TEMPE, Ariz. – The University of Colorado unveiled its quarterback of the present and the future here Saturday night, turning to true freshman Sefo Liufau in hopes he can help the Buffs right themselves over the season’s final month and a half.
Liufau, who last fall at this time was playing for Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Wash., replaced junior Connor Wood in the first quarter of CU’s 54-13 Pac-12 Conference loss to Arizona State.
“I thought it was the right time,” Buffs coach Mike MacIntyre said of the change. He said he plans on Liufau being the starter for the rest of the season, “But he’s got to play good though.”
Wood, who opened with a 400-yard, three-touchdown, no-interception performance against Colorado State in the season-opener, was pulled after throwing his seventh interception of the season.
Liufau, the first true freshman to quarterback the Buffs since Tyler Hansen in 2008, directed a pair of scoring drives Saturday night. But ASU’s Taylor Kelly was the most efficient QB in Sun Devil Stadium – and Kelly played only the first half.
Liufau finished his debut 18-of-26 passing for 169 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran four times for 10 yards.
MacIntyre praised ASU and coach Todd Graham: “They made a lot of plays on us. We didn’t execute as well as we’d like in the first half and gave them a short field a few times and it kind of got of hand there early.”
The loss dropped CU to 2-3 overall and kept the Buffs looking for their first Pac-12 win (0-3) under MacIntyre. The Sun Devils (4-2, 2-1) rebounded from a three-point loss last week to Notre Dame.
The Buffs return to Folsom Field for their next two games, playing Charleston Southern – the makeup game for Fresno State – next Saturday (noon, Pac-12 Network) and Arizona on Saturday, Oct. 26.
CU’s three conference losses have been 44-17 to Oregon State, 57-16 to No. 2 Oregon and 54-13 on Saturday night, but MacIntyre said he is “keeping my head up. We’re going to keep persevering. I said that in my first press conference. It’s about perseverance. Perseverance builds character; character builds hope. And then good things happen. It’s going to happen. This was tough tonight, there’s no doubt about that.
“I told the young men in the locker room, we’ve got to keep battling, keep fighting, keep working. The one thing I told them, and I truly believe this, you’ve got to give me your effort and you’ve also got to give me your heart. Sometimes you can give effort but you don’t give your heart. It’s kind of like you put your heart out there and get it stomped on, it hurts and you don’t want to do it again. Well, you’ve got to put your heart out there . . . I see them doing that.
“I did see progress this week in practice, I promise you I did. I was hoping we’d play a little better and we didn’t. But I have seen progress.”
On their first possession under their new quarterback, the Buffs marched 80 yards in 11 plays and scored on a 10-yard Liufau-to-Nelson Spruce pass. Nice start, but the talented kid from Tacoma was up against nasty odds when he took his first college snap.
By the time Liufau entered the college game, the Buffs trailed 25-0 – and that was with 4:45 left in the first quarter. Wood was pulled after his pick by corner Lloyd Carrington that set up ASU at the CU 15-yard line and led to a 1-yard run by Marion Grice.
It would only get worse; the Sun Devils kept the heat coming and had pushed their lead to 47-6 by intermission.
Wood went to the bench with four incompletions in three series and the interception, while Liufau finished the half 8-of-13 for 69 yards, one touchdown and one interception on a tipped ball.
ASU, coming off a 37-34 neutral field loss to Notre Dame last weekend and apparently not happy about it, scored on eight of its nine first-half possessions and sacked Liufau in the end zone for a safety. The Sun Devils’ 25-0 first quarter points were their most in 139 games, or since Sept. 28, 2002.
Kelly finished the first half with nine completions in 19 attempts for 233 yards and two touchdowns – Nos. 12 and 13 allowed by the Buffs in their first three Pac-12 games. ASU outgained CU 392-94 in the first half (532-268 for the game), with Grice rushing 13 times for 88 yards and his pair of TDs and catching two passes for 46 yards. Like Kelly, he was done for the night as was receiver Jaelen Strong, whose three receptions went for 109 yards and one score. Kelly’s other TD pass – a 1-yarder – went to Davon Coleman, who normally plays defensive end.
It was that kind of night for the Buffs.
Kelly was replaced to start the second half by backup Mike Bercovi, who doubles as ASU’s holder and hit Strong with a two-point conversion pass after the Sun Devils’ second TD.
The Buffs, meanwhile, struggled to find any first-half offense with the exception of the 80-yard Liufau-led drive. Leading receiver Paul Richardson did not have a first-half catch, and didn’t get one until CU’s opening possession of the second half. Spruce, with three catches for 25 yards, was the Buffs’ top receiver in the opening half.
Richardson finished with four catches for 39 yards – both season lows – and MacIntyre said the Sun Devils effectively covered “P-Rich” in the first half: “We tried to throw the ball to (Richardson), but they were doubling him early and often. They had a new scheme they showed, then we started figuring it out as we went along.”
The Buffs defense was minus CU senior safety Parker Orms for half the second quarter through the rest of the game. He was flagged for targeting an ASU receiver and ejected, spending the rest of the game in the locker room.
MacIntyre said he watched the hit on replay and called the decision to eject Orms “tough . . . he didn’t lead with his head, it was a shoulder hit. The guy was diving, the ball was bobbling. It wasn’t like (Orms) launched.” He said Orms spending the second half in the locker room “really bothered him . . . he’s a good player, a good kid. But that’s the rule.” Orms will return for next Saturday’s first half.
After Liufau suffered his second interception – a pick in the end zone on a pass intended for Richardson – Bercovi engineered a 14-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by senior R.J. Robinson’s 1-yard run – the first scoring run of his career. With Gonzalez’s PAT, ASU went ahead 54-6 with 3:22 left in the third quarter, and the final quarter started with that score.
Liufau led the Buffs on their second scoring drive of the night, this one 89 yards in 11 plays, with Christian Powell running 8 yards for the score. Will Oliver’s PAT made it 54-13. ASU shunned a sure TD on its next possession, driving to the CU 1-yard line but instructing Bercovi to kneel on consecutive downs and let time expire.
MacIntyre said his players and coaches must keep pushing to get better. “I’m not going to blame players or coaches, I’m just going to say it’s a process,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have a long way to go. We have to keep going, keep going. We’ve played three really good football teams. And we’re going to play a bunch more good ones.”