BOULDER - This week, the Colorado Buffaloes carried a 20-point lead into the fourth quarter and treated it with respect. Frustrated, embarrassed and motivated by a final-quarter meltdown at Kansas and the coaching change that followed, CU constructed its most complete game in nearly two months and flogged Iowa State 34-14 Saturday at Folsom Field.
In Brian Cabral's debut as interim head coach, the Buffs snapped a five-game losing streak, won for the first time in Big 12 Conference play this season (1-5, 4-6 overall) and kept their postseason hope flickering.
"How 'bout them Buffaloes?" an emotional Cabral, wearing a purple lei given to him by "a very dear friend," bellowed upon entering a very different postgame press conference.
"I can't be more proud of these players and coaches . . . they had it in 'em," Cabral continued. "They never looked back, they're looking forward. All I want out of this is winning for these seniors and this team."
In his 22nd season on the CU staff, Cabral succeeded Dan Hawkins on Monday, a day after a weekend collapse at Kansas that still had many Buffs players and most fans in disbelief through much of last week.
"All of us as players learned from last week," said quarterback Cody Hawkins, who took the field Saturday for the first time in five seasons without his father on the sidelines. "I was doing great all week . . . then it hit me when we came out. 'Kies' (offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau) called down (on the headphones) and asked, 'What's wrong with you?'"
Only the obvious - but Hawkins quickly overcame it. "He's Dan Hawkins' son, but he's a Buff first," Cabral said.
And he demonstrated it by passing for 266 yards and three touchdowns, providing the above-ground punch for a Buffs offense that totaled 384 yards. At ground level, it was Rodney "Speedy" Stewart's show; he carried a career-high 36 times for 113 yards and broke the 1,000-yard barrier for the 2010 season.
Cabral said it was Kiesau's decision to run Stewart as much he ran: "In reality, we've just got one back," Cabral said, adding that after a lost Stewart fumble in the first half that ISU converted into a touchdown, he talked to the junior running back when he reached the sideline.
"I know he's better than that," noted Cabral. "He knows he's got to secure the ball . . . it's something we talked about all week. I had to say something to him."
It was the only turnover CU suffered, but ISU lost a pair of fumbles. The Buffs also found a way to shackle Cyclones running back Alexander Robinson, who had averaged 112 yards rushing against CU in three previous meetings. Saturday, he was held to 22 on nine carries.
The Buffs also bludgeoned quarterback Austen Arnaud, sacking him five times and downing his replacement, Jerome Tiller, three more times. Arnaud left the game in the fourth quarter with what coach Paul Rhoads called a "significant" knee injury.
"We just saw some key matchups that looked good for us," CU defensive tackle Will Pericak said. "We were able to tee off on their quarterbacks."
Overall, the Buffs simply teed off on the Cyclones, delivering what Cabral called "powerful medicine for this team . . . (Saturday) we started a three-game season; we'll see what happens."
Rhoads said his team "got out-executed . . . hats off to the Colorado Buffaloes and Brian Cabral for having his team ready to play."
Needing six victories to become bowl eligible, the Buffs host Kansas State next Saturday (12:10 p.m., no TV) before traveling to Nebraska on Nov. 26 for their final Big 12 game. Winning out is their only option to reach the postseason.
"It's one game at a time," receiver Scotty McKnight said. "Kansas State is coming in here - and that's a good football team."
Carried by Hawkins' passing, the Buffs took a 17-7 halftime lead over a Cyclones team (5-6, 3-4) that entered Saturday's game needing one win to become bowl eligible for the second consecutive year.
Hawkins completed all six of his first-quarter passes for 126 yards, with three of the receptions (95 yards) by fleet freshman Paul Richardson, who finished with five receptions for 121 yards. On its first possession, CU took a 3-0 lead on Aric Goodman's 24-yard field goal - his third consecutive successful kick and his seventh in 11 attempts this season.
Two series later, the Buffs appeared to be driving for their first touchdown when the football was stripped from Stewart by defensive tackle Cleyton Laing. His fumble was recovered by Cyclones corner Leonard Johnson at the ISU 18-yard line, and nine plays later Robinson capped an 82-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run.
Grant Mahoney's PAT put ISU ahead 7-3, but the lead was short-lived.
CU special teams ace Arthur Jaffee returned Mahoney's kickoff 89 yards to the ISU 9. It took the Buffs two plays to score, with Hawkins hitting tight end Ryan Deehan with a 9-yard strike. Goodman's extra point pushed CU back in front 10-7, and on their next offensive series Hawkins and the Buffs would strike again.
The Jaffee return, set up by a fake handoff to fellow returner Toney Clemons, was monstrous, said Hawkins: "It was one of those times where you take a punch and have to counter . . . Jaffee is a special teams demon. It was huge for us."
After a mediocre first nine weeks of the season, Clemons dialed up what was arguably his most productive series to date. On third-and-nine at the ISU 47, he adjusted his route and made a nice sideline catch of a Hawkins pass for an 11-yard gain to save the drive.
Three plays later, he and Hawkins teamed for a 26-yard TD play - Clemons' second scoring reception of the season and the first since Game 3 (Hawaii). Goodman's PAT pushed the Buffs in front 17-7 with 2:27 left in the half, and that score carried into intermission.
Hawkins finished the first half 11-of-15 for 194 yards and the two TDs. He would attempt only nine more throws in the second half, completing five as CU's offensive staff put into practice the game management learned the hard way in Lawrence.
"Towards the end, we didn't make mistakes . . . we didn't screw ourselves over," said Hawkins, who gave a "thumbs up" to his father and other family members watching from a balcony on the Dal Ward Athletics Center.
The Cyclones and Buffs traded punts on their first two series of the second half, but the Buffs trade was much better. The ball was poked away from ISU returner Josh Lenz by CU's Deji Olatoye, allowing Ray Polk to recover at mid-field.
Hawkins drove CU as far as the ISU 23, where Goodman hit his second field goal of the afternoon - a 39-yarder - and the Buffs' lead swelled to 20-7. However, 9:03 remained in the third quarter, and as the previous weekend's trip to Kansas proved, the Buffs can gamble with leads like Wall Street gambles with your money.
But CU was better, headier, this week than last. Hawkins fashioned a 69-yard scoring drive over the next 5:08, finishing it with a 25-yard TD pass to McKnight that gave that combo their 13th career pass-catch score. It broke the previous CU record of 12, set by Koy Detmer and Rae Carruth.
With Goodman's PAT, the Buffs pushed ahead 27-7, and that score carried into the fourth quarter. Was a 20-point advantage safe? A 28-point fourth-quarter lead seemed comfortable last weekend in Lawrence, but great discomfort followed.
When Stewart was stopped on fourth-and-one at the ISU 41, a queasy feeling might have spread among Buffs fans.
"I got cocky," Cabral said of the decision to go for it. "Thank God for the defense; they got me out of it."
Five plays later, that queasiness began to disappear. After nickel back Patrick Mahnke stripped the ball from ISU quarterback Austen Arnaud, senior linebacker Mike Sipili scooped it up and ran 45 yards for the first TD of his career. With 11:33 to play, the Buffs surged ahead 34-7 on Goodman's extra point kick.
And this week CU wasn't collapsible - although the Buffs did allow the Cyclones a final score with 8:11 to play. ISU's comeback ended there.
Cabral said his first week of interim duty centered on trying to provide "encouragement and excitement" during a time when the program was suffering "not just because of Kansas, but because of the loss of the head coach. Even in down times, these players never lacked a work ethic . . .
"I'm so fortunate to have a staff that has given me respect as a head coach. I'm proud to be a Buffalo."