It had been nine years since the University of Colorado Buffaloes last competed in a bowl game, nine years of torture and heartbreak since their loss to Alabama in the 2007 Independence Bowl.
But the No. 10 Buffaloes did the improbable in 2016, going from worst to first in the Pac-12 South and finishing the regular season with a 10-3 mark.
They went through many moments of nostalgia this season, but like every gift, it needs a ribbon on it. And the Valero Alamo Bowl against the No. 12 Oklahoma State Cowboys on Thursday was Colorado’s chance to put the ribbon on a memorable season.
But unfortunately for CU, nothing seemed to go the team’s way. With all the feel-good vibrations swallowing campus this year and with more than a handful of seniors hoping to end their careers on a positive note, Colorado lost tragically to the Cowboys 38-8.
The Alamo apocalypse started in the second quarter when Oklahoma State junior quarterback Mason Rudolph and junior wide receiver James Washington began to click. The two would connect nine times for 171 yards and a touchdown, earning Washington offensive MVP honors. Rudolph threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
“[Washington] made some great catches,” said Mike MacIntyre, CU head coach. “We were in good position. [Rudolph] made some good back-shoulder throws. He’s done that all year long [and] he’s an excellent football player.”
Washington proved too overwhelming for the usually stout Colorado secondary.
Although injuries to senior defensive backs Ahkello Witherspoon and Chidobe Awuzie did impede Colorado’s ability to shut down receivers, MacIntyre still gave them kudos for their effort.
“We had some freak injuries that were crazy that happened in our practices,” MacIntyre said after the game. “It was just crazy. They tried to play. They hadn’t even practiced in over a week and a half. They tried to play and give all they could.”
Despite the “freak injuries” and former defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt deciding to jump ship just weeks before the game, the secondary nonetheless performed well below their expectations. It was a big swing and a miss. Awuzie, whom MacIntyre said was suffering from turf toe, was noticeably off his game. He was Washington’s main guard during the contest.
Meanwhile, Colorado’s spiritual leader and co-captain, senior quarterback Sefo Liufau, wasn’t particularly sharp either.
Through three quarters, the Buffaloes were left scoreless, the first occurrence of that kind of drought all season.
Liufau wasn’t able to get his team into an automatic drive — it was almost like he was driving a manual car with an unmovable gear shifter and a broken clutch. He went 18-of-29 for 195 yards without any throwing touchdowns. The Tacoma, Washington, native was able to click sometimes with a few good drives, but the offense as a whole simply could not score.
“It’s pretty frustrating the way kind of things happened,” Liufau said. “[We] just didn’t come out with all things firing. I think in the beginning we moved the ball a lot as an offense but weren’t able to capitalize.”
The Buffs managed just 318 yards of total offense, compared to the Cowboys’ 527, which almost seems like a flip-flopped statistic given how effective Colorado’s defense had been all year. After all, it did rank atop the Pac-12 in the total defense department at the end of the regular season.
Thanks to the immense pressure of the Oklahoma State defensive line that caused six hits and three sacks, Liufau had to go through more pain. He left the game in the first half and said after the game that it was due to re-aggravating his ankle, which he sprained during the loss to Michigan back in mid-September.
“Let’s put all the X’s and O’s aside. We got out-executed tonight,” Liufau said.
Although the Buffs were down 17-0 at halftime and were set to receive the ball to begin the third quarter, what began as a manageable deficit gradually turned into a one-sided offensive affair that the Buffaloes found themselves on the wrong side of.
Colorado was simply dominated on both sides of the ball against a Big 12 team that usually excels at high-octane passing, and the Cowboys did with ease against Colorado’s battered secondary. OSU threw for 338 yards in the win.
But the OSU defense was better than expected.
Coming into the game, the Cowboys were ranked 108th in total defense in the nation, but that didn’t stop them from preventing a stellar Buffs offense led by Liufau with their overwhelming physical presence and, perhaps, their experience in bowl games.
CU junior tailback Philip Lindsay showed flashes of brilliance, but was ultimately kept in check. He rushed for 63 yards on the night but was more effective as a wideout, registering 103 yards of receiving yards. The Cowboys secondary virtually shut down Colorado’s Blackout Boyz, limiting juniors Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields Jr. and Devin Ross to just 85 yards combined.
“Oklahoma State is a physical team,” Lindsay said. “You could see the experience of them being in a bowl game, and us just not getting there, getting back to how it was before.”
Sophomore linebacker Rick Gamboa led the Buffaloes with 11 total tackles in the game.
For the Colorado Buffaloes to end the season this way and send away its seniors in somewhat lackluster fashion, #TheRise somewhat feels more like #ThePlateau. But regardless of the team’s less-than-picturesque finish to the season, the University of Colorado still boasts a solid and exciting football team for the first time in a decade.
If anything, the rough loss in the Alamo should create an intense itch among fans for some more Colorado football, and a desire among players to deliver.
The 2017 season can’t come soon enough.
Contact CU Independent Sports Writer Drew Sharek at email@example.com.
Photos by CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero.