November 23rd – Boulder          Utah 42, Colorado 35

Colorado completed its worst season in school history, and first season ever in Folsom without a victory, in a 42-35 season-ending loss to Utah.

With the loss, the Buffs fell to 1-11 for the 2012 season, the first 11-loss season in 123 years of college football at the University of Colorado. The Buffs finished 0-6 in games played in Boulder, the first winless season at home since 1920, and the first season with nothing but losses at home since the Buffs posted 0-2 home record in 1891.

A 23-point underdog, the Buffs stayed close to the Utes throughout, even taking the lead for much of the third quarter, before falling to a 22-point Utah fourth-quarter comeback. Colorado out-gained Utah on the afternoon, 418 yards to 336, and had more first downs that did the Utes (25-to-18). Five turnovers, though, including four interceptions thrown by starter Nick Hirschman, condemned the Buffs to an off-season of national ridicule.

If you had given the 39,400 Buff fans who showed up (46,052 tickets sold) on a sunny, 43-degree day to watch Colorado take on Utah, a nightmare scenario to open the game would have been for the Utes to take the opening kickoff and quickly score.

In fact, the game started even worse than that.

Colorado received the opening kickoff and started on a promising note, with a nine-yard run on an end around by freshman wide receiver Gerald Thomas. Then, on second-and-one, Nick Hirschman, starting his third career game, was intercepted by Trevor Reilly. The Utah linebacker return the pick – which was thrown right to him – 13 yards to the Colorado 16 yard line. On the very next play, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson hit wide receiver Dres Anderson for a touchdown.

Utah drive: one play; 16 yards; five seconds.

Utah 7, Colorado 0.

What could have quickly turned into a rout, though, turned into a ball game.

Freshman running back Donta Abron, subbing for injured runnng back Christian Powell, went for 22 yards on his first carry after the kickoff. Three plays later, Hirschman hit wide receiver Tyler McCulloch for 18 yards to the Utah 23-yard line. There, however, the Buff drive stalled. A fumbled snap, a holding penalty, and two incomplete passes left the Buffs with a fourth-and-25 at the Utah 38 yard line. Darragh O’Neill’s punt for a touchback, though, was taken off the board when O’Neill was roughed.

Given new life, the Colorado scoring drive continued. An 11-yard run by Hirschman took the ball down to the Utah 11. Then, on third-and-seven at the eight, Hirschman hit wide receiver Nelson Spruce for an eight-yard touchdown, completing a 12-play, 75-yard drive.

Colorado 7, Utah 7.

The next three drives – two by Utah; one by Colorado – went three and out, giving Buff fans hope of keeping the score close.

The Buffs’ third drive of the first quarter, though, ended up the way the first one did … with a turnover. Donta Abron fumbled the ball away at the CU 29-yard line, giving Utah a golden opportunity. Two plays later, Utah had a first-and-goal at the CU one yard line, with a go-ahead touchdown all but inevitable.

But the Colorado defense held.

A John White rush for no gain was followed by a Kelvin York rush for a loss of three yards, which was followed by an incomplete pass. Utah’s kicker, Coleman Petersen, hit the 21-yard field goal with 13 seconds to play in the first quarter. Utah had the lead, 10-7, but the Buffs had the momentum heading into the second quarter.

The second quater, though, was controlled by the defenses. Colorado’s only first down in three drives came on a penalty by Utah. The Buffs’ offense could not even take advantage of a Utah fumble on a punt. Taking over at the Utah 15 yard line, the Buff offense went: incompletion; incompletion; sack; penalty; blocked 43-yard field goal attempt by Will Oliver.

The Buffs’ next possession resulted Nick Hirschman’s second interception, with the Utes set up at the CU 47-yard line.

As had been the case after Hirschman’s first interception, the Utes scored a touchdown. A six-play drive was capped off by a Kelvin York four-yard touchdown run with 3:35 to play before halftime. Utah 17, Colorado 7.

The Colorado offense, which, after its initial drive of the game had gone: punt; fumble; punt; punt; missed field goal; and interception, finally got its act together just before the break. A pair of completions from Hirschman to Spruce – the first covering 10 yards, the second 14 – moved the ball out near midfield. A Donta Abron run for 15 yards and a Hirschman-to-McCulloch completion for 16 yards moved the ball into the red zone. On the 11th play of the drive, Hirschman snuck the ball over from the one, and the Buffs had new life.

Halftime score: Utah 17, Colorado 14.

The Buffs had more first half yards (179 to 130) than did Utah, almost twice as many first downs (13-to-7), and had held the ball for 18:24 (to 11:36 for Utah).

But Utah had the lead, scoring 17 points off of three CU turnovers.

The Utes were also armed with the knowledge that the last two times the Buffs had been within a touchdown at the half, they had been out-scored 62-3 in the second half.

Utah came out of the half playing with authority, giving the ball to tailback John White. The senior, who became the first Utah back with over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons in school history after his 168-yard performance, ripped off runs of 14, 18, and 15 to start the third quarter. At the CU 20-yard line, though, the drive stalled, with Coleman Petersen hitting from 37 yards out to extend the Utes lead. Utah 20, Colorado 14.

Colorado, though, responded in kind. An 11-yard pass from Hirschman to little used tight end Kyle Slavin on third-and-nine paved the way for a 37-yard completion to Tyler McCulloch. Tight ends continued to be the theme, with Hirschman hitting DaVaughn Thornton for nine yards and Nick Kasa for 11, putting the ball at the three. There running back Tony Jones scored his second touchdown of the season, giving Colorado its first third quarter lead since the Sacramento State game in week two.

Colorado 21, Utah 20.

The energized Colorado defense then stiffened, forcing Utah punts on the Utes’ next two possessions. Taking over at its own 29-yard line with 3:51 to play, the Buffs’ offense, with the ball and the lead, put together an eight-play scoring drive. Hirschman, who would go 31-for-51 for 306 yards on the day, hit Nelson Spruce for 17 and nine yard completions to move the ball into Ute territory. On third-and-ten at the Utah 39, Hirschman hit fullback Alex Wood for a 34 yard gain. A Donta Abron five yard scoring run finished an unusually well-played third quarter by the Buffs.

Colorado 28, Utah 20.

Utah, though, was not done. The Utes responded with a 12-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game. John White scored on an 11-yard run, and, when Utah converted a two-point conversion on a jump pass, the score was tied, 28-all, with 10:50 left to play.

The momentum was now with the Utes, and, when Nick Hirschman threw an interception on the Buffs’ first play from scrimmage after the kickoff, a sense of doom returned to Folsom Field. Sure enough, it took Utah only four plays to take the lead, with quarterback Travis Wilson scoring on a nine yard run (vehement arguments that CU linebacker Jon Major was blocked in the back on the play were to no avail).

What had been a Colorado eight-point lead with 11 minutes to play was now a Utah seven-point lead with 8:41 to play.

Just as Buff fans were preparing to pack up after a sixth straight home loss, the Buffs did something they hadn’t done since 2009 … return a kickoff for a touchdown.

Freshman defensive back Marques Mosley appeared to be stopped near the 20-yard line, but changed fields and managed to outrun the Utah kick team for a 100-yard return and a tie score.

The excitement on the CU sidelines lasted exactly 13 seconds.

That’s how long it took Reggie Dunn to return the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a Utah touchdown. Utah 42, Colorado 35.

Over eight minutes still remained in the game, and Colorado had two more chances to force overtime. The first drive made it to the Buff 45-yard line, where a fourth-and-three pass from Hirschman to Gerald Thomas fell incomplete. The second drive made it to the Colorado 48-yard line, where Nick Hirschman’s fourth-and-eight pass was picked off, Hirschman’s fourth interception on the day.

Final Score: Utah 42, Colorado 35.

“I think you saw (the Buffs’ 2012 season) in that game,” said Colorado head coach Jon Embree. “We go down because of poor decisions, it’s 7-0, then we fight and claw our way back. Our young kids making plays, and then all of our older guys making plays – [Jon] Major and [Nick] Kasa and [Doug] Rippy and [Will] Pericak – all those guys made plays at some point in the game, which is great for them. You know, [Ray] Polk, that typified his year; having to be helped off the field. This game kind of summarizes the year, close but still has a ways to go.”

Colorado out-gained Utah on the day, 418 total yards to 336. The Buffs had more first downs, 25-to-18. Colorado was even better on third down conversions (6-of-16, to 3-of-12 for Utah) and time of possession (31:33 to 28:27). The telling stat, though, was turnovers. Colorado had five, setting up 24 Utah points. Utah had one turnover, and Colorado couldn’t convert.

Quarterback Nick Hirschman was responsible for four of those turnovers. Hirschman did have 306 yards passing on the day, but his four interceptions were too much for the Colorado defense to overcome. “I thought Nick, like all those guys, gave us everything they had,” said Embree. “You’re going to have some bad, and you’re going to have some good and I thought Nick rallied, gutted it out, made some throws, gave our guys some opportunities to make plays. I’m proud of Nick. You know, he got banged around a little bit, but that didn’t stop him from fighting.”

Hirschman, for his part, was “somewhat happy” with his performance. “Obviously, I turned the ball over a lot, and I put our defense in a real tough spot on three separate occasions and that’s unacceptable and you can’t win football games like that,” said Hirshman. “Our defense was playing amazing, and I put them in a short field and I can’t do that.”

Donta Abron has his best day as a Buff. The freshman running back came into the game with 37 carries for 174 yards on the season, but added 84 yards on 14 carries against the Utes. Nelson Spruce, who led the team with ten catches for 98 yards, finished the season with a team-leading 44 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns. Just behind Spruce in both categories was Tyler McCulloch. The sophomore wide receiver had six catches for 88 yards against Utah, giving him 34 catches for 436 yards on the year.

Game Notes –

– A multitude of season records were set by the 2012 Buffs. So many so that the essay for the Utah game, “Record-Keeping” is devoted to a recitation of those records …

– Marques Mosley’s 100-yard kickoff return was the 10th 100-yard play in school history (seven kickoff, three interception). He concludes his freshman year with 21 KO returns for 549 yards (26.1 avg.), the first freshman to lead the Buffs in kickoff returns since  Ben Kelly in 1997. The last kickoff return for a TD by a Colorado player was by Brian Lockridge at Oklahoma State (Nov. 19, 2009; 98 yards).

– With the loss, Colorado fell to 213-6 in games in which the Buffs scored 35 or more points (the 82-42 1980 game against Oklahoma was the first)

– Colorado finished the season having allowed 221 straight passes without an interception

– CU’s defense posted a season-high in opponent 3-and-outs; it came into the game with 24 but had five against Utah

– Colorado scored in every quarter in a game for the first time all year (last done vs. Arizona in Game 11 of 13 last year)

– Defensive end Will Pericak topped off his career by starting all 49 games in his career; that means he set records for most consecutive starts (any player) and most starts by a player, overall and on defense. He also became the ninth full-time defensive lineman (DT/DE) to record 200 career tackles (finished with 205). Postgame, Pericak was presented with the 15th Annual Buffalo Heart Award, as selected by the fans behind the bench.

– Quarterback Nick Hirschman (51-30-4, 307, 1 TD) had career highs in all (Att-Com-Int, matched TD high). He did, however become the first CU quarterback to throw four interceptions in a game in 15 years (John Hessler, four at Michigan on 9/13/97).

– Punter Darragh O’Neill (4-42.5, 2 In 20) finished the year with 76 punts for 3,307 yards, 43.5 avg., 25 inside-the-20; that tied the season mark for punts with Art Woods (76 in 1981), broke his own mark for yards (3,152 last year) and set a new mark for inside-the-20 kicks (John Torp had 24 in 2005).

COLORADO FINAL STAT LEADERS:
Rushing: Christian Powell, Fr. (158 att/691 yds/7 TD)
Note: Powell is just the fifth freshman to lead CU in rushing.
Passing: Jordan Webb, Jr. (265-144-8, 1434 yards, 8 TD)
Receiving: Nelson Spruce, Fr.-RS (44 rec./447 yds/10.2/3 TD)
Note: Spruce is just the third freshman to lead CU in receiving.
Scoring: Will Oliver, Soph. (28-28 PAT/6-8 FG/46 points)

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