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By: Associated Press
Cornerback Jimmy Smith on the tackle.
Rockets Have More Firepower In Shootout
Release: September 11, 2009
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor

TOLEDO, Ohio - Toledo started fast, Colorado barely twitched.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it should. What happened late Friday/early Saturday in the Glass Bowl was a bitterly disappointing rewind of CU's season-opening loss against Colorado State six days earlier.

By the time the Buffaloes located the ON switch, their skirmish with the Rockets nearly was over. CU trailed 23-3 at halftime, 37-24 after three quarters, and finally lost 54-38, once again being forced to abandon its game plan and once again ratcheting up the anxiety of Buffs fans.

Toledo, a Mid-American Conference member who finished 3-9 last season, scored the third-highest point total by a Buffs opponent during the Dan Hawkins era. Missouri scorched CU for 55 and 58 points in their two most recent meetings.

CU dropped to 0-2 this season and lost for the first time in three games against a MAC opponent. Wyoming visits Folsom Field on Sept. 19.

Hawkins said he knew fans were growing restless after opening the season with two losses: "It's the nature of the beast that (fans) want us to win. All I can do is all I can do. We're going to have some supporters, we're going to have some detractors.

"I can't control what people think, nor am I willing. I know inside our program we're doing things right . . . we've just got to grow up a little, get our momentum to turn and it can be way different."

The fourth-year coach said he wasn't concerned there would not be patience to see him complete a turnaround of the program: "Not at all, not at all."

The long night - the game required 3 hours, 48 minutes to complete - was a defensive coordinator's nightmare. The teams combined for 1,075 yards, and their combined 92 points were the most ever scored in Toledo's 26,248-seat stadium (the attendance was 20,082).

"Man . . . we just have to look at (the defense)," Hawkins said. "There were too many big plays, that's for sure. It's a little bit of a getting adjusted issue in the game."

And how; CU now has been outscored 43-6 in the first halves of its first two losses - deep holes that even the most efficient offenses would have trouble exiting.

And right now, this offense isn't to be mistaken for efficient, although it did account for 451 total yards and score 35 second-half points.

Quarterback Cody Hawkins, knocked woozy at the goal line while scoring the Buffs' final touchdown (a 12-yard run with 1:53 to play), threw for 356 yards and four touchdowns. But he was forced to throw 64 passes (30 completions) and was intercepted three times.

Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt was more effective, passing for four touchdowns (no interceptions) and running for another pair. He accounted for 428 yards in total offense (319 passing, 109 running), and his 61-yard run on a draw to open the fourth quarter might have been his biggest play of the night.

Opelt, who entered the game as the nation's leading passer after Week 1, was largely unchallenged by CU's defense. The Buffs gave up 624 yards of total offense, 305 of it on the ground. The Rockets had a pair of 100-yard rushers - Opelt (eight carries, 109 yards) and tailback DaJuane Collins (20 carries, 160 yards).

But Toledo's earliest hits on CU's defense came through the air, with Opelt throwing a pair of first-quarter TD passes as the Buffs quickly fell behind once again.

"There were just a lot of mistakes made across the board," CU secondary coach Greg Brown said. "There's no other choice; we've got to find a way to get better and regroup."

CU trailed CSU 20-3 at halftime in the opener, and Game 2 proceeded along those same ugly lines.

Building a 23-3 halftime lead, the Rockets scored on four of five first-half possessions, burning the Buffs deep just as the Rams did at Folsom Field.

Going in front 16-3, Toledo then converted a Cody Hawkins fumble into its final touchdown with just 36 seconds remaining before intermission and trotted to the locker room with a 20-point lead.

Opelt, coming off a career-high 423-yard passing performance against Purdue, was five-for-six passing in the first quarter for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

One of the TDs was a 70-yard bomb to freshman receiver Eric Page, who had two early receptions for 130 yards, and the other an 8-yard toss to tight end Danny Noble.

After Cody Hawkins' fumble and Toledo's recovery at the CU 38-yard line, Opelt kept the drive intact with an 8-yard run on fourth-and-seven. Then he rambled 27 yards on a draw for the Rockets' third TD of the half.

Opelt, who attempted 67 passes in the Rockets' opening loss at Purdue, threw 13 times in the first half, completing eight for 205 yards and the two scores.

Placekicker Alex Steigerwald hit a career-long 50-yard field goal for Toledo's other first-half points.

The Buffs, meanwhile, called on Aric Goodman for their only score of the opening half. He hit a 32-yarder on the third-play of the second quarter before missing a 47-yard attempt two series later.

CU's lone bright spot in the opening half was tailback Darrell Scott, who carried 12 times for 85 yards. That was 11 more carries and 84 more yards than he had in the opener - and that would be his Game 2 total.

He didn't have a second-half carry as the Buffs shifted to catch-up mode once again through the air. CU ran 18 times in the first half, five in the second.

Dan Hawkins said Scott "did a nice job. Unfortunately we weren't able to stick in there with him . . . he's a rhythm runner; he started getting a little confidence going. But the score got away from us."

Said Scott: "It's unfortunate that we couldn't finish pounding the ball like we wanted to. We had to do what we had to do to stay in the game."

In the first half, he said "holes were opening up and I was hitting them fast. We're disappointed. We tried to rally back but we got behind too much."

The Buffs continued to find ways to misfire in the first half. A holding call on guard Ryan Miller wiped out a 27-yard run by Scott, tight end Riar Geer dropped a ball with two steps on his defender, an overthrown pass by Cody Hawkins skittered off Scott's fingertips as he laid out into the end zone, and a holding call on tackle Bryce Givens wiped out a 56-yard Hawkins to Anthony Wright pass that would have set up CU at the Toledo 11-yard line with 8 seconds left in the half.

It was that kind of disjointed opening act for the Buffs, and the Rockets took full advantage.

They didn't slow up after intermission either, going 62 yards in six plays to take a 30-3 lead. The drive ended with Opelt's 26-yard TD pass to Kenny Stafford, shoving the Buffs behind by 27 points less than 3 minutes into the second half.

Finally, though, CU answered a Toledo score. Cody Hawkins engineered a six-play, 66-yard march, capping it with a 4-yard toss to Scotty McKnight. Goodman's PAT pulled the Buffs to 30-10 - and if the defense could find a way to stop Opelt and the Rockets, this might get interesting.

It didn't - not right away anyway for CU.

Opelt & Co. retaliated with a quick 77-yard march, Opelt hitting tight end Tom Burzine with a 23-yard scoring pass and giving the senior his first career TD.

And at 37-10, if the rout wasn't on, it was close - or so it seemed. But the Buffs scored twice in 20 seconds to pull within 37-24.

They got both on a pair of short Cody Hawkins passes, the first to Jason Espinoza, the second to Geer after Jimmy Smith recovered a fumbled kickoff at the Toledo 4-yard line.

When the fourth quarter began, what had been a 27-point Rockets' lead early in the third had been trimmed to 13. Opelt took care of that, however, with his long QB draw - this one on a third-and-seven run for 61 yards and his second rushing score of the game.

The Rockets were back up by 20 (44-24) only 10 seconds into the last quarter, and they weren't satisfied. DaJuane Collins' 23-yard run with 8:41 to play shot the Rockets ahead 51-24, and Steigerwald added a 43-yard field for a 30-point (54-24) lead with just over 4 minutes remaining.

The Buffs scored twice in the final 2:56, but it was too little, too late, too bad a beginning. Again.

"The biggest thing for us is some of the youth . . . you've got a few older guys who've been around," Dan Hawkins said of his team's pair of slow starts.

"They (older guys) tend to be a little more grizzled, the younger guys tend to be a little more shocked. For a kid playing high school ball, you get down by three touchdowns in a half, I mean that's hard to overcome. In college it's not. Part of it is learning that."

The Buffs obviously haven't learned it yet, but it's one of many lessons still to be taught.

BUFF BITS: McKnight has now caught at least one pass in 27 consecutive games. He finished the Toledo game with 11 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown, moving into the school's top 10 career receptions leaders . . . . CU got center Mike Iltis and safety Patrick Mahnke, both of whom were hobbled by sprained ankles, back for Friday night's game . . . . Toledo played the game minus 2008 leading rusher Morgan Williams, who was serving the second of a two-game suspension . . . . CU athletic director Mike Bohn's only previous trip to the Glass Bowl came in 1984 when he was a football graduate assistant at Ohio University . . . . Friday night's kickoff (9:07 p.m.) was the second-latest in CU history. The latest: 9:09 p.m. for the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl against Alabama.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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