BOULDER - Stepping away from their Pac-12 Conference schedule on a perfect mid-October Saturday, the Colorado Buffaloes eventually stepped out of Folsom Field with a 43-10 romp past overmatched Charleston Southern.
The Buffs’ Big Stepper was tailback Michael Adkins II.
Adkins, a true freshman from San Diego, accounted for a freshman school record four touchdowns on runs of 23, 5, 33 yards and 34 yards. Entering Saturday’s game, the Buffs had scored one rushing TD in their previous five games.
“We always say we want to be about 50-50 (run-pass), it depends on how the game goes,” said Adkins, who finished with 137 yards on 13 carries. “But running today definitely was a factor.”
And how. Tailback/fullback Christian Powell also scored on a 2-yard run as the Buffs enjoyed their most productive running afternoon of the season (218 yards). Adkins’ four TDs eclipsed the school freshman record set by Herschel Troutman in 1994 and equaled by Powell last season.
The Buffs’ top rushing effort this season had been 154 yards in a 44-17 loss at Oregon State. In the two games before Saturday, they had totaled 94 yards against Oregon and 99 against Arizona State. Adkins’ carries had steadily risen in the three previous games, with his 98 yards on 14 attempts at OSU the previous high mark for a CU back this season.
“My carries have been increasing every week so I just took advantage of the carries I got,” Adkins said. “Our line blocked well and I just kept grinding and kept finding the holes . . . it gave me a lot of confidence. I didn’t score in my first two games, so scoring today gives me a lot of confidence moving forward.”
The Buffs broke a three-game losing streak, evened their record at 3-3 and won their first game under first-time starting quarterback Sefo Liufau. CU returns to Pac-12 competition and remains at home next weekend, hosting Arizona (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network) in a game that suddenly looms as perhaps the schedule’s most pivotal.
With Saturday’s win, CU’s goal now becomes to win its first Pac-12 game under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre next week and exit October 4-3 overall. That leaves five conference games in the season’s final month for the Buffs to get two wins and reach six for bowl qualification – something that hasn’t happened since the 2007 season.
“If we get the one next week,” said MacIntyre, “it means November matters in Colorado.”
A true freshman from Tacoma, Wash., Liufau made his college debut last weekend at Arizona State, replacing junior Connor Wood in the first quarter of CU’s 54-13 loss. Liufau finished 18-of-26 for 169 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions, in that game.
In his first start Saturday, he was 14-of-20 for 198 yards. Liufau’s TD pass covered 60 yards, most of them courtesy of fleet junior Paul Richardson in the second quarter. Richardson finished with eight receptions for 122 yards.
“It feels good,” Liufau said of his home debut and first start. “It was fun being out there with the guys and just playing and having fun.” He called he confidence gained from the win “a tribute to the team – the O-line blocking, the receivers running the routes. Paul had a great play there . . . I definitely got confidence as I kept going.”
The game against previously unbeaten CSU, the FCS’ No. 24-ranked team, was arranged last month to replace Fresno State on the CU schedule. The Fresno State contest was postponed due to the mid-September floods that ravaged Boulder and Boulder County.
“I’m thankful that Charleston Southern wanted to play us,” MacIntyre said. “Or we couldn’t have played today.”
CSU, which entered the afternoon 7-0, was without its first two quarterbacks and started freshman Kyle Copeland, who was playing in only his third game and had thrown two incompletions in his only two attempts. Copeland’s final passing stats: 7-of-14 for 48 yards, one TD, one interception.
CU outgained CSU 416-196 in total offense, with the Buffs adjusting to the Buccaneers' option attack and holding them to zero points and 46 total yards in the second half.
“(CU) is just a better team than us,” said CSU coach Jamey Chadwell. “We had seven wins before today and I don’t think that’s going to change. The only difference is that won’t play quite as good of a team. They made some good adjustments during the second half, and as for us, we’re going to keep doing what we do.”
The Buffs got out of the first half with a 22-10 lead largely made possible by a timely fumble recovery by Nate Bonsu and Richardson’s runaway speed. Bonsu got the loose ball following defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe’s strip of CSU quarterback Kyle Copeland at the Buccaneers’ 12-yard line in the second quarter. Two plays later, Adkins took a handoff headed off left tackle, weaved to his right and scored from 5 yards out.
Will Oliver’s PAT staked CU to a 15-3 lead that ballooned to 22-3 after a three-and-out CSU series and the 60-yard pitch-and-catch executed by Liufau and Richardson.
Credit Liufau with keeping the play afloat; he fielded a bouncing center snap, collected himself and spotted Richardson crossing right to left in front of the formation. “P-Rich” took the short pass, reversed his field and outran two Buccaneers in pursuit to the right pylon.
Oliver again kicked the extra point and CU seemed comfortably ahead 22-3. The Buffs had opened the game with a 65-yard, six-play scoring drive, getting 52 yards on the ground – the last 23 by Adkins. They went ahead 8-0 when holder Darragh O’Neill ran for the two-point conversion.
But after CU had surged in front 22-3, CSU collected itself for its second 9-plus minute drive of the half – the first ended with a field goal when an apparent TD pass on a well-designed pitch was reviewed and overruled – and scored on a 7-yard Copeland to Colton Korn pass six seconds before intermission.
The disallowed TD proved pivotal. The play initially was reviewed and not overturned, but MacIntyre called a time out to allow another look and said he was told by an official that the ball being bobbled by tight end Nathan Prater was missed on the first look.
Chadwell said he was upset because “they took a time out, they reviewed the play (and) it was fine. Then the other review took an hour. They (officials) didn’t go by their protocol . . . I just felt like it was huge deal momentum-wise, because that could have meant a touchdown for us.”
CU, which was leading 8-0 at the time, finished the half with 164 yards in total offense, while CSU had 150. Liufau attempted only six first-half passes, completing four for 74 yards – Richardson’s long TD was for 60 – and being sacked once. Copeland was five-for-eight for 27 yards and a TD. The Buccaneers controlled the ball for 21:51 to 8:09 in the opening half.
The Buffs scored on their first possession of the second half, opening a 29-10 lead after a 13-play, 64-yard march capped by Powell’s 2-yard run. Exactly 3 minutes later – at 4:11 – Liufau and his offense failed to capitalize on a Jered Bell interception near midfield, and the quarter ended with CU clutching its 19-point advantage.
With 11:22 remaining, Adkins’ 33-yard jaunt and Oliver’s extra point sent the Buffs comfortably ahead 36-10. Just over 5 minutes later, Adkins shook loose again and broke three tackles en route to his record-setting fourth rushing TD.
Wood replaced Liufau and Tony Jones replaced Adkins with just over 3 minutes remaining, with CU taking possession near its 15-yard line and ending the game near midfield.