The guess here is that nobody in black and gold is buying moral victories this morning.
The Colorado Buffaloes had a chance to steal an unlikely win on the road -- on national television, no less -- and they let it slip away Thursday night. They had the opportunity to right their season, soothe the sting of two shocking losses to open the season and head into Big 12 play with a little momentum -- but they didn't take advantage of the openings that were presented.
This was not a game the Buffs were supposed to win. It's not even a game they should have won. West Virginia is clearly the better team, and proved it on Thursday.
But it was a game the Buffs could have won, which makes the missed opportunity even more difficult to swallow.
Now, there is no taste of redemption for the Buffs this morning. There is only a growing hunger, a 1-3 record and two games against top 20 foes directly on the horizon.
The tally of CU miscues turned out to be lengthy. Three missed field goals, two of which would have given the Buffs a 16-14 halftime lead. An interception at the end of the first half that ruined at least a first down, maybe a touchdown, and certainly a field goal attempt. Two more interceptions, a couple more missed wide open receivers and the disturbingly normal list of big plays yielded by the defense were also part of the equation.
All this against a West Virginia offense that did its
best to keep the Buffs in the game with three first-half fumbles.
Even when West Virginia stopped giving the ball away, the Mountaineers helped keep the Buffs in the game. After the Buffs had pulled to within 21-17 in the third quarter, WVU insisted upon attempting to prove it could throw the ball. Twice, Colorado's defense came up with stops -- and twice, Colorado failed to convert.
Two penalties and an interception on third-and-21 halted one possession. A three-and-out ensued on the second, after the Buffs had sacked WVU quarterback Jarrett Brown on consecutive downs.
And finally, the Mountaineers seemed to get the message. Instead of trying to showcase Brown's heralded passing ability -- something not apparent in this game --they turned to running back Noel Devine in the fourth quarter. Devine to the right side, Devine right again, and just for a change, Devine to the right. Twelve plays later, eight of them with the ball in Devine's hands, the Mountaineers finally had a 28-17 cushion.
Certainly, the 35-24 loss did not elevate the disaster scale to the same level as the Buffs' embarrassing loss in Toledo. This was at least a respectable showing, and there were some positives:
A running game that showed promise, but still nothing that resembled consistency. Rodney Stewart put up 105 yards and a touchdown on the board, but CU still finished with just 100 net yards on the ground.
A defense that played better against the pass, yielding just 148 yards in the air while also recording three sacks. The defense also forced three turnovers in the first half -- but saw the offense produce just one field goal from all three chances.
Maybe most importantly, the mental resolution to stay in the game. Despite giving up a 77-yard touchdown on WVU's second play of the game, and despite giving up a long touchdown drive to open the second half, the Buffs never folded. They were within four heading into the fourth quarter and had a chance to win.
But those positives are silver linings to a cloud that grows darker each week.
After the game, Buff head coach Dan Hawkins did his best to sound upbeat.
"I thought this was our best game by far, no doubt," he told KOA radio. "Our guys battled and scrapped."
But trouble is, CU fans are no longer content to hear "battled and scrapped," not in the fourth game of the head coach's fourth year. With a meeting with No. 2 Texas dead ahead, 1-3 looks very much like 1-4 -- and we won't even hazard a guess as to what happens the week after when Kansas visits Boulder.
Simply, there are issues that should have been solved by now. While we were less than impressed with the play of WVU's Brown (148 yards passing and his share of missed receivers), he at least brings to the table the ability to run.
Colorado's Cody Hawkins, meanwhile, threw for 292 yards and a pair of touchdowns -- but he also threw three interceptions, and he is never a threat to keep a defense honest with his legs.
If the Buffs were blessed with a power running game and a stingy defense, the quarterback play would not be so crucial (remember Buff QB Robert Hodge in 2002?).
But on a team that still has virtually no margin for error, every Hawkins error is magnified -- as are missed field goals, big plays given up by the defense and the inability to convert golden opportunities.
We won't buy into the argument that quarterback play is all that's keeping this team from being a competitive Big 12 squad (someone else allowed the Mountaineers to run for 255 yards, and that wasn't the quarterback kicking field goals).
But it's certainly a factor -- enough so, anyway, that when it comes down to expecting the quarterback on this team to make the difference, it too often means a difference on the negative side of the ledger.
What happens next?
Don't count on a quarterback change. Backup Tyler Hansen has been promised a redshirt season, and we're guessing he won't be willing to repeat last year, when he yanked his redshirt for a brief stint in the middle of the season.
Thus, it means the improvement the Buffs showed Thursday night in other areas will have to continue at a dramatic pace to widen that margin for error.
If that happens, the Buff could still scrape a few wins out of this season.
But with eight games remaining, that's not a bet most CU fans are anxious to make.