Cody Hawkins scored on two short touchdown runs and connected with Scotty McKnight for a third score as Colorado wore down Colorado State, pulling away late for a 38-17 victory at Invesco field Sunday night.
Playing for perhaps the last time at Invesco Field in Denver (or, at least, for the next two seasons), the Buffs held the Rams to 258 yards of total offense, sending about two-thirds of the 69,619 in attendance home pleased with the outcome.
The opening quarter was scoreless, but not without its drama. The Rams were held to one first down on their opening drive, but Josh Smith, on the first offensive touch of the season for the Buffs, fumbled the punt. Fortunately for CU, Gardner McKay gathered up the fumble back at the CU four yard line.
On the Rams next drive, which began in CU territory after the Buffs were unable to move the ball, cornerback Jalil Brown held Ram running back Kyle Bell to a one yard gain on fourth-and-eight at the CU 32-yard line.
Colorado was the first to score, with Cody Hawkins hitting fellow sophomore Scotty McKnight on a 35-yard pass to put the Buffs up 7-0 less than a minute into the second quarter.
The hookup between Hawkins and McKnight, culminating a 58-yard drive, marked the second year in succession that the first score of the year for CU was a Hawkins-to-McKnight pass play.
On CSU’s next possession, punter Anthony Hartz lost control of the snap, and was tackled at the Ram five yard line. Two plays later, Cody Hawkins snuck in from a yard out for a 14-0 lead, and it appeared as if the Buffs were on their way to a blowout.
No such luck.
After forcing another CSU punt, the Buffs took over at their own 20-yard line. On the second play of the drive, an attempted screen pass from Hawkins was tipped at the line, intercepted by CSU linebacker Jeff Horinek at the CU 24. It took only two plays for the Rams to make a game of it, as quarterback Billy Farris hit Dion Martin for a 21-yard score.
Then the fun really began.
The kickoff from CSU freshman kicker Ben was DeLine was a squib kick, eventually finding its way to CU’s Josh Smith at the seven yard line. After initially bobbling the kick, Smith took the ball up the middle of the field, and was barely touched in going 93 yards for a touchdown.
The kickoff return for a score was the first for CU since Jeremy Bloom pulled off the feat against Kansas State in 2003. The score was also the first for Smith as a Buff.
Not to be outdone, the Rams "returned" the favor, with John Mosure taking Jameson Davis’ offering back 90 yards for a CSU touchdown. In less than 30 seconds of playing time in the middle of the second quarter, the score went from 14-0, Colorado, to 21-14, Colorado. The score remained 21-14 through halftime, with both teams turning the ball over once in the opposing team’s territory.
The second half began as well as any Buff fan could have hoped, with Josh Smith returning the second half kickoff 46 yards to the CSU 45 yard line. The Buffs needed only eight plays to cover the 45 yards, with Cody Hawkins again doing the honors from a yard out as Colorado regained its two-touchdown lead, 28-14, three minutes into the third quarter.
Two possessions later, the Rams put together their last scoring drive of the night. Taking over at CU 44-yard line after a short Matt DiLallo punt, CSU drove inside the Colorado ten yard line before settling for a 26-yard DeLine field goal to cut the CU lead to 28-17.
With the game still in the balance, the Buffs put together the drive of the night. Though it ended with only a field goal—a 23-yarder by Aric Goodman—the drive removed the spirit from the Rams.
Covering 74 yards in 18 plays, the Buffs took off over seven minutes in game clock in restoring their two-touchdown advantage. Along the way, CU converted three third downs and a fourth down in ending the Rams’ hopes of a comeback.
The final score of the night came with only 2:14 remaining. The Buffs took over on downs at the Ram 47 yard line after a Brad Jones sack of Billy Farris on fourth down. A quick drive, highlighted by a 35-yard pass from Hawkins to Kendrick Celestine, was culminated by the first touchdown for true freshman Darrell Scott. Scott capped a successful debut with a one yard score to make the final score 38-17, Colorado.
While the final score suggested domination, the Buffs were never in complete control until late in the game. Colorado led in total offense, 367 yards to 258 for Colorado State.
The Rams, despite a strong effort by senior running back Gartre Johnson, who had 95 yards rushing on the night, were held to only 71 net rushing yards.
The Buffs were led by Darrell Scott, who posted 54 yards on 11 carries, with senior Demetrius Sumler contributing 41 yards and true freshman Rodney Stewart another 38 yards. Cody Hawkins had a productive, if not spectacular, game, with 20 completions in 29 attempts, good for 214 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The much-maligned Colorado defense put up some good numbers on the evening. The Buffs held the Rams to 258 yards, the best for a Buffs in a season opener since CU held CSU to 202 yards in the first game of the 1998 season (a 42-14 CU win).
The Buffs registered five sacks in game one, after collecting only 19 in all of 2007. Senior safety Ryan Walters and junior linebacker Shaun Mohler each had an interception. For the game, the Rams were successful on only 2-11 third down conversions and 1-4 on fourth down tries.
"We’re making a lot of progress," said sophomore wideout Scotty McKnight, who led the Buffs’ receivers with five catches for 67 yards. "I think we had a great spring last year and a good summer, and we carried that into camp and into today."
McKnight, though, also echoed the sentiments of many of the Buff players, saying, "I think we still have a lot that we need to clean up in order to be a good football team (the Buffs did have two turnovers and eight penalties). Once we clean everything up, I think we are going to do some great things."
Senior defensive tackle George Hypolite was of the same mindset.
"We’re 1-0, so we’re obviously still in the national championship picture," said Hypolite, who was held to only four tackles against CSU. "We’re going to go in and look at the drawing board, look at what we did wrong, come back out next week, and hopefully put up a good effort against Eastern Washington."
The opportunity for continued growth will present itself soon enough, with the Eastern Washington Eagles coming to Boulder next Saturday. The Eagles, from the Big Sky Conference, are 0-1 on the season, coming of a 49-24 loss to Texas Tech (in a game which was 35-24 at the start of the fourth quarter).
Weathering the Storm
An hour before kickoff of the 2008 Rocky Mountain Showdown, the clouds to the west looked ominous.
Perhaps not as ominous as in 2003, when a lightening delay ultimately stopped play in the CU/CSU game at Invesco Field for 28 minutes amidst a downpour, but ominous nonetheless.
As it turned out, there were only a few sprinkles. True, there was a moment or two during the first half when it looked like the rain would turn into a deluge, and a few fans did take refuge below the stands when the sprinkles became a light rain. For the most part, though, fans rode it out, and were rewarded shortly thereafter with a calm and pleasant evening.
The same was true for the Buffs.
Colorado had to weather an early storm of emotion from the underdog Rams from Colorado State. The fumble by Josh Smith early in the game could have turned into a disaster, but Gardner McKay fell on the ball at the CU four yard line. The Buffs couldn’t move the ball, and gave the Rams the ball back on the CU side of the field. Backed up, the Colorado defense held, stopping Colorado State on a fourth down attempt at the CU 32 yard line.
After calming things down, the Buffs moved out to a 14-0 lead, and Buff fans settled in for the much anticipated rout. Later in the first half, though, emotion was on the green side of the field. The Rams converted an interception into a touchdown, then bounced back from a Josh Smith kickoff return with one of their own. Only a Ryan Walters’ interception late in the second quarter prevented the Rams from moving in for a tying score before the half.
Patience, though, by the Buffs was rewarded. Young, yet experienced, the Colorado players slowly but surely took control in the second half. A touchdown on the first drive of the second half gave the Buffs a two score cushion they would maintain the remainder of the game.
"We had no turnovers in the second half and a lot more production," said quarterback Cody Hawkins. "When you have the football in your hands and no penalties, it’s a lot easier to win. Our offensive line did a great job for us in the second half."
Colorado is talented, but is still young. Take a look at the stats sheet from the CSU game. Cody Hawkins is just one game into his sophomore year, but is already in the top ten in career passing yards at Colorado. The receivers were led by a sophomore, Scotty McKnight.
True freshman Darrell Scott, who only played in specific situations, still led the team in rushing.
"We are going to continue to work him in there," said Dan Hawkins. "If you are a freshman, you are a freshman ... there is still a steep learning curve."
The remainder of the roster on both sides of the ball are littered with freshmen and sophomores.
There will be tough situations. There will be tough games. There will be mistakes. That’s what young players do.
Colorado weathered an emotional storm early against Colorado State. Rather than let the early mistakes cost them a victory, the Buffs rode out the ominous threats from the other side of the field, and were rewarded by a calm and pleasant evening.
Just like their fans.
For more on CU football, log on to http://www.cuatthegame.com