CU vs. Michigan, at a glance
What went right: The Buffs could not have asked for a better start, jumping to leads of 14-0 and 21-7 in the first quarter by playing exceptional defense and operating their offense with precision.
What went wrong: Special teams, especially the punt team, were a disaster. The Buffs had a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown, missed a field goal, had another punt smack a lineman in the back and gave up 213 yards in returns.
Turning point: Early in the third quarter, quarterback Sefo Liufau injured his ankle. Despite throwing a touchdown pass after that, Liufau played just three more plays before departing.
CU player of the game: Liufau. Although he missed most of the second half, he was great when he was in there, throwing for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
Bottom line: Losing to the No. 4 team on the road isn't the end of the world. The Buffs left Ann Arbor more concerned about the health of their quarterback.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Sefo Liufau spent the first part of Saturday throwing touchdowns, directing the Colorado offense and putting the Buffaloes in position to pull off one of the great upsets in program history.
The senior quarterback spent the last part of the game standing on the sidelines with ice on his right ankle, unsure of his immediate future and unable to help his team avoid a disappointing 45-28 loss to fourth-ranked Michigan at Michigan Stadium.
CU reported that Liufau sprained his right ankle and that X-rays were negative, but his status for next week is unknown.
"It just hurts to work really hard in the offseason and then to have something hold you back, especially when you want to be really competitive and play with your teammates you've been with for so long," said Liufau, who injured his right ankle early in the third quarter and missed most of the second half. "Just really frustrated that I wasn't able to be out there and play with my teammates."
Having not defeated a top-five team on the road since their miraculous 27-26 victory here in 1994, the Buffs came in as 20-point underdogs and certainly not expected to challenge the mighty Wolverines.
It took a furious rally from Michigan (3-0) to take down the Buffs (2-1), however. After holding two separate 14-point leads in the first half, CU was outscored 38-7 during the final three quarters.
The lasting impact of this game, however, will be the injuries sustained by Liufau, kicker Diego Gonzalez and outside linebacker Derek McCartney.
CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said Gonzalez tore the Achilles tendon in his left foot and will miss the rest of the season. McCartney did not play in the second half and left the stadium with ice on his right knee. The severity of his injury was not known after the game.
As for Liufau, he said after the game that he's not sure of his injury and it's too early to tell how long he'll be out.
"I'll find that out tomorrow. It's a little sore right now," he said after the game.
His departure clearly made an impact on the Buffs, who stunned the Wolverines early but couldn't rally once they lost their leader.
Playing one of the best games of his career, Liufau threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those scores — both to Devin Ross — staked CU to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter.
The third touchdown pass, a beautiful 70-yarder that hit Shay Fields in stride down field, gave the Buffs a 28-24 lead early in the third quarter.
It was the play before that one that changed the game for CU, though.
Liufau scrambled and picked up four yards on a run, but came up limping. Moments later, he hit Fields for the touchdown, but knew he wasn't right.
"It was all arm," he said. "I couldn't push off of (the right foot). I was supposed to get out of the pocket a little bit more and I didn't do that either. I tried to give him a chance and he made a great play to outrun the defense."
Liufau played one more series, but after getting sacked on a third-down play, he was done.
"I couldn't escape or go anywhere," he said. "Ultimately that just hurts us, so I had to make the decision with my coach and say that (backup Steven) Montez was the better option. I just couldn't plant (the foot) and throw with as much velocity as possible and I wasn't 100 percent, so it was a better option for me to come out of the game."
Unfortunately for the Buffs, Michigan had already reclaimed the lead and the momentum by that point.
The Wolverines' Jabrill Peppers had a 55-yard return on the kickoff after the Fields touchdown. That set up a 42-yard touchdown run by De'Veon Smith. The Wolverines never looked back.
"There was a couple things that happened out there today that changed the momentum a little bit," MacIntyre said. "(Losing Liufau) hurt a little bit. We gave them a couple of plays, too, that we shouldn't have. They made some plays, too, so that got their momentum going."
CU had the momentum early, smacking the Wolverines from the start.
After Liufau's first touchdown pass to Ross, defensive back Chidobe Awuzie sacked Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight and forced a fumble, which McCartney scooped up and ran 18 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Another Liufau-to-Ross touchdown made it 21-7 late in the first quarter.
A series of CU miscues on special teams — a blocked punt, a punt that hit a CU lineman, a missed field goal and poor kick coverage — aided Michigan's cause and made life much tougher on the Buffs, with or without Liufau.
"We had a great game plan going in and we felt that we could beat these guys if we played a good, sound football game and were consistent throughout," Liufau said. "We just came up a little bit short today because we weren't consistent throughout the whole game in all phases of the game."
No. 4 Michigan 45, Colorado 28Colorado 21 0 7 0 — 28
Michigan 7 17 14 7 — 45
CU — Ross 37 pass from Liufau (Gonzalez kick), 12:44
CU — McCartney 18 fumble return (Gonzalez kick), 11:57
MICH— (Allen kick)
CU — Ross 6 pass from Liufau (Gonzalez kick), 3:53Second qua rter
MICH —Chesson 17 run (Allen kick), 9:00
MICH — FG Allen 39, 2:04
MICH — Darboh 45 pass from Speight (Allen kick), :43Third quarter
CU —Fields 70 pass from Liufau (Gonzalez kick), 14:12
MICH — D.Smith 42 run (Allen kick), 13:25
MICH — Isaac 1 run (Allen kick), 3:11Fourth quarter
MICH — Peppers 54 punt return (Allen kick), 11:41
RUSHING — Colorado, Lindsay 12-51, K.Evans 4-17, Liufau 8-4, Lee 1-3, (Team) 1-(minus 1), Ross 1-(minus 2), Adkins 2-(minus 4), Montez 4-(minus 4). Michigan, D.Smith 11-87, Chesson 3-25, Peppers 2-24, Isaac 10-18, C.Evans 4-10, Higdon 1-8, McDoom 2-5, O'Korn 1-3, K.Hill 1-2, Speight 6-(minus 14).
PASSING — Colorado, MacIntyre 1-1-0-14, Liufau 16-25-0-246, Gehrke 1-1-0-1, Montez 0-7-0-0. Michigan, Speight 16-30-0-229.
RECEIVING — Colorado, Ross 7-78, Fields 4-99, Lindsay 2-0, Bobo 1-50, Ento 1-16, Liufau 1-14, Lee 1-3, Adkins 1-1. Michigan, Butt 7-87, Darboh 2-51, K.Hill 2-16, D.Smith 2-(minus 3), Perry 1-54, Isaac 1-21, C.Evans 1-3.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Colorado, Gonzalez 36. Michigan, Allen 37, Allen 44.