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HONOLULU -- The Buffs came here to impose their will.

Colorado wanted to establish itself as a team capable of running the ball, even when the Hawaii defense knew what was coming.

True to his word, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy called 12 rushing plays on first down. The Buffs averaged 1.1 yards on those snaps.

And that, more than anything else, was the most disappointing aspect of CU's 34-17 loss to Hawaii on Saturday night at Aloha Stadium.

"We're not the most talented team out there, so we have to do it the right way,"  a disappointed Jon Embree said after losing his debut as head coach.  "We can't put ourselves in second-and-long, we can't miss an assignment, we can't have illegal procedure, we can't have a holding call bring a 20-yard run back. We're not good enough to do that."

CU had the ball six times in the first half. Walk-on freshman punter Darragh O'Neill punted five times, and time ran out on the other drive.

The Buffs trailed 17-0 at the intermission before Tyler Hansen, Rodney Stewart and Paul Richardson started creating some highlights for the visitors.

"Guys were trying to make too much happen,"  said Hansen, who was 5-for-12 passing for 46 yards in the first half.  "We've just got to relax and let the plays develop."

Embree and Bieniemy don't want to hear any excuses. However, the loss of starting left tackle David Bakhtiari to a sprained knee in the first quarter was obviously a problem for the offensive line.

"(Bakhtiari) is a great player and he is a great tackle. That hurts us a lot,"  Hansen said.  "Hopefully he's all right, because that definitely messed up a little of our chemistry."

CU's offense began to click after the intermission.

Hansen capped off a six-play, 73-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Paul Richardson. The Hansen-Richardson combination struck again to complete a four-play, 63-yard drive with 1:51 remaining in the third quarter.

"We executed better, we played faster, but we have to learn to come out that way at the beginning,"  Bieniemy said.  "I thought communication-wise we did a great job, there were no issues with that. The thing I just want to keep harping on is: We've got to do our jobs and pay attention to details. Right now, we're not a detail-oriented offense. We were in the third quarter for a period of time, but that falls back on us. ...

"I promise you we will get better."

Hawaii head coach Greg McMackin called a timeout in the third quarter to make adjustments. When the officials signaled that it was time to resume the game, he called another timeout.

"We just had a little visit and talked family business,"  McMackin said.  "I won't say what was said, but it took me two timeouts to get everything I wanted to say done. The official gave me a weird look."

CU's defense, which held the Warriors' vaunted run-and-shoot passing attack to 178 net yards, put the Buffs in position to complete the second-half comeback when defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe forced a Bryant Moniz fumble that was recovered by Conrad Obi.

The turnover set up a 34-yard field goal by Will Oliver that cut the deficit to 24-17 with 14:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.

"We're going to go into every game feeling like we have a physical edge. That's our game and that's how we're going to play,"  CU linebacker Jon Major said.  "We'll continue bringing it. Coaches have done a great job instilling that mindset."

After forcing Hawaii to punt on the next series, CU had the ball at its own 22 with a chance to drive down the field and tie the game.

That's when the Warriors' defensive line imposed its will.

On first down, Stewart was thrown down for a loss of one yard. Hansen was sacked on second and third down. After a delay of game penalty, O'Neill came up with a clutch 52-yard punt from the back of the end zone.

"We had a lot of momentum. It helped that we got a really good turnover and we capitalized on it,"  Richardson said.  "But we didn't finish the game, and ultimately that's what football comes down to is the fourth quarter."

Moniz took advantage of a short field and stuck the dagger in the Buffs, a touchdown pass to give Hawaii a 14-point cushion. CU's defensive line sacked the Warriors' star quarterback five times, but "Mighty Mo" ran for 121 net yards, including three touchdowns.

"Who would have thought he would beat us with his legs? That just shows what a great player he is,"  Major said.  "He's a competitor. Hats off to him. He did what he had to to win. That's a sign of a great player."

Stewart led the Buffs with four receptions for 98 yards but averaged 2.9 yards on 18 carries. No other CU running back touched the ball.

"We were trying to establish the run, but when they get up by a certain amount of points you don't have a lot of time and you've got to start throwing the ball,"  Stewart said.  "That's what we did. It's just little things we've got to work on."

The Buffs appear to have big issues on the offensive line, an area of the team that was thought to be a strength. Bakhtiari came out of the visiting locker room on crutches; an exhausted Ryan Miller joined him on a golf cart ride to the bus after CU allowed Hansen to be sacked seven times.

"When you look back on it, a lot of it was four-man pressure. So we didn't do a good job of protecting,"  Embree said.  "And protection is the quarterback getting rid of the ball, it's not just linemen blocking for five seconds. It's receivers getting open and the quarterback getting rid of the ball. We didn't do a good job of it."

Now the Buffs have to get ready for Saturday's home opener against Cal. Last season the Bears sacked Hansen seven times during a 52-7 romp in Berkeley.

"Cal got us real good and we want those guys,"  Hansen said.  "If you're not motivated for Cal, then there is something wrong with you, because they embarrassed us last year."