DENVER (AP) — Backup quarterback Zach Calzada threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Spiller with 2:41 remaining and fifth-ranked Texas A&M escaped Empower Field at Mile High with a 10-7 win over Colorado on Saturday.
Spiller’s TD gave the Aggies (2-0) their first lead on a day in which they lost freshman QB Haynes King 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.
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.
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.
After five three-and-outs and a missed field goal following an interception at midfield by Aggies defensive tackle Jayden Peevy, Calzada was 4 of 7 for 41 yards on a drive that ended with Seth Small’s 41-yard field goal that pulled Texas 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 the Buffs blew several chances to put this one away early. One long drive ended with a missed field goal by Cole Becker and another ended when Lewis was stuffed on back-to-back attempts to gain a few inches inside the Aggies 5-yard line.
Although the Buffaloes have played 94 games in Denver, this was their first one in the Mile High City against an opponent from another state in 109 years. The Buffs played Stanford (1904), Kansas (1905), Haskell (1905), Utah (1912) and Oklahoma (1912) in Denver, winning four of those five.
Texas A&M escaped a huge upset but it has big questions at quarterback. Their dominant defense came to the rescue on a day it was sorely needed.
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: This was a measuring stick for where the Buffs are in the second year under coach Karl Dorrell. The previous time the Buffs beat a team in the top five was when they knocked off No. 3 Oklahoma 27-24 in Boulder on Sept. 29, 2007. They’re 4-35 against ranked teams since 2009.
Texas A&M hosts New Mexico on Sept. 18.
Colorado hosts Minnesota on Sept. 18.