Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.
A strong showing, offensive woes, bad red zone execution and the Rams’ run game led to the downfall of the University of Colorado, who fell to Colorado State in the 88th Rocky Mountain Showdown at Sports Authority Field in Denver.
Perhaps as recently as last year those themes might have been relevant, but it was not the case and that was not the result Friday night, as the Buffaloes easily handled the Rams and cruised to a 44-7 victory.
The stage could not have been more set. With ESPN broadcasting the game and as senior quarterback Sefo Liufau made his return to the gridiron after his season-ending Lisfranc fracture he suffered against USC last November and in front of 69,850 fans, the Buffs delivered on a scale rarely seen in the history of the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
“It’s a surreal feeling to put one of those games out there like that,” Liufau said. “Overall, we’re really happy as a team to get one of those wins.”
“We played hard tonight,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “I thought there was a great crowd there and a lot excitement in the air for both schools. We got off to a really fast start, which is what we wanted to do.”
The win Friday evening was the biggest margin of victory by a Buffs team over the Rams since Colorado’s 47-7 victory over Colorado State in Boulder on October 13, 1956.
“They were ready, they came out hot, they had the momentum and we were unable to do anything to slow it down,” Rams head coach Mike Bobo said of the Buffs after the game. “It’s embarrassing. We embarrassed our name.”
Liufau shined in his long-awaited return. The third-year starter completed 23 of 33 attempted passes for 318 yards and a touchdown. He also ran 14 times for 72 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
Friday night’s game was nothing short of a dominating performance by Colorado. The Buffs put up 578 yards of total offense compared to the Rams’ 225. Perhaps most eyebrow-raising was the comparative passing yards. Colorado State managed only 63 net yards passing, compared to the Buffs’ 318.
The Buffaloes kicked off to begin the game, something which senior kicker Diego Gonzalez would repeat as the contest went on, almost as if on loop. He would participate in nine kickoffs, launching the ball a total of 585 yards in the game.
The Rams took possession, and thus began their game-long woes. It took Colorado State about 20 minutes to achieve its initial first down of the game, which was finally accomplished on the Rams’ seventh possession of the game.
Senior quarterback Nick Stevens started the game for Colorado State, but after the Rams’ first three drives resulted in three-and-outs, Bobo replaced him with senior Faton Bauta. Bauta would eventually toss a five-yard pass to sophomore receiver Marcus Wilson at the beginning of the fourth quarter for the Rams’ lone score, however, both quarterbacks combined to throw for 63 yards, completing just 12 out of 29 attempted passes.
On the day, the Rams averaged 3.5 yards per play, while the Buffs averaged 6.49.
The Buffs got on the board quickly, as an 11-play, 73-yard drive was capped off by a five-yard keeper by Liufau into the endzone. However, Liufau fumbled in the endzone but luckily, senior center Alex Kelley was there to recover the ball and score his first touchdown.
After the Rams punted on their next possession, the Buffs put another seven on the board, courtesy of a 17-yard touchdown reception by junior wide receiver Devin Ross.
For all the successes Colorado had, there were a series of regrettable blemishes that came in the four total fumbles that the Buffs committed; two by Liufau and two by junior tailback Phillip Lindsay.
“I’m not much of a fumbler and I let a couple go today, so that’s on me,” he said. “I’m going to continue to work on it. I’ll probably go around school with a football in my hand now.”
Despite the fumbles, Lindsay had his way with the CSU defense, gaining 95 rushing yards on 20 attempts. He found the endzone twice and caught three passes for 23 yards.
Junior wide receivers Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross had themselves a day. Bobo caught five passes for 99 yards and Ross was right behind him, snagging eight balls for 97 yards to go along with his touchdown in the first quarter.
The Buffaloes would establish a 24-0 lead heading into the second quarter. But tragedy struck about three minutes into the second quarter, when the Buffs were forced to punt for the first time in the game. Just kidding, of course.
At halftime, the score read 31-0 Buffs.
The second half of the game featured continued offensive ineptitude by the Rams and the solid clock-eating abilities of CU. There was a scary moment in the fourth quarter, when Liufau rushed out of the pocket under pressure and cut upfield for a ten-yard gain, but was hit hard on the way down and fumbled, which the Rams were revealed to have recovered after a review.
Liufau stayed down on the field for a short while, shaken up.
“I was just pissed; I was just really upset with fumbling the ball,” Liufau said. “In a bigger game that’ll really cost us so I’ll definitely cut back on those.”
But for as impressive as the Colorado offense was, the Buffs’ defensive 11 deserve to be recognized, as well. The defense recorded two sacks, two fumbles and two interceptions in the game, the interceptions coming from senior defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson.
“Coming out there and being dominant like that and really being able to go out my senior year and beat Colorado State like that has really made me proud of my teammates,” Awuzie said. “[We’re] kind of sad that we let them score seven points,” he added, perhaps more importantly.
You have to appreciate the intensity.
Defensively, Awuzie led the team with eight tackles. Senior linebacker Kenneth Olugbode was second on the team with six total tackles.
Heading into the game, the defense’s main focal point was containing Dalyn Dawkins, the Rams’ dynamic junior tailback. Although he rushed for 88 yards on 14 carries, Dawkins was denied entry into the endzone, and especially early on, was limited to modest gains.
It’s hard to say whether the Buffs could have started off the season in a better fashion, but after today’s win, perhaps that question is better left unanswered. Their next challenge will be defeating Idaho State next Saturday when the Bengals come to Folsom Field for the Buffs’ 2016 home opener.
Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. MST.