Coming off a double-overtime loss to UCLA last week, Colorado seemed primed to finally secure their first win in the Pac-12 Saturday afternoon against Washington. But the Buffs are still searching for that elusive W, falling 38-23 to the Huskies in a game marred by turnovers.
This is a game Colorado should have won. Everything was going well; they were leading by as much as 10 points in the first half. The offense was rolling. And then, they started turning the ball over.
“That was a tough loss,” said head coach Mike MacIntrye. “One that we had all the momentum going. I feel like definitely Washington won the game, but I feel like we really gave them the game. I didn’t think that we were overmatched. I thought they fought hard. I thought we did a lot of good things. But you cannot have [four] turnovers and a punt return [for a touchdown] and beat a Pac-12 football team.”
For the first time in weeks, CU got off to a fast start, taking a 17-7 lead in the second quarter. The Buffs scored on their first three drives.
CU quarterback Sefo Liufau, who finished the game with 314 yards and two touchdowns, looked great early on, throwing both of his scores in the first half. Liufau, at this point, was managing to avoid the interceptions that have plagued him this season.
Despite scoring early, the Buffs couldn’t find a way to put Washington away, mainly because of Husky running back Shaq Thompson. Thompson came to Washington as a linebacker, and it shows in his running style.
“[Thompson is] a pretty big guy and keeps his legs turning,” said CU linebacker Kenneth Olugbode. “He runs hard. He brings that defensive mentality, where I’m going to run you over and I’m going to hit you rather than you hit me.”
All year the Buffs’ kryptonite has been a strong run game, and Saturday CU had no answer for Thompson. He ran all over the CU defense and ended the first half with 192 total yards and a touchdown. He broke off on runs of 59, 49 and 31 yards. Washington would go on to rush for 236 yards as a team.
Even with Thompson’s heroic performance, the Buffs must have felt pretty good going into the second half with a three-point lead.
“It was good,” Liufau said of the locker room atmosphere at halftime. “All the guys were fired up. We were ready to comeback out and continue to go out and play strong…Spirits were up and we were ready to go out and fight again.”
After the Buffs left the locker room, everything fell apart. Colorado opened the second half with a Will Oliver field goal, making the score 23-17. They wouldn’t score again.
Washington looked like they were about to score on the next drive, but Colorado cornerback John Walker forced a fumble that the Buffs recovered in their own end zone. This possession was CU’s last chance to take control of the game, but instead they gave it away after a fumble by running back Phillip Lindsay. Washington quarterback Cyler Miles threw a 28-yard touchdown to put his team up, and the Huskies never looked back.
Liufau fell back into old habits, throwing a pass right into the hands of Washington linebacker Travis Freeney, who returned it for a touchdown. It was Liufau’s second turnover of the game and twelfth interception of the year.
Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce, who hit the mark of 90 completions on Saturday (a new Colorado single season record), attributed the loss to his team’s turnovers.
“I think [the reason we lost] was just the mistakes we made,” Spruce said after the game. “We made too many mistakes early in the second half when we were up, and we gave the ball away a couple times. As a team, we are not in a situation where we can make those types of mistakes and still come out with a win.”
He went on to say that he thinks Colorado’s lack of experience winning games is what is holding them back.
“I think that’s part of it, just knowing what it takes to win,” Spruce said. “No one on this team has been really close to a bowl game. I think that’s why we got to keep pushing. It could just take that one game where we finish it off to kind of turn this thing around.”
Spruce wasn’t the only one who set records on Saturday. Wide receiver Shay Fields set a Colorado record for receptions by a true freshman with 40, and Liufau also set a record for most completions in a season by a Colorado quarterback with 274. But for Liufau, the records aren’t important.
“I don’t know how much numbers count for if you don’t have the win,” Liufau said. “You can have all the numbers in the world…But overall, everyone here is for the team and we want to get team success over individual success.”
This loss buries any hope of a bowl game, but that doesn’t mean the season is over for the Buffs.
“You have an opportunity to continue to learn and continue to build and get better,” Liufau said. “That’s the way we have to look at it, and I have no doubt the team is going to do that.”
Colorado has a tough road ahead of them. Each of their last three games will be against ranked conference opponents: Arizona, Oregon and Utah. But the Buffs aren’t convinced they can’t still get a win. That was MacIntyre’s final message after the Washington loss.
“Just keep believing,” MacIntyre said. “Keep battling. Anything can happen.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sean Kelly at Sean.email@example.com.