COLUMBUS, Ohio -- No end in sight.
The Jekyll and Hyde act from the Colorado football team between home and road games continued here Saturday with an error-filled performance reminding fans that while former coach Dan Hawkins is gone, he didn't take the special teams mistakes that dominated his tenure with him.
The local newspaper here, the Columbus Dispatch, described Colorado as "a once proud program" in its Saturday edition and the Buffs played the part falling 37-17 in their 20th consecutive loss in a game played outside Colorado. The Buffs haven't won on the road since Oct. 27, 2007.
Not even the $1.4 million OSU paid CU for playing the game can make the Buffs feel better about it.
With looming trips to Stanford, Washington and Arizona State in the next month, only the most ardent CU supporter could believe an end to the streak is near.
"We have a long way to go as a program," coach Jon Embree said. "We have a long ways to go from the standpoint of getting to where we are competing and not hoping to upset an Ohio State. To say, 'Hey, you know what? We're going to go in there and we don't have to worry about rugby punting. We don't have to try to do things to manufacture anything. We can come in and play them straight up.
"So we have a long way to go."
Colorado had committed just one turnover in its first three games this season. It fumbled the ball away twice and set up the Buckeyes nicely throughout the day with poor play in the kicking game. Ohio State's average starting field position on 12 drives was the Colorado 47-yard line. Colorado's average start was from its 18.
"We really didn't have field position all day and that's one thing that helps out is to win the field-position battle," quarterback Tyler Hansen said. "It seemed like every series you start backed up. So it's tough. Every series you've got to go 90, 95 yards. That's tough to do against Ohio State. We've got to change that next week."
It started with the opening kickoff when OSU running back Jordan Hall returned it 75 yards. The return was nullified by a holding penalty but it still set the tone.
Ohio State started true freshman Braxton Miller at quarterback a week after its passing game produced just four completions at Miami. Miller struggled early, but the Buckeyes didn't need to throw much (15 times). They ran the ball 47 times for 226 yards with Hall and Miller leading the way with 84 and 83 yards, respectively.
Embree had predicted earlier in the week that both teams would slug it out on the ground.
The Buckeyes followed through, but the Buffs did not. With running back Rodney Stewart nursing a shoulder injury but still playing, CU elected to avoid pounding it at the Buckeyes and tried to stretch them instead. Forcing them to defend the width of the field turned out to be a bad idea. The Buffs' first three plays were incomplete passes, leading to another slow start.
"We have been awful starting games," Embree said. "We script plays and we go through it and we give them the looks and we practice it and we do everything and then for whatever reason when the lights go on, whether it's a drop, whether it's a missed block, whether it's a fumble, we continually struggle starting the game. I have to take a look at what we're doing from a practice standpoint and see if there is something I need to do different to try to get us jump started."
CU's lack of speed sabotaged the plan of attack and played into a strength of the Buckeyes. Embree was asked if speed is a problem lingering over his program at the moment.
"They are my guys and I love 'em. I'll leave it at that," he said. "I don't ever question their effort. I haven't had to question their effort yet. Having said that, we just got to keep trying to find a way."
The Buffs might have some physical limitations, but that doesn't account for the mental errors made Saturday and consistently made on special teams over the course of several years now.
Embree said coaches dedicate at least 35 minutes of practice a day to special teams. Yet it didn't prevent a poor decision by Stewart to field a punt at his 5-yard line, a muffed punt by Stewart, a rugby style punt that hit an OSU player as planned but was recovered by the Buckeyes in CU territory, a second big kickoff return from Hall covering 90 yards and a fumbled handoff from Hansen to Stewart.
Playing in front of a crowd of 105,096, the Buffs were able to sustain several drives and score points. Toney Clemons caught a touchdown pass for the second week in a row, Will Oliver drilled a 47-yard field goal and freshman Tyler McCulloch caught a touchdown pass late.
But Ohio State never felt threatened.
"I felt like before this game we got better every game," Embree said summing up the day. "So now we're back to square one."