DENVER – The Colorado Buffaloes kicked themselves for not finishing strong last weekend in an overtime loss against California. They didn't exactly come out kicking (or screaming) Saturday against their in-state rival, but their finish was better - way, way better.
Senior quarterback Tyler Hansen marched CU on an 85-yard, 10-minute fourth-quarter drive, capping it with a 2-yard sneak to help push the Buffs past Colorado State 28-14 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The victory was CU’s first of the 2011 season and the first in the CU coaching career of former Buffs tight end Jon Embree.
CU, which buried CSU 24-3 last season, has won seven of the 11 games with its intrastate rival played in Denver. The latest installment of the Rocky Mountain Showdown, now sponsored by Cinch Jeans, drew 57,186 – the lowest attendance in 11 CU-CSU games contested off campus.
The Buffs (1-2) play at No. 17 Ohio State next weekend, seeking to end a 20-game (counting postseason play) road losing streak that dates to 2007. CSU (2-1) lost for the first time this season and is at Utah State next Saturday.
Senior tailback Rodney “Speedy” Stewart nearly was a one-man offensive show for CU, rushing 19 times for 98 yards and catching seven passes for 93 to account for 191 yards in total offense. Hansen completed 17 of 32 passes for 215 yards – significantly below the school-record 474 he threw for last weekend in the overtime loss to California. But for the most part, Hansen was on his game, having a hand in all four of the Buffs' TDs (two rushing, two passing).
Behind Stewart’s running, the Buffs surpassed 100 yards on the ground for the first time this season, gaining 145 while holding the Rams to 67. CU limited CSU quarterback Pete Thomas to 18 of 28 passing for 157 yards; he was averaging over 218.5 yards a game through the air.
But the Buffs also reached double digits in penalties for the second consecutive game, drawing 10 flags for 114 lost yards. They have been penalized 29 times in three games.
As expected, CU opened with two new offensive tackles – fifth-year Sione Tau on the right side, freshman Alex Lewis on the left. Tau replaced Jack Harris (lower leg/ankle injury), Lewis subbed for David Bakhtiari (knee sprain). Junior Ryan Dannowitz filled in for Bakhtiari against Cal, but also has been slowed by a sprained knee. However, he practiced last week and was being counted on to play. He came in for Lewis midway through the second quarter and finished the game on the left side.
What wasn’t expected for the Buffs was a shakeup – also due to injury – in the secondary. Senior Travis Sandersfeld, who opened at left cornerback in the previous two games, was replaced by sophomore Parker Orms. Sandersfeld has a leg/ankle injury that could keep him sidelined indefinitely.
CSU wasn’t without its injury problems; linebacker and co-captain Mychal Sisson is out with an ankle injury that required surgery, and defensive end Broderick Sargent with a knee injury.
CU led 14-7 at intermission, but it took a bounce-back second-quarter from the Buffs to establish that advantage. Their first quarter was somewhere south of dismal.
CSU took the opening kickoff and methodically marched 80 yards in nine plays to take a 7-0 lead on Thomas’ first career rushing touchdown – a 4-yard scramble up the middle after eluding CU defensive tackle Will Pericak.
Ben DeLine’s PAT pushed the Rams ahead 7-0, leaving the Buffs to try and respond. But they were unresponsive for, oh, about the next 10 minutes.
The first quarter ended with CU incurring four penalties for 40 yards and managing only 10 yards in total offense. Given those numbers, a 7-0 deficit entering the second quarter looked pretty good.
But the Buffs were a different team in the next three quarters, outgaining the Rams 350-148. After the teams traded punts to open the second quarter, CU finally got untracked, fashioning a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive of its own and getting the TD on a 4-yard option run left by Hansen - the Buffs' first rushing score of the season.
Will Oliver’s extra point kick tied the score at 7-7 with 2:37 left in the first half – not a lot of time for the Buffs to get the ball back, but they did it and made the Rams pay.
After forcing a CSU punt, CU took over on its own 25 with 2:04 before intermission. Following a pair of incompletions and a 4-yard Stewart run, Darragh O’Neill’s punt was partially blocked by CSU’s Joe McKay. But in the scramble that ensued about 15 yards downfield, the ball was inadvertently touched by CSU’s Derek Good – and CU’s Ryan Deehan was there to recover it.
The Buffs had a welcome reprieve at their 40-yard line, and Hansen quickly took them to the Rams' 24. On third-and-10 there, with 19 seconds left in the half, Hansen scrambled right and found senior receiver Kyle Cefalo crossing the back of the end zone to accommodate his quarterback.
They were on the same page – and it resulted in a 24-yard scoring strike. Oliver’s PAT gave the Buffs their first lead (14-7) and 12 seconds later the half ended that way.
Offensively, the second quarter was a major turnaround for CU, which finished the half with 171 yards in total offense to CSU’s 121. The Buffs also had 14 first downs to the Rams’ seven and wound up matching them in third-down conversions (three-of-seven).
The good news for the Buffs: they opened the second half with the ball. But for the first time this season, CU faltered on its first second-half possession; the Buffs had scored to open the final half in their two previous games.
CU finally scored on its third possession of the third quarter. Hansen capped a five-play, 68-yard with a 44-yard TD pass to Toney Clemons. It was only the senior receiver’s fourth reception of the season and first for a score, which might explain his slowing up before he crossed the goal line and doing what appeared to be a dance step in the end zone.
After Oliver kicked the Buffs ahead 21-7, they were penalized 15 yards on the kickoff, enabling the Rams to take over at their 36-yard line. Eight plays later – two plays into the fourth quarter – Thomas lateraled to Charles Lovett, who found tight end Crockett Gilmore alone on the left sideline.
The trick play covered 23 yards, and after DeLine’s extra point, the Rams had pulled to within a touchdown (21-14) with 14:20 to play.
It was plenty of time for either team to blink . . . and not from the light rain that began falling.
The Buffs weren’t in a blinking mood. After stopping CSU on downs, Hansen directed CU’s ground- and time-consuming winning drive, earning the Buffs their first win of the season and the first of Embree’s career.
Following Hansen’s TD the Rams had 1:15 to try and spin a miracle. They couldn’t, and the Buffs left Denver satisfied for the first Saturday this season.