BOULDER (CU Staff Report)— Only one defense took over and it was only for a little over a quarter, but it was enough as Colorado used back-to-back interceptions to wrestle the lead and momentum away from Nebraska as the Buffaloes became bowl-eligible with a 65-51 win over the Cornhuskers.
On a day where the teams combined for 116 points, 1,128 yards and 54 first downs, the only zero on the scoreboard came in the third quarter when Colorado (6-6) started a run of 34 consecutive points to turn a 35-24 deficit into a 58-35 lead.
The Buffaloes game plan was to rush for 300 yards on the Husker defense, and though coming up just short with 277, CU also got 241 passing for a balanced attack that produced points in every quarter. But after barely breaking a sweat in taking a 17-7 lead late in the first quarter, Nebraska, playing what could be its last game under coach Bill Callahan, stormed back with a 28-7 spree that had the Buffaloes on their heels.
And then Colorado’s live buffalo mascot, Ralphie IV, perhaps making her final appearance at Folsom Field, led the Buffaloes out for the third quarter. The quarter CU had been outscored 123-59 coming into this game.
The Buffs earned one first down and then punted, and forced Nebraska into a third-and-12 from its 9. Husker quarterback Joe Ganz sat in the pocket and fired downfield, failing to see CU redshirt freshman corner Jimmy Smith peel off his man and make the interception. He returned his first career pick 31 yards for a touchdown and CU was within 35-31.
Smith, who was one of two players subbing for All-Big 12 cornerback Terrence Wheatley, was the 14th Colorado player since 1992 to return his first career interception for a touchdown.
Then on Nebraska’s very next play, Lionel Harris was in the right place at the right time to snare a tipped Ganz pass at the CU 45, returning it 32 yards to the Nebraska 23. A 10-yard holding penalty on the return backed the Buffs up 10 yards, but it was a minor inconvenience, as it took just four plays for CU to drive in for the go-ahead score, with Hugh Charles taking it in from 9 yards out and a 38-35 Buff lead.
The CU defense, which had allowed the Huskers 275 yards in the second quarter, held NU to just 40 in the third and on the Nebraska’s next possession, Alonzo Barrett blocked a Dan Titchener punt. CU’s Butkus Award finalist linebacker Jordon Dizon pounced on the ball and took it to the Nebraska 25, where four plays later, Charles scored again from the 1-yard line to make the score 44-35; the Buffs missed the PAT, but it would not matter in the long run.
Charles’ run came after a 22-yard pass from Cody Hawkins to Dusty Sprague on a third-and-8 at the Husker 23; originally ruled a touchdown, replay review placed the ball at the half-yardline. The decision delayed CU taking a two-score lead by four seconds, and Nebraska would not be within a single score of taking the lead the rest of the way. When the quarter ended, CU had outscored the Huskers 20-0.
The Buffaloes finished their 34-point blitz with touchdowns from Scotty McKnight (a 10-yard pass from Hawkins), and a third Charles touchdown run, a 2-yard effort that put the Buffs up by 23 with just 4:16 remaining.
It was the first time in Charles’ career that he scored three times in a game, one which he should remember as a fond farewell for the Folsom Field fans who chanted, “Hugh! Hugh!” much of the day. He had 327 all-purpose yards in the game (169 rushing, 125 returns, 33 receiving), the sixth-most in school history.
Charles finished his career as CU’s sixth all-time leading rusher with 2,659 yards, but used his all-around day to move up four notches and finish second in all-purpose yards with 3,622 for his career, trailing only Eric Bieniemy’s 4,351-yard total from 1987-90.
At 6-6, CU is bowl-eligible but not guaranteed a bowl game, unless Kansas State loses Saturday to Fresno State. Coach Dan Hawkins, who won his 100th career game Friday, is optimistic that his team will get a good, long hard look. The Phoenix-based Insight Bowl was the only one with representation at the game.
“That is up to them (bowls) to decide,” Hawkins said. “We beat a good Texas Tech team that will go to a bowl game. We also beat a good Oklahoma team that will go to a bowl game. We played tough against a lot of teams that are going to go to bowl games. Given the schedule that we played, I think that this team deserves to go to a bowl game.”
CU is one of just 21 BCS teams to play at least two fellow BCS teams in its non-league schedule this year, one of just three in the Big 12 along with Missouri and Nebraska.
Hawkins, as is his style, was more reflective than emphatic when asked what it meant.
“We will see (on what it eventually means to the program),” he said. “Our team has done a nice job through this whole thing, and they also continued to battle through all of our injuries. I think that our young guys have done a nice job of coming along and learning the things that they need to learn in order to have long term success. Beating Nebraska at home on senior day is big, and hopefully we will have an opportunity to play another game.”
Nebraska rankled Colorado a little bit a year ago by not taking a knee with 23 seconds remaining, scoring a cosmetic touchdown for a 37-14 win in a game that had been tied late in the third quarter. This time around, the Huskers added two late fluff scores to avoid their fifth 20-plus point loss of the season.
And when CU got the ball back with 26 seconds remaining, the Buffs did the classy thing and took a knee, officially ending Nebraska’s year at 5-7. For the second time in the last four seasons, a CU season-ending win has kept their rival out of the postseason, Nebraska’s only two times it has remained home for the holidays since 1968.
The 10th annual Buffalo Heart Award, presented by the “Fans behind the Bench” was awarded in an informal postgame presentation on the CU sideline. The award, presented to ILB Jordon Dizon, annually goes to the senior who the fans, from their own observations, believe has best exemplified heart, grit, determination and desire during their CU career... For the starting lineup introductions on ABC, CU solicited the help of three of its alumni, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and its director of animation, Eric Stough; rambunctious fourth-grader Eric Cartman had the honors, crisply delivering some light-hearted knocks on six of the Buffs... This was the highest scoring game in the series, eclipsing the 98 points scored six years ago to the day, a 62-36 Colorado win that propelled the Buffaloes into the Big 12 title game and to the eventual league crown... The 65 points by Colorado were the most by the Buffs since a 66-14 win over NE Louisiana in 1995... This marked the first time since 1990 that CU defeated both Nebraska and Oklahoma in the same season... When Ralphie IV opened the game with her run, she was wearing a THANKS HANK blanket, which was presented to retiring CU president Hank Brown in a halftime ceremony (many more quotes and notes in attachments).