BOULDER - The Colorado Buffaloes thought they were prepared for Robert Griffin III, but on Saturday night at Folsom Field the Baylor quarterback might have performed beyond anything CU expected.
The nimble, accurate Griffin ran and passed the Bears to a 31-25 victory, dealing the Buffs their second consecutive Big 12 Conference loss (0-2) and reeling them back to .500 (3-3) at the halfway point of coach Dan Hawkins' critical fifth season.
Chasing its first postseason appearance since 1994, Baylor improved to 5-2 (2-1 Big 12) and now is a win away from postseason eligibility. CU needs three, and those must come from a remaining schedule that includes Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State at home and Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska on the road.
"You just have to keep playing . . . that's part of your goal," Hawkins said. "No matter what the deal is you just have to keep playing."
Hawkins said he was proud of his team, adding the loss "wasn't from a lack of effort or trying or heart or soul. They made more plays than we did, and sometimes that happens."
But it was Griffin, the Big 12 Conference's total offense leader with a 329-yard average, who made play after play after play against the Buffs. He accounted for 371 yards, a passing touchdown and a two-point conversion run.
"He's an athlete . . . he's everything you hear about," CU linebacker B.J. Beatty said.
Added fellow 'backer Mike Sipili: "He's got legs . . . he's a sprinter."
Griffin said some of his teammates "were joking that I looked like the vintage Griff out there. I do what I can; coach was calling them, so I had to run them. The offensive line did a great job of making holes, and all I had to do was pick one and go."
Griffin ran 15 times for 137 yards and completed 22 of 27 passes for 234. On three of his team's scoring drives, he converted three key third downs with runs, and he had three runs of 20 yards or longer - including a 36-yarder in Baylor's march to its final field goal and put CU in need of a touchdown and extra point to win.
After CU quarterback Tyler Hansen and receiver Scotty McKnight teamed for a 7-yard touchdown pass to draw the Buffs to 28-25 with 5:14 to play, Griffin pushed the Bears 59 yards to position Aaron Jones for a 38-yard field goal - his third three-pointer of the night - to send Baylor ahead by six points.
With no timeouts and 1:54 remaining, Hansen took CU from its 29 to the Baylor 19, where on the game's final play his pass for Toney Clemons was batted down in the end zone. CU's final drive consisted of 10 plays, four of them from the Baylor 42 or closer. But only Hansen's last pass for Clemons was thrown into the end zone.
Of the play calling in the final series, Hawkins said his offense was looking at short- to mid-sized gains if Baylor's defense allowed it.
". . . what happens in those situations is that everyone thinks 'throw it downfield, throw it downfield,'" Hawkins said. "Really, you're looking for 10-yard chucks so if they are going to give you the throw underneath and you're able to catch it and run it out of bounds and get your 10 yards, then you're pretty good - which we were able to do a little there."
At the Bears 32-yard line with 13 seconds left, Hansen hit tight end Ryan Deehan for 12 yards to the 19 - leaving five seconds and only time for end zone shot to Clemons. Hansen said Clemons told him, "'Hey, give me a chance, I'm going to go get it' . . . I had a feeling and a confidence in him that he would go up and make that play. He almost did."
CU's defense surrendered a season-high 543 total yards, including a season-high 309 on the ground. In addition to Griffin's 137, tailback Jay Finley gained 143 on 14 carries and scored TDs on runs of 17 and 14 yards.
The Griffin-Finley duo bludgeoned the Buffs.
"I didn't expect they could run like that on us," defensive end Marquez Herrod said. "(Griffin) was very effective with the zone-read . . . he takes guys off their assignments."
The Buffs and Bears traded turnovers to open the game, with Baylor safety Bryan Landor intercepting a Hansen pass to kill a promising 10-play CU drive at the Bears 39-yard line.
But two plays after that pick, Finley had the ball stripped Sipili, allowing nickel back Pat Mahnke to recover.
CU led 15-10 at halftime, getting a pair of touchdown runs (18, 6 yards) from Rodney "Speedy" Stewart (30 carries, 125 yards, two TDs) but failing on a two-point conversion pass after the first score and a two-point run after the second.
Junior Marcus Kirkwood was supposed to make his placekicking debut and was on the field after CU's first score. But the Buffs lined up in their "Shoestring" formation, with Kirkwood on the left side of the formation, and holder/backup quarterback Cody Hawkins signaled for the two-point try rather than pulling the offense back into a kicking formation.
Hawkins' pass fell incomplete and the Buffs settled for a 6-0 lead that lasted until Griffin and tight end Jerod Monk teamed for a 9-yard scoring pass with 5:32 left before intermission. Jones, whose 24-yard field goal attempt clanked off the right upright earlier in the second quarter, kicked the PAT and Baylor led 7-6.
CU retaliated with Stewart's 6-yard dive at the left pylon, capping an eight-play, 65-yard drive to push the Buffs ahead 12-7.
Griffin's first pass on the next series was tipped by defensive tackle Will Pericak and intercepted by Sipili at the Baylor 24. But CU went into reverse with a Hansen sack that lost eight yards, and on fourth-and-14 at the 28, Aric Goodman - not Kirkwood - attempted and made a 45-yard field goal.
Dan Hawkins said the plan was to use Goodman "if we had to take a long shot. I think he hit a 57-yarder in warm-ups and sometimes you go by feel."
Said Goodman, who now is three-for-six in field goal attempts this season: "They told me before the game to be ready and that 'long kicks are going to be you.' It was just in the cards today. I got an opportunity and made the most of it."
Goodman's first field goal (he hit a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter) put the Buffs up 15-7, but Jones hit a 50-yard field on the final play of the half to cut the Bears' deficit to 15-10. And on their first possession of the second half, he added a 25-yarder to pull Baylor to within 15-13.
CU appeared to poised to respond, but Will Jefferson - debuting at tailback after switching from receiver - fumbled into the end zone after a 23-yard gain. Baylor's Antonio Johnson recovered, CU's threat was snuffed and the game's momentum shifted.
"I was thinking he was going to score, he was really close," Hansen said. "I think it was a case of a guy wanting to score so bad and giving that extra effort and the ball comes out. It's just unfortunate and that's really just the difference in the game."
Just under 11/2 minutes later, Finley concluded a five-play, 80-yard drive with a 23-yard run up the middle and Griffin skirted left end for the two-point conversion run. Baylor led 21-15, returning the pressure to CU's offense - or defense - to retaliate in what was becoming a back-and-forth night.
The Buffs' defense responded. Cornerback Jalil Brown recovered a Griffin fumble - it was a long lateral - at the Baylor 21. But after gaining a first-and-goal at the 10, CU's offense went flat. After three running plays gained two yards, Goodman kicked his second field goal and trimmed Baylor's lead to 21-18.
The Bears, though, had been rejuvenated and had no intention of slowing down. They cruised 80 yards in just over 3 minutes and increased their advantage to 28-18 on a 14-yard run by Finley and Jones' PAT.
CU answered with a drive to the Baylor 7, where on third-and-goal Hansen hit Scotty McKnight with a 7-yard TD pass. Goodman's PAT pulled the Buffs to 28-25 with 5:14 to play, leaving the outcome resting with the CU defense to slow Griffin.
As was the case for most of the night, the Buffs couldn't do it. The athletic Griffin pushed Baylor to the CU 21, where on fourth-and-17 Jones hit his final field goal (38 yards) to make it 31-25.
Hansen and his offense had 1:54 to cover 71 yards for the tying touchdown and winning extra point. As was slowing down Griffin, it was too much to ask.
BUFF BITS: Saturday night's attendance was 48,953 . . . . Freshman Jered Bell started at safety in place of junior Anthony Perkins, who suffered a torn ACL at Missouri and is out for the season. Bell is the first true freshman to start for the Buffs this season . . . . Jefferson gained 10 yards on his first college carry . . . . McKnight (five catches, 38 yards, one TD) extended his streak of having at least one reception to 42 consecutive regular-season games . . . . Stewart surpassed 2,000 career rushing yards (2,044) . . . . Sipili's second-quarter interception was the first of his career . . . . CU's secondary received another hit when corner Jimmy Smith left the game with a concussion, further depleting the nickel packages the Buffs hoped to use. Smith is day-to-day, as is defensive end Josh Hartigan (ankle) . . . . Baylor hasn't been to a bowl since 1994 - two years before play began in the Big 12 - and hasn't won more than five games overall (5-6, 2005) and three in conference play (3-5, 2006) in any season during this decade . . . . Baylor hosts Kansas State next Saturday for homecoming. The game marks the Bears final game against Big 12 North opponents. They are 4-67 against South Division opponents . . . . CU returns to Folsom Field next Saturday (1:30 p.m., no television) to face its second consecutive Big 12 South Division opponent, Texas Tech.