Just when you thought the Colorado Buffaloes were dead and buried -- or at least ready for last rites -- they bounced back and showed some life Saturday afternoon.
The Buffs and their coach are still kicking.
For 30 minutes against visiting Hawaii, the Buffs performed exactly like the doomsayers had predicted. Penalties, fumbles and a general lack of anything resembling consistency ruled the half. Had it not been for two terrific goal-line stands by the defense, the 10-0 Hawaii halftime lead could easily have been 24-zip.
But just as the angry masses were ready to storm CU`s locker room and demand Dan Hawkins` head -- or at least his resignation -- the Buffaloes woke up.
They ran the ball, and did so with authority. Tyler Hansen became a third-down conversion specialist. CU`s defense was outstanding.
And the mistakes that were so commonplace in the first half, the pratfalls and belly-flops that had threatened to become this team`s epitaph, disappeared.
It all added up to 31 second-half points for the Buffs, and what will look like a relatively easy 31-13 win to the rest of the nation this morning.
About as easy as Buff cornerback Jimmy Smith spotting Hawaii`s Kealoha Pilares a 15-yard lead, then chasing him down from behind for a touchdown-saving -- and likely game-saving -- tackle on Hawaii`s first possession. (If you`re looking for one play that might -- just might -- have saved CU`s season, keep Smith`s effort in mind.
About as easy as the defense holding Hawaii scoreless when the Warriors had eight -- yep, eight -- snaps inside the CU 3-yard line in the first quarter.
Or, about as easy as the Buffs banging out 252 yards the old fashioned way -- onthe ground, chunk by chunk, with 183 coming in the second half.
Nothing is easy for these Buffs. That`s not likely to change.
But they don`t count style points in the standings. The Buffs took a shot to the chin and survived, and today they`re 2-1 with two weeks to prepare for a home matchup with Georgia.
"To their credit, they`ve never bagged it and they`ve never quit," Hawkins said. "They have never doubted and they keep coming back.
"To have their backs up against the wall a little bit, and to have them answer, that is not only season changing but also life changing."
If Saturday is indeed going to be season changing -- and nobody in this corner is ready to make that bet today -- Hawkins and his staff would nevertheless be well-advised to remember one very simple revelation from Saturday`s game.
The Buffs are better when they run the ball. When offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau quit trying to out-fancy the Warriors and instead decided to play a little smashmouth out of the no-huddle offense, CU was a different team.
Rodney Stewart ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Brian Lockridge (can we see more of him, please?) ran for 109 yards. Both ran with a sense of urgency and purpose behind an offensive line that had its dander up after absorbing lots of heat over the past week.
CU`s two third-quarter scoring drives were as impressive as any the Buffs have put together in the Hawkins era. The first went 80 yards on 14 plays. The second went 60 yards on 10 plays -- with nine of those rushing plays.
Meanwhile, CU fans can only hope to see more of the same from CU`s defense. Two stellar goal-line stands started an afternoon in which the Buffs held Hawaii to 337 yards and 13 points. That`s the same Hawaii, mind you, that put 36 points and 588 yards on the board against Southern Cal.
By no means should anyone read too much into Saturday`s game. The Buffs played well in spots, and had some fortuitous breaks. While everyone would like to see another 250-plus day from the running game, nobody`s counting on another Tyler Hansen-to-Tony Clemons-to-Scotty McKnight touchdown pass.
But this morning, the Buffs are 2-1 and still alive. That`s more than lots of folks expected -- and it will have to be enough for everyone for at least another couple of weeks.