September 20th – Boulder           Colorado 21, Hawai’i 12

Colorado jumped out to a 21-6 second quarter lead against visiting Hawai’i, but then almost spoiled a record-setting afternoon by wide receiver Nelson Spruce, hanging on to defeat the Rainbow Warriors, 21-12, before 39,478 sunbaked fans at Folsom Field.

Nelson Spruce had 13 catches on the afternoon, breaking the school-record of 11 (done nine times previously, including three times by Paul Richardson), going for a personal-best 172 yards. Spruce also set a school-record by collecting a touchdown reception in his sixth straight game.

But it was almost all for naught, as the Buffs were shutout in the second half by the Rainbow Warriors. It took an exceptional effort from the Colorado defense – which held an opponent out of the end zone for the first time since 2010 (a 24-3 win over Colorado State) to preserve the win. The Buffs held the Rainbow Warriors to only 286 yards of total offense, the best for the CU defense since holding Utah to 274 yards in the 2011 finale.

The Colorado offense, which opened the Arizona State game with an interception, began the Hawai’i game … with an interception.

Sefo Liufau rolled out on the first play from scrimmage in the game, and, when his primary receiver fell down, tried to force a pass to Nelson Spruce – who was triple covered. The interception and run back gave Hawai’i the ball at the CU 40 yard line for its first drive of the game.

The Colorado defense, though, gave a hint of what was to come throughout the afternoon. Instead of surrendering the ball, the Buff defense gave the ball back to the offense. On a third-and-seven at the CU 21-yard line, cornerback Greg Henderson, sacking Hawai’i quarterback Ikaika Woolsey. Henderson completed the trifecta by not only sacking the quarterback, but also forcing a fumble and recovering it himself.

The ensuing drive for the Buffs stalled after a false start penalty on right tackle Stephane Nembot created a third-and-six which the Buffs could not convert. After forcing a three-and-out from Hawai’i, the Buffs’ next drive was halted at the Hawai’i 40-yard line when Phillip Lindsay was stopped for a one yard gain on fourth-and-two.

On their next possession, the Rainbow Warriors broke the scoring ice. Aided by a 30-yard run by Seven Lakalaka (who finished with 123 yards rushing on the afternoon), Hawai’i made it to the Colorado 17-yard line before settling for a 35-yard field goal by Tyler Hadden.

The Hawai’i 3-0 lead lasted … for all 17 seconds.

That’s how long it took for Buff quarterback Sefo Liufau to find Nelson Spruce for a 71-yard touchdown. Spruce was behind the cornerback, slowed just a touch to keep the corner from having a play on the ball, hauled in the pass, and sprinted the remaining 40 yards for score.

Colorado 7, Hawai’i 3, with 2:46 to play in the first quarter.

The Rainbow Warriors were not ready to concede anything, however, putting together their best drive of the game after the Buffs took the lead. A 14-play, 68-yard drive made it as far as the CU one-yard line. On second-and-goal at the one, Woolsey was sacked by Addison Gillam for a loss of five yards. The next play lost two more yards, and Hawai’i had to settle for its second field goal from Hadden, a 25-yarder early in the second quarter.

The remainder of the second quarter, though, was all Buffs.

The lead cut to 7-6, the Buff offense put together an eight-play, 75-yard drive of its own. The first highlight was an 18-yard pass from Liufau to fullback/defensive end George Frazier. Then, on third-and-16 at the Hawai’i 39-yard line (after another false start on Nembot), Liufau hit D.D. Goodson over the middle for a 26-yard gain. On the next play, receiver Shay Fields took the ball on a jet sweep, covering the remaining 13 yards for a Colorado touchdown. Colorado 14, Hawai’i 6.

After the CU defense forced a three-and-out, the Buff offense pieced together a 12-play, 56-yard scoring drive to – seemingly – take control of the game. Spruce had a pair of receptions on the drive, as did Fields, but it was not the wide receivers who shined. A 13-yard completion from Liufau to tight end Kyle Slavin on fourth-and-three at the Hawai’i 37 kept the drive alive. Then, on third-and-eight at the Hawai’i nine yard line, Liufau hit fullback George Frazier for a touchdown.

Hawai’i had three possessions before the end of the half, but could not muster a single first down.

Halftime score: Colorado 21, Hawai’i 6.

Colorado out-gained Hawai’i, 267 total yards to 139, in the first half, and a repeat of the 545-yard performance against Arizona State the weekend before seemed likely.

But the second half did not play out that way.

The second half for the Buffs opened much as the first half had opened … poorly.

Adjusting to Greg Henderson’s corner blitzes, Hawai’i’s first play from scrimmage in the third quarter was a deep pass to the wide receiver Henderson left for safety Tedric Thompson to cover, Marcus Kemp. The 32-yard completion was followed by a 12-yard run, and, just like that, the Rainbow Warriors were at the Colorado 30-yard line.

From there, however, the Buff defense stiffened, with linebacker Brady Daigh, in for the injured (concussion) Addison Gillam, stopping Diocemy Saint Juste for a two-yard loss, forcing another field goal from Tyler Hadden, this time from 41 yards out. Colorado 21, Hawai’i 9, with 12:28 still to play in the third quarter.

Phillip Lindsay returned the ensuing kickoff for 51 yards to the Hawai’i 49, reigniting the Folsom Field crowd. The Buff offense, though, went backwards, losing four yards in three plays before punting the ball back to the Rainbow Warriors.

The Buff defense forced a three-and-out from the Hawai’i offense, but on CU’s next possession … disaster.

Sefo Liufau was hit as he threw, with the ball landing in the arms of Hawai’i linebacker T.J. Taimatuia. A touchdown on the return was prevented by tight end Kyle Slavin, but the ball was at the CU seven yard line, with a touchdown by the Rainbow Warriors an apparent formality.

Instead, the Colorado defense rose to the occasion, allowing only two yards on three plays. Hawai’i kicker Tyler Hadden remained perfect, hitting on a 24-yard field goal to make it a 21-12 game, but the Buff defense had held.

And hold was what the CU defense would have to do the remainder of the game. A three-and-out by the Buff offense made the home crowd nervous, but the Rainbow Warriors could advance no further than midfield on their next possession.

Colorado pushed the ball back out to midfield on its next opportunity before punting. Then, it was Hawai’i’s turn to advance to midfield … before punting.

The Buff offense, as the fourth quarter opened, faced a fourth-and-four at its 29-yard line. There, punter Darragh O’Neill took off on a fake punt, going 19 yards (CU’s longest run of the day), giving CU new life at the Buffs’ 49-yard line. Three plays and eight yards later, though, the momentum – and ball – was given back to Hawai’i.

Two big plays by the Buffs brought the home crowd alive – but for the wrong reasons. On third-and-ten, John Walker intercepted backup quarterback Jeremy Higgins’ offer, but … Greg Henderson was called for defensive holding. On the next play, Henderson blitzed a forced a fumble, but … was called for a facemask penalty. Instead of taking possession, the Buffs gave up 25 yards in penalties.

But the CU defense rose to the occasion, forcing a punt (aided by a sack by Derek McCartney).

The Colorado offense then took the ball over with 9:43 to play, and while the Buffs did not score, they did take four minutes off the game clock. Hawai’i did have two more chances late to try and mount a comeback, but never sniffed the CU side of the ball. The Rainbow Warriors’ final drive was stopped by an interception by Tedric Thompson with 1:08 left in the game.

Final score: Colorado 21, Hawai’i 12

“Our kids played extremely hard, fought, fought, fought”, said CU head coach Mike MacIntyre. “I was really pleased with every phase of our game. Offense got it going, defense played well, and we did what we’ve been working on”.

Colorado had 405 yards of total offense against Hawai’i, with 267 of those yards coming in the first half. Quarterback Sefo Liufau completed 29-of-45 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Nelson Spruce had 13 of those completions, setting a new school record for receptions in a game, with those 13 catches going for 172 yards and a touchdown. Christian Powell led a less productive than expected rushing attack, gaining 43 yards on 11 carries.

While the Buff offense struggled to put points on the board, the Buff defense stepped up. The Hawai’i offense was limited to 286 yards of total offense, the lowest output for a CU opponent since the 2011 finale (274 yards by Utah).

Coach MacIntyre was impressed with the improved play from the Colorado defense over the past several games. “Yeah, (we’ve been improving) since the second half at UMass”, said MacIntyre. “You know, ASU got us in that third quarter (of last week’s game) there is no doubt about it. But, if you really go back and watch it they hit us on a screen pass and another one. We have to do a better job of coaching that as coaches, and we have. They tried two of those [plays] today and we tackled them for losses. So, that’s a good job of our guys (coaches). But our kids, are playing harder and tackling better, pursuing the ball better, their eyes are in the right place. There were two plays out there today that Hawai’i put in because ASU had hurt us a little bit with them. Our kids played them both just like that. We do a correction period every week, and they are just learning to play. They are tackling well and playing the ball well. We just have to keep fighting”.

Up next for Colorado … a resurgent California team. The Bears went 1-11 in 2013, but opened the 2014 season with a road victory over Northwestern and an easy win over Sacramento State. Cal was looking to go 3-0, but gave up a 22-point halftime lead in falling to Arizona, 49-46. The Wildcats scored 36 fourth quarter points, including a 47-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass on the final play of the game.

Game Notes –

– The win over Hawai’i evened the series at two games apiece, with CU’s wins coming in 2010 and 2014 (both in Boulder), with both of Hawai’i’s wins coming in Honolulu (1925 and 2011).

– The Colorado defense did not allow a touchdown for the first time in four years (51 games, dating back to 2010 season-opening 24-3 win over Colorado State).

– The Buffs had five sacks in the first three games of the season, but posted four against Hawai’i.

– The shutout of the Colorado offense by the Hawai’i defense should not have come as much of a surprise. In three games against Pac-12 opponents to open the 2014 season, Hawai’i allowed only seven total points, including second half shutouts of both Washington and Colorado.

– Junior wide receiver Nelson Spruce continued to make his mark on the Colorado record books. His 13 receptions bested the old record of 11 (done nine times), with his 172 yards receiving a personal best. His first quarter touchdown gave him a score in six consecutive games, besting the old record of five, set by Rae Carruth in 1996.

– True freshman wide receiver Shay Fields had six catches, giving him at least six catches in each of the first four games of his career, a school record. It would have tied the overall school record for consecutive games with at least six catches … but Spruce set the new standard at five consecutive games with at least six catches with his 13-catch performance.

– Safety Tedric Thompson’s interception was only the Buffs’ second pick of the season, both by Thompson.

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5 Replies to “Colorado 21, Hawai’i 12”

  1. I am truly hoping the offensive plays were called conservatively in order to keep the playbook under wraps for PAC12 play and not because the OC is in over his head.

  2. I’m happy for a Buffs win that was supposed to be a win. The first half is what I hope to see more of in the future. The poor second half was because Hawaii dominated the CU offensive line and the run game broke down. CU coaches couldn’t find an innovative way to counter. CU defensive line and secondary appear to be the solid units. How weird does that sound compared to a couple of weeks ago?

  3. The wide receiver screen pass needs to be taken out of the playbook. I am so tired of seeing the ball going east and west and not north and south. We cannot run it properly and the play calling is horrendous. It reminds me of Dan Reeves and the Denver Broncos run right run left run up the middle however coach Mac has run up the middle, run up the middle, run up the middle, way too much on his mind. The quarterback takes way too much time to figure out who he is going to pass too.

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