BOULDER - Colorado State stung Colorado for 20 first-half points then held on to defeat the Buffaloes 23-17 Sunday night at Folsom Field before 53,168 and a national television audience.
The Buffs, losing a home opener for the second time in coach Dan Hawkins' four-year tenure, now face one of the quicker turnarounds in school history.
They play again Friday night (7 p.m. MDT, ESPN) at Toledo, which lost its opener 52-31 to Purdue.
CSU, which had lost seven consecutive games at Folsom Field entering Sunday's contest and was a 101/2-point underdog, took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in six plays to score the afternoon's first touchdown.
The drive's big play was a third-and-eight pass from senior quarterback Grant Stucker to receiver Dion Morton that covered 57 yards and gave the Rams a first down at the Buffs' 10-yard line.
Two plays later, tailback John Mosure took a direct center snap and ran one yard for the score. Ben DeLine's PAT pushed CSU ahead 7-0 with 11:47 left in the first quarter.
A fluke by the visitors? In a word, no.
Forced into a three-and-out on their first offensive series directed by starting quarterback Cody Hawkins, the Buffs were faced this time with stopping Stucker & Co. again.
And this time, CU was up to it, shutting down CSU and forcing the Rams' first punt.
Under Cody Hawkins once again, the Buffs took over at their own 27-yard line. Their first play in the drive was a success - Rodney Stewart gained eight yards - but then again, no.
Center Mike Iltis limped off the field and was replaced by Keenan Stevens, who played the rest of the game.
Things got worse for the Buffs; Cody Hawkins was sacked for a 10-yard loss, then was intercepted by safety Elijah-Blu Smith on a pass that caromed off of Scotty McKnight into Smith's chest.
A personal foul penalty against CU put CSU at midfield, and from there Stucker had his offense in the end zone in 10 plays. After he hit Mosure on a 14-yard scoring pass, DeLine's extra point pushed the Rams in front 14-0 - and Folsom Field wasn't as lively as it had been a half an hour earlier.
The first quarter ended that way, but on CSU's first possession of the second quarter Stucker hooked up with Ryan Gardner for a 43-yard completion to the CU 4-yard line.
But Gardner's exuberance cost him and his team; he spiked the ball and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, pushing the Rams back to the 19-yard line.
Four plays later, DeLine kicked a 29-yard field goal and CSU had a 17-0 lead with 11:43 remaining in the half - and if the home team wasn't stunned, it should have been.
With 2:50 left in the first half, the Buffs finally scored, getting a career-long 54-yard field goal from junior Aric Goodman to pull CU to within a pair of touchdowns (17-3).
The score came nine plays after cornerback Ben Burney intercepted Stucker, giving the Buffs possession at their own 40.
But CU's feel-good glimmer didn't last. CSU answered by positioning DeLine for a 45-yard field with five seconds before intermission that restored the Rams' 17-point lead (20-3).
If the score didn't paint a picture of CSU dominance, the halftime statistics should. The Rams outgained the Buffs 265-63 in first-half yardage, had an 11-5 advantage in first downs and converted three of seven third-down attempts while the homeboys were zero-for-six on third down (one-of-one on fourth down).
CU coach Dan Hawkins kept his starting quarterback a secret until his team's first offensive series, but CSU didn't seem perturbed by the "mystery."
Cody Hawkins completed half of his 14 first-half pass attempts for 46 yards (one interception), while Stucker hit half of his 10 attempts for 138 yards (one touchdown, one interception).
But CU's decision to opt for receiving the second-half kickoff (the Buffs won the opening coin toss) proved to be a redemptive one for Cody Hawkins.
He opened the last half by completing three consecutive passes, including a 44-yard bomb to junior college transfer Andre Simmons - it was his first CU catch - that set up the Buffs at the 9-yard line.
Brian Lockridge ran it in from there, taking a pitch right, and CU cut the deficit to 20-10 after Goodman's PAT.
Things were brightening for the Buffs, particularly after the defense forced the Rams into a three-and-out for only the second time in the game.
After CU took possession at its 39-yard line, Cody Hawkins again found his passing touch, moving the Buffs to the Rams' 18-yard line.
On the last of three completions, this one a 20-yarder, CSU's Smith cracked Scotty McKnight, causing a fumble that was recovered by the Rams.
But again, CU's defense dialed up a three-and-out for CSU, and the Buffs set up at their own 35. They ran three plays before tailback Demetrius Sumler was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-one, giving the Rams the ball at the Buffs 44-yard line.
Three plays later, CSU faced a fourth-and-one, but Stucker sneaked for the required yard. It appeared the Rams might take advantage before CU linebacker Jeff Smart intercepted Stucker.
Smart's first career pick went for naught, though, as Cody Hawkins was sacked for a 9-yard loss on third down, forcing a punt.
However, the Rams were forced into another three-and-out just after the fourth quarter began with the Buffs still trailing 20-10.
The Buffs appeared to have converted a third-down try on a Cody Hawkins to Jason Espinoza pass, but tight end Riar Geer was flagged for being illegally downfield. And a second third-down toss to Espinoza was bobbled, bringing on punter Matt DiLallo.
After the Rams took over at their 48, Stucker needed two plays - actually one long bomb - to get to the Buffs' 4-yard line. His long pass to receiver Rashaun Greer covered 45 yards and, after the Buffs stopped tailback Leonard Mason on three straight runs, set up DeLine for his third field goal of the game. His 18-yarder pushed CSU in front 23-10 with 8:58 to play.
Time - and the game - were slipping away from the Buffs. They moved as far as the Rams 45 before running out of downs, finishing the series with a 9-yard loss on Cody Hawkins' third sack and another DiLallo punt.
With 5:50 to play, CSU took over on its 10-yard line, played it predictably conservative and - holding its 13-point lead - prepared to celebrate.
CU had one final possession, beginning from its 43 with under 4 minutes to play. The Buffs took advantage of pass interference against McKnight to move to the Rams 10, then scored three plays later on a 3-yard Cody Hawkins-McKnight pass, capping the 10-play, 57-yard march
Goodman's PAT brought the Buffs to within 23-17 with 1:57 to play, and all that remained was Goodman's on-sides kick attempt.
CSU's Dion Morton recovered it at midfield, and the Rams had 1:55 between them and the win. Mason's 44-yard jaunt to the CU 6 ended any Buffs dreams of a miracle.