wants Montez to take away one thing from this loss.
“I hope he takes away not throwing to the wrong colored jerseys,” MacIntyre snarked. “It’s what I hope.”