The season ends on a down note, yet again.
For the third time in head coach Dan Hawkins’ four-year tenure, the Colorado Buffaloes fell to their archrival Nebraska Cornhuskers, this time 28-20 in front of 52,817 fans at Folsom Field on Friday.
CU’s season concluded at a dismal 3-9.
Going into the Nebraska game, speculation of Hawkins’ job security had been cleared Thursday when athletic director Mike Bohn announced Hawkins will be retained for the 2010 season. All was set for the Buffs to end a tumultuous season on a high note.
Coming out with intensity, a CU win looked promising as the Buffs were able to pressure Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee early. Seniors Marcus Burton and Ben Burney racked up back-to-back sacks on the Huskers’ opening drive to force a punt.
However, Nebraska later found the end zone first when junior Niles Paul returned Matt DiLallo’s 43-yard punt 59 yards to give Nebraska an early 7-0 lead.
“Our defense blocked great for me and allowed me to score,” Paul said. “We’ve always felt we were a block or two from breaking one, and we finally got one today.”
The Buffs were unable to get going in the first quarter as they punted on all four possessions and ran 12 plays for 26 yards.
Nebraska doubled its lead to 14-0 on the first play of the second quarter when Lee found freshman tight end Ben Cotton for a 24-yard touchdown pass to cap off a 6-play, 56-yard drive.
The Buffs were able to find some success later as they showed signs of life. A 7-play, 67-yard drive ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Tyler Hansen to senior fullback Jake Behrens to make it 14-7.
But turnovers came back to haunt the Buffs as Hansen was intercepted twice in the first half, including one returned 20 yards for a touchdown by Nebraska senior free safety Matt O’Hanlon to make it 21-7.
CU came out swinging in the third as they were able to put together a solid 12-play, 59-yard drive, finished off with Hansen finding junior wide receiver Scotty McKnight on a 6-yard touchdown to make it a one-possession game at 21-14.
After Colorado’s defense forced a Nebraska punt, the Buffs had a huge opportunity to tie the game. On third-and-10 at its own 17, Hansen lofted a perfect pass to sophomore wide receiver Markques Simas, who snagged the ball past the leaping Huskers defender and ran down the left sidelines with one defender to beat. Instead of attempting to make one more move to get into the end zone, Simas decided to go out-of-bounds at Nebraska’s 25.
It proved to be costly as the Buffs walked away without any points when junior kicker Aric Goodman missed a 52-yard field goal wide left.
On the following possession, Colorado recovered a Nebraska fumble near midfield. However, Goodman failed to capitalize when he missed wide left, this time from 37 yards.
“It’s just stupid stuff,” Behrens said. “It’s not them doing anything special, we just shoot ourselves in the foot.”
The Huskers sucked the wind out of the Buffs in the fourth as they were able to compile a 13-play, 80-yard drive eating up 6:52 off the clock. Freshman running back Rex Burkhead contributed 55 yards on the ground in the game-clinching drive that put Nebraska up 28-14 with 6:43 left in the game.
“They dug in and did a good job on offense,” junior linebacker B.J. Beatty said of Nebraska’s final scoring drive. “They really came after it and got after the ball.”
Hansen found McKnight for a meaningless 56-yard touchdown reception as time expired. According to CU Sports Information Director Dave Plati, the Buffs didn’t kick the extra-point due to a rule stating that if the outcome of the game has already been decided and the game ends on a scoring play, no extra-point kick is necessary.
Despite facing the vaunted Nebraska defense, which was third in the nation in fewest points allowed at 10.3 points per game, the Buffs – statistically – found daylight. CU pounded the ball for 134 rushing yards and racked up 403 total yards, the latter a season-high for the Nebraska defense.
“The [offensive line] is growing up,” Hawkins said. “Obviously, ‘Speedy’ [Rodney Stewart] made some really good runs.”
The Buffs say they are looking at a promising offseason as this young bunch was able to gain plenty of experience throughout a tough season.
“I think these guys just have to take the lessons they have learned, but we just need to turn the corner,” Hawkins said. “That’s the key.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Richard Londer at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org.