Brooks: Spruce, Buffs ‘D’ Come Up Large In 21-12 Win
BOULDER – The Colorado Buffaloes did their offensive work early, but their defense started strong, stayed the course and by afternoon’s end had successfully protected a 21-12 non-conference victory against Hawai'i.
Scoring all of its points in Saturday’s opening half at Folsom Field, the CU offense needed a major assist from the “D” – and the Buffs on that side of the ball complied, allowing only four field goals. It was the first time in 51 games CU has held an opponent without a touchdown.
CU evened its record at 2-2 (0-1 Pac-12) and travels to California next Saturday for its first conference road game of the season. Hawai’i (1-3) lost for the 11th time in 12 trips to the mainland against Power 5 conference opponents since 1998.
“Our kids played extremely hard . . . they fought, fought, fought,” CU coach Mike MacIntyre said, adding that his offense was sidetracked “by a bunch of little things that became big things” in the second half.
Still, MacIntyre said his team’s effort and intensity pleased him and that he has seen overall improvement since the second quarter of the Massachusetts game three weekends ago – particularly on defense.
“That game could have been 28-21 (with four UH TDs instead of field goals),” said CU quarterback Sefo Liufau. “Our defense rose to the occasion and helped us out a lot.”
Liufau’s offense also helped itself – just not as much as might have been expected after a 545-yard output last week in a losing effort against Arizona State. The Buffs put up 405 yards in total offense, with Liufau and receiver Nelson Spruce teaming for 172 yards on 13 completions, which set a school single-game record for receptions. He also set a school record for touchdown passes caught in consecutive games (six), breaking Rae Carruth’s record set in 1996.
Spruce, whose catches Saturday included a 71-yarder for a score, now has seven TD receptions in four games. “It’s been nice to be able to execute at this level,” Spruce said of his torrid start. “I worked hard in the off-season.”
Liufau finished 29-of-45 passing for 287 yards and touchdowns to Spruce and fullback George Frazier. CU’s third TD came on a 13-yard run by freshman receiver Shay Fields – his third score of the season but first by rushing. Liufau, who completed passes to eight different receivers, also was intercepted twice, his second two-pick game in two weeks.
“I wouldn’t say it was my best performance (Saturday), but by no means was it terrible,” Liufau said.
A Buffs running game that generated 232 yards last week was limited to 118 Saturday. But CU’s defense compensated for that drop off, holding Hawai’i to 286 total yards and stopping the Rainbow Warriors twice inside the 5-yard line and twice inside the 20.
“We wanted to hold them to three points as much as we could. We wanted to play confident and physical and that’s what we did,” said CU senior cornerback Greg Henderson, whose sack and fumble recovery accounted for one of the Buffs’ two turnovers. Safety Tedric Thompson got the other with a fourth-quarter interception.
In addition to the turnovers, CU recorded a season-high four quarterback sacks and seven tackles for losses. And the Buffs played the entire second half minus linebacker Addison Gillam, who suffered a first-half concussion. His status for next week has not been determined.
The Buffs started with a thud. On their first play, Liufau – believing a flag was about to be thrown for pass interference and he had a “free play” – tried to slip in a long pass to Spruce in triple coverage. Bad idea; cornerback Ne’Quan Phillips intercepted the floating throw.
But the Rainbow Warriors couldn’t capitalize. They marched to the Buffs’ 21-yard line, where on third-and-seven Henderson blitzed from the left side, sacked quarterback Ikaika Woolsey and forced him to fumble. As a bonus, Henderson also recovered it.
CU couldn’t capitalize on UH’s first turnover, and the game remained scoreless until Tyler Hadden put the Rainbow Warriors ahead 3-0 with a 37-yard field goal.
Their lead lasted less than half a minute. On the Buffs’ first play after Hadden’s kick, Liufau and Spruce connected for their 71-yard touchdown. It was Spruce’s seventh TD reception of the season, and on this one he adjusted to Liufau’s pass and caught it over Hawai’i corner Dee Maggitt, who fell to the Folsom turf and watched Spruce travel the remaining 25 yards by himself.
Up 7-3 after Will Oliver’s PAT, the Buffs watched Hadden cut the margin to 7-6 on his 25-yard field goal with 11:19 left before halftime. But in those 11-plus minutes, CU turned the half in its favor.
An eight-play, 75-yard drive culminated in Fields’ 13-yard scoring run on a receiver handoff. Four-plus minutes later, after holding the Rainbow Warriors to three-and-out, the Buffs drove 56 yards in 12 plays and increased their lead to 21-6 on a 9-yard pass from Liufau to Frazier and Will Oliver’s extra point.
The first half ended that way, with CU overcoming its lackluster start and finishing the half 267-139 edge in total offense. The Buffs limited the Rainbow Warriors to only three of 10 third-down conversions in the first half (5 of 19 for the game). But to duplicate that efficiency in the second half they would have to do it minus Gillam, who left the game with a concussion. He was replaced by senior Brady Daigh.
Hawai’i received the second half kickoff and promptly went with a new quarterback – Jeremy Higgins – who marched his offense to the CU 20-yard line. But on third-and-one there, Daigh threw tailback Diocemy Saint Juste for a 2-yard loss, forcing Hadden to kick another field goal.
His 41-yarder pulled the Rainbow Warriors to within 21-9 with 12:38 left in the third quarter. That score held until Liufau suffered his second interception of the afternoon, setting up Hadden for his fourth field goal.
Liufau’s second pick was the result of a blocking breakdown and him being hit as he threw. His pass wound up in the hands of UH outside linebacker TJ Taimatuia, who returned the ball 34 yards to the CU 6-yard line.
Once again, the Buffs defense stiffened – and once again it was a Daigh third-down play that brought Hadden off the sidelines when Daigh pressured Higgins into an incompletion. Hadden’s last field goal closed the gap to 21-12; the fourth quarter began with that score and the Rainbow Warriors believing they hadn’t been disposed of.
The Buffs thought they might be moving toward that with an apparent John Walker interception of Higgins that would have set CU up at the UH 4-yard line. But a holding call against the Buffs before the pick negated it. A play later, CU was whistled for a facemask penalty and the Rainbow Warriors looked to be driving.
Not so . . . the march fizzled when it reached midfield, but a Scott Harding punt pinned the Buffs at their own 5-yard line with 9:43 left in the game. CU was able to take 4:13 off the clock before a Darragh O’Neill punt was downed at the UH 6-yard line.
With 5:30 remaining, the Rainbow Warriors turned back to Woolsey at QB after Higgins went to the locker room with a hand injury. But Woolsey, who was 9-of-20 passing for 56 yards in the first half, was no more effective reaching the end zone in his second stint than in his first.
Hawai’i used its third quarterback – Taylor Graham – for its final series, but CU safety Tedric Thompson ended that last gasp by intercepting Graham and giving the Buffs possession at the Rainbow Warriors’ 48. Only 1:08 remained and all CU needed to secure the win was a pair of kneel-downs by Liufau.
Saturday’s attendance was 39, 478 . . . . Jeromy Irwin opened the game at left tackle for CU. He had missed the week’s first two days of practice after suffering a concussion last week against Arizona State . . . . Spruce has had three 100-yard receiving games in his first four, and against ASU he was 3 yards short of 100 . . . . As they say on TV, “They’re not booing.” Folsom fans have begun recognizing Spruce’s receptions with a cry of “Sproooce.” . . . . Busy Buff: Frazier continued his two-way productivity. In addition to his 9-yard scoring reception – his first collegiate TD – he also was utilized at defensive end and credited with two assists on tackles . . . . Before his first-half concussion, Gillam had five total tackles and a QB sack . . . . O’Neill ran for 20 yards and a first down in the fourth quarter and also had two punts downed inside the UH 6-yard line. He averaged 46.2 yards on nine punts . . . . CU was Hawai’i’s third Pac-12 opponent in four games. The Rainbow Warriors lost their 2014 opener 17-16 to Washington, then were defeated 38-30 by Oregon State.