DENVER - That long-awaited win against their bitter in-state rival? Check. That much-needed fast start on college football's opening weekend? Check. The defense increasing its weekly turnover totals? Check. Scotty McKnight breaking the school career receiving mark? Check.
Yet late Saturday afternoon, the Colorado Buffaloes embarked on their half-hour bus ride back to Boulder knowing while they had taken care of business, their business in 2010 still requires an industrial-sized load of refinement.
But attending to business and leaving town with unfinished business amounts to good news and even better news for the Buffs, who dispatched Colorado State 24-3 at sweltering Invesco Field at Mile High in the Cinch Jeans Rocky Mountain Showdown.
"We're still hungry, we're still humble . . . Coach (Ron) Collins (defensive coordinator) pulled us aside and let us know we weren't perfect. We know that; we all left the field knowing we've got improvement to make," CU linebacker Jon Major said.
That also goes for the Buffs offense, which rolled to a 17-0 halftime lead under quarterback Tyler Hansen and added another third-quarter touchdown (24-0) before the Rams managed a fourth-quarter field goal to avoid being shutout in the series for the first time since 1957 (20-0).
Hansen finished with 17 completions (25 attempts, one interception) for 192 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once. CU coach Dan Hawkins said his junior QB "did a nice job. He missed a couple of throws, but he made some, too . . . He certainly helped us early in the game getting away from some pressure. He has a greater understanding and he's much more comfortable as far as being able to check plans and being comfortable with the whole packages."
During CU's first-half surge, Hansen and McKnight connected on a pair of passes for 42 yards in an 82-yard drive. McKnight's first catch tied Michael Westbrook at 167 CU career receptions; his second catch - a 27-yarder for a score - shoved Westbrook's record aside.
McKnight, a senior captain, called his achievement "humbling, a great feeling," but added, "Numbers don't mean so much to me . . . I've been through a season where we won three games (2009) and I caught 76 balls - it's not fun."
Major's eight tackles (four solo) topped a CU defense that snuffed CSU and its freshman quarterback, Pete Thomas. The Buffs intercepted him three times, allowed the Rams only 49 yards rushing and forced them into three-and-outs on their first three series of the game.
Major made the game's most significant stop - a fourth-and-one stuff of CSU's running quarterback, T.J. Borcky that gave the Buffs possession on the Rams' 44-yard line.
Afterwards, CSU coach Steve Fairchild had his doubts about his gamble, saying the decision "backfired . . . but as young as we were (he played seven freshmen), I knew manufacturing long drives would be a challenge. You should win that (fourth-and-one) nine of 10 times. In retrospect, it was a bad call."
|SpineOne Player of the Game: Junior quarterback Tyler Hansen was selected as the SpineOne Player of the Game. Hansen was 17-of-25 for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns in CU's season-opening win over Colorado State.
Five plays later, Hansen and "newly acquired" receiver Travon Patterson, a transfer from Southern California, teamed for an 18-yard touchdown pass on which "TP" showed the leave-'em-looking speed he was expected to bring to a position that now is, ah, up to speed.
"I didn't have the best day I could have had," Patterson said. "But I gave my all and we came out with the victory - that's all I wanted. I'm glad to get the 'bubblies' out of my stomach; it's get the first one out of the way."
Patterson also contended that CU "kept the offense basic . . . when we open it, when we iron the mistakes out, it's going to be explosive."
After Aric Goodman's PAT, the Buffs went up 7-0 and were in control of almost everything except themselves for the rest of the afternoon. They were penalized 10 times for 104 yards - a decidedly less-than- efficient start for a team that drew 107 flags in 2009.
"Running, running and more running," said Hawkins when asked about a deterrent to the flags. "We'll be on that."
In addition to his pair of TD passes, Hansen also ran eight times for 32 yards, including a 1-yard scoring sneak. But he also was sacked twice and lost 30 yards, one of the sacks costing CU 16 yards on a regrettable series that started in CSU territory (49 yard line) after an interception by safety Anthony Perkins.
Still, coupled with tailback Rodney "Speedy" Stewart's 16 carries for 68 yards, Hansen's mobility gave the Buffs a running dimension they didn't have in last season's 23-17 loss to the Rams.
CU, which managed only 29 rushing yards on 21 attempts against CSU last season, finished with 115 ground yards Saturday. Behind Stewart was true freshman Justin "JT" Torres, who carried five times in the fourth quarter for 26 yards (5.2 average).
The Buffs got a boost from Goodman, who hit a 28-yard field goal in the first half, made three extra point attempts and sailed three of his five kickoffs into or out of the end zone.
"He kicked the ball great," Hawkins said. "I'm just really proud of him. He's a guy that's taken a lot of heat for a couple of years. You bring in a bunch of guys and challenge him - and he really has answered. I think he's really perfected his game and matured a lot. That's a credit to him."
If there was an opening-day downer for the Buffs, it was in a potentially serious knee injury suffered by nickel back Parker Orms during punt coverage in the first half. "You're heartbroken when a player goes down; you're crushed," Hawkins said. "Hopefully, he'll be OK."
Overall, Hawkins lauded his defense and intimated his offense, although spotty, was opening-day passable if not polished. "But certainly winning and winning against your rival and starting the season on a winning note is very positive," he said. "I thought our guys handled that really well and I'm proud of them for that.
"I think they had a glimpse of how good they can be . . ."
Starting very soon, a mere glimpse won't be good enough.
BUFF BITS: Saturday's game was the first of 10 to be played in Denver and attracted 60,989 - the smallest crowd of the series for games played at Invesco or its predecessor, Mile High Stadium . . . . Corner Jalil Brown and nickel back Travis Sandersfeld, subbing for Orms, made CU's two other interceptions. Sandersfeld's pick was the first of his career . . . . Hansen's interception (by corner Momo Thomas) followed Brown's acrobatic pick in the final minute of the first half . . . . Defensive tackle Will Pericak blocked a Ben DeLine field goal attempt on the final play of the first half . . . . CU punter Zach Grossnickle averaged 41.4 yards on seven punts, several of them of the rugby variety . . . . Patterson returned four punts for 46 yards, including a 25-yard return. The Buffs averaged 3.3 yards a punt return last season - last in the Big 12 Conference . . . . Patterson's TD was his first since he was a senior in high school (Long Beach Poly) in 2005 . . . . Both teams were coming off 3-9 seasons in 2009, but Saturday's loss extended CSU's losing streak to 10. After the Rams opened by beating the Buffs, they won another pair then lost their final nine games . . . . Hawkins won for the third time (3-2) against CSU and for the third time (3-2) in his five openers as the Buffs coach . . . . CU now owns a 7-5 edge in the past 12 games with its intrastate rival from the Mountain West Conference . . . . CU travels to Cal next weekend seeking to break a 13-game road losing streak.