This was the way things were supposed to work. All the talk over the past few seasons of running an up-tempo offense and containing the run on defense finally materialized on Friday night at Mile High Stadium.
Things worked so well, in fact, that the contest was effectively over midway through the 2nd quarter.
Colorado won the toss, put their defense on the field, and proceeded to force the Rams into 6 consecutive three-and-outs, with a sack-induced fumble included for good measure, before CSU finally achieved their initial 1st down with 10:00 minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter.
“Coach Mac always says ‘put up or shut up’ so we just wanted to put up and show everyone that we were here, that the Buffs are on the rise,” said safety Afolabi Laguda who made his first career start on Friday night.
On the other side of the ball, the Buffaloes came out looking as crisp and as organized as any CU offense has in years. A Phillip Lindsay-led 73-yard march ended with an Alex Kelley fumble recovery touchdown to open the scoring and ultimately set the tone for the evening.
CU would add touchdowns from Devin Ross, on a nifty 17-yard swing pass to the left side, and Lindsay, who punched it in from a yard out, to increase their lead to 21 at the end of the first frame.
“It was just like we envisioned. Coach Chiaverini preaches that we’re going to move really fast and we saw that on the first drive,” said Ross. “We felt kind of winded at first but we got used to the game and the tempo.”
The wide receiver corps, headlined by Shay Fields, was as good as advertised. Ross, much maligned for drops throughout last season, caught nearly everything thrown his way, including an impressive third-down grab over the middle that set up the play of the night.
Bryce Bobo, called upon to start in the wake of Juwann Winfree’s injury, made that play on the left sideline pulling the ball in over his shoulder with one hand while managing to get his right foot down in the process. He was rewarded for his efforts with the number 3 play on SportsCenter’s Top 10.
“Sefo gave me another chance to go deep and threw me the ball again. I guess it was more of a trust factor and him wanting me to redeem myself on that dropped pass,” said Bobo referring to a pass that hit him in the chest earlier. “It just happened to be a one-handed catch. It was the best catch I’ve made so far.”
By the time the dust had settled at the end of the half, Colorado had outgained CSU 364-79, staking themselves to a 31-point halftime lead. From there the Buffs would only add 13 to their total but by then any additional scores were merely icing.
“It’s the first time we’ve been in that situation against a good team,” said head coach Mike MacIntyre. “We did come out and answer the bell, kicking two field goals, and we did move the football. I was pleased with their effort and I didn’t feel like there was a letdown.”
For as cohesive and prepared as CU looked, Colorado State looked equally as raw and untested. The Rams allowed multiple gashing runs through wide-open gaps and failed to stay with Colorado’s receivers throughout the night. The CSU offense, led largely by Nick Stevens, looked disorganized and struggled to move the ball through the air as Jim Leavitt’s unit snuffed out the run.
The only events that could possibly dampen the evening for Colorado and its fans were injuries or poor decisions and they nearly got a combination of both. Mike MacIntyre, it can fairly be said, left his quarterback in the game two possessions too long. Late in the third quarter and early into the fourth when the matter was decided, and the play was veering sloppily, Sefo Liufau continued to take the field.
“We were moving the football, and we haven’t been in that situation a lot,” said MacIntyre of his decision following the game. “There was still a whole fourth quarter left in the game. He should have slid on the hit he took in the fourth quarter, which is something we’ve been working on with him.”
Regardless of whether Liufau should have slid or not, quarterbacks get hit in weird ways when they put their bodies beyond the line of scrimmage. At this point in Liufau’s career, MacIntyre has to know that his QB is going to play full gas no matter what the circumstances are. The risks in this situation far outweighed the rewards.
Beyond that, the Buffaloes delivered on multiple promises on Friday night in Denver, and issued one of the clearest statements to come from this program in years.
Colorado appears to be well ahead of where it left off last season. When the inevitable miscues crept up, two fumbles that would have derailed CU squads in years past, the Buffs were able to catch a little luck and move past them.
With one game in the books, the rise appears to be real.
“It always feels good to play in the CSU game and beat them, of course,” said Ross. “But our motto right now is “The Rise” and that was a good statement to start the season. That’s just a little start of what’s coming.”
Additional game notes -
*** Colorado held CSU to just 10 yards in the first quarter, and 14 of the Rams’ first 18 plays went for three yards or less.
*** Alex Kelley scored the first touchdown by an offensive lineman since October 28th, 1995 when Heath Irwin recovered a fumble in the end zone.
*** The 578 total yards on offense were the Buffs’ most in a season opener since 1994, when they gained 649 in a 48-13 win over NE Louisiana.
*** Tim Lynott became the 13th freshman to start a season opener on the offensive line. (12 redshirt, 1 true.) Afolabi Laguda also made his first career start on Friday night.