BOULDER - After two poor and porous performances, Colorado's defense unburdened itself of too much head work and made its afternoon against Wyoming an exercise in simplicity. It worked, too.
The Buffaloes, apparently feeling comfortable in their silver and gold throwback uniforms, shutout the Cowboys 24-0 and snapped a two-game losing streak on Saturday before 50,535 at Folsom Field. The shutout was CU's first since a 42-0 flogging of Miami (Ohio) here two seasons ago.
The victory was a welcome one for CU coach Dan Hawkins, who reiterated the minimal differences in winning and losing: "It's the little things that decide the game. Until you've gone through it a time or two and done some things and succeeded and failed, people don't get that it's the little things."
The Buffs (1-2) had given up an average of 500 yards and 38.5 points in its first two games. But in the week after a disheartening 54-38 loss at Toledo, the defensive staff drastically reduced the number of calls to be used against the Cowboys (1-2).
And apparently, less was more for the Buffs, who did not come close to yielding the number of "explosion plays" that devastated them in their previous two games. Of its 71 plays, Wyoming had only five that gained 10 or more yards.
Sophomore tailback Rodney "Speedy" Stewart led a CU ground game that finally found itself. He rushed 32 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns in a running game that netted 151 yards (187 before sack yardage).
"I didn't know how much I'd be used," said Stewart, who wasn't used in the first two games because of a sore hamstring. "But just to play, and to get a win and get our confidence back, that's a great feeling."
Hawkins said Stewart is "a guy that doesn't need a lot of rhythm. He can be stone cold on the sidelines, and go in there and play well. He is so doggone powerful. He breaks tackles, and he's a lot stronger than a guy his size ought to be."
CU won for the 12th time in 13 meetings with its neighbor to the north and now lead the series 26-2-1.
The Buffs take next weekend off before traveling to West Virginia on Oct. 1 (5:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
For the first time in three games, the Buffs took a lead and managed to hold it to halftime. Newsworthy? Consider: CU had been outscored 43-6 in the first halves of Games 1-2.
But in Game 3, something clicked: the Buffs led 17-0 at intermission, outgaining the Cowboys 206-61 in total offense and 13-3 in first downs. CU finished with 326 yards of total offense to Wyoming's 230, and of that total, only 76 were on the ground.
To open the game, CU drove 69 yards in six plays, with receiver Scotty McKnight credited for a 2-yard rushing touchdown when he picked up Demetrius Sumler's fumble and stepped into the end zone.
Not a pretty way to end a drive, but then little had been fetching about CU's 0-2 start.
Aric Goodman's PAT put the Buffs in front 7-0, and it appeared, for once, they had established early momentum. It temporarily faded on their next series, though, when the center snap from shotgun formation sailed over quarterback Cody Hawkins' head.
Wyoming linebacker Brian Hendricks recovered at the CU 18-yard line, but the Cowboys couldn't capitalize when kicker Austin McCoy was wide right with a 35-yard field goal attempt, enabling the Buffs to maintain a 7-0 advantage that held up through the first quarter.
But four plays into the second quarter, CU increased its lead to 10-0, marching 51 yards in 12 plays after a Wyoming fake punt backfired.
McCoy, who also punts, was stopped for a 5-yard gain on fourth-and-eight, giving CU possession at its 46-yard line. The big play: Cody Hawkins converted a third-and-19 with a 28-yard completion to McKnight, and six plays later - with 13:35 left in the second quarter - Goodman, a transfer from Wyoming, hit a 20-yard field goal to push the Buffs in front 10-0.
CU struck again - and fast. Two plays after Goodman's kick defensive back Jalil Brown recovered Darius Terry's fumble at the Wyoming 27, setting up a 2-yard plunge by Stewart.
Goodman's extra point kick made it 17-0, and Buffs fans undoubtedly were wondering if their team's dismal play was behind it - for at least for one perfect September afternoon.
The Buffs didn't start the second half as efficiently as they did the first, with the Cowboys forcing them to punt on their first two possessions.
The good news: CU's defense seemed intent on protecting its shutout; the Buffs were just as stingy against the Cowboys' offense.
On CU's third possession of the third quarter, Cody Hawkins (17-of-31, 175 yards) directed a13-play, 76-yard drive that consumed 6:45 of the period.
To cap it, Stewart ran for his second TD, this one from 11 yards, and after Goodman's PAT, the Buffs were cruising, 24-0.
The quarter ended that way, and the game would, too. Wyoming blew an early fourth-quarter chance to get on the scoreboard when McCoy was wide left on a 35-yard field goal attempt.
On that drive, the Cowboys used their longest play of the game - a 49-yard completion from Austyn Carta-Samuels to Donate Morgan - for a first down at the Buffs' 7-yard line.
CU yielded no more, in fact moving Wyoming back on successive downs and resulting in McCoy's second miss of the game. The shutout was nearing completion.
BUFF BITS: Sophomore tailback Darrell Scott, who rushed for 85 yards on 12 carries last week at Toledo, did not play Saturday. His absence was due to a bruised knee that was aggravated in pregame warmups . . . . McKnight entered Saturday with a reception in 26 consecutive games, one shy of the school record set by Charles E. Johnson (1991-93). McKnight tied Johnson's mark with a 26-yard catch in the first quarter. He finished with five catches for 77 yards and his 2-yard rushing TD . . . . With Ryan Miller moving from guard to tackle in place of Bryce Givens, Blake Behrens started at right guard . . . . CU used senior Ben Burney occasionally at safety; he's normally a corner . . . . Receiver Markques Simas returned after a two-game suspension but did not have a reception.
CU's shutout was its first since a 42-0 flogging of Miami (Ohio) here two seasons ago.