CU vs. Washington, at a glance
What went right: Defensively, the Buffs did a nice job against Washington's star quarterback, Jake Browning, for most of the game. It wasn't until late in the third quarter that the sophomore Heisman Trophy candidate got much going through the air.
What went wrong: CU got off to a bad start, with a pass interference penalty on the opening play, allowing an early TD to the Huskies, and losing quarterback Sefo Liufau to a foot injury for much of the first half.
Turning point: After missing most of the first half with an injury, Liufau returned in the second half, but on the first play, he threw an interception to Washington's Taylor Rapp, who returned it 35 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 Husky lead. CU never recovered.
CU player of the game: Kenneth Olugbode. It was a tough night all-around for the Buffs, but Olugbode had a great night for the defense. He registered a Pac-12 championship game-record 19 tackles and was in on a sack.
Bottom line: The Buffs fell short of their goal of winning the Pac-12 championship, but the performance shouldn't take away from a great season. Despite the loss, the Buffs will still be headed to a good bowl game - most likely either the Rose, Cotton or Alamo bowls.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — This may have been the Colorado Buffaloes' year, but Friday was not their night.
After a remarkable run to the Pac-12 South title, the ninth-ranked Buffaloes were manhandled by No. 4 Washington, 41-10, in the conference championship game at Levi's Stadium.
"Obviously pretty upset," quarterback Sefo Liufau said. "Especially on the offense side, we didn't put out a very good performance tonight.
Since the conference expanded in 2011 and added a championship game, the North champion is 6-0 in this game. The Huskies (12-1) dominated from start to finish and made their case to get into the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Slotted No. 4 in the CFP rankings, the Huskies ought to have a strong case after taking it to the Buffs (10-3), who came in No. 8 in the CFP.
"I think there's no doubt about that," Washington head coach Chris Petersen said of his team being a CFP semifinalist.
Despite the loss, CU could still land in the Rose Bowl, but the Cotton Bowl and Alamo Bowl also remain options. CU's bowl destination will be determined on Sunday.
"No. 1, a bowl game is a reward for what you did during the season and these young men deserve that reward," CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "They earned it. No. 2, it's the last game you play and your last game always stays with you, especially if you're a senior. Winning that bowl game will be the right way to send them out."
Friday's performance would be the wrong way to go out, especially after a spectacular season that saw the Buffs go from five consecutive last-place Pac-12 South finishes to first place this season.
The Buffs had just 163 yards in total offense, their lowest total since Nov. 17, 2012, against the Huskies, during a 38-3 loss in Boulder.
In the second half, the Buffs had 45 yards on 25 offensive snaps.
"I didn't do a good job of preparing us and being able to get us quality drives," Liufau said. "We really left our defense and everyone else out to dry tonight."
Liufau took the loss especially hard, as it was a nightmare of a game for the senior.
He started off well, completing his first pass - to Phillip Lindsay - for nine yards, and then scrambling for a 25-yard gain to get the Buffs into Washington territory early in the first quarter.
Two plays after that long run, however, Liufau was sacked and went down with a right ankle injury. He missed the remainder of the first half. Trainers tried re-taping his ankle a couple of times, and he spent time jogging and riding the exercise bike.
During halftime, he said trainers found a tape job that worked and it took "lots of work inside the locker room to help me get back and try to help my team, and obviously I didn't do that tonight."
In addition to Liufau's injury, the first half saw the Buffs give up a touchdown on the opening drive for the first time all season.
The Huskies converted a pair of third downs to score a second touchdown midway through the second quarter.
Despite all that adversity, the Buffs trailed just 14-7 at the break, thanks to a Lindsay touchdown run.
The Buffs hoped Liufau's return in the third quarter would spark them, but on the first play after intermission, he was intercepted by Taylor Rapp, who went 35 yards the other way for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
That play seemed to break the Buffs' spirits.
"In a way, yes," Liufau said. "You never want to come out and put your defense in that spot and spotting them so many points. It just falls back on being accurate and getting my receivers some balls they can take and run with. I didn't do that at the start of the second half.
"I really messed up, to say the least."
Four plays later, Rapp - named the game MVP - intercepted Liufau again to set up a Huskies field goal.
Liufau, who threw three interceptions all season, threw three in the third quarter against Washington, but said his sore ankle had no impact on his performance. Overall, he completed just 3-of-13 passes for 21 yards and ran six times for 13 yards.
"I'm just very frustrated with myself and how I played for these guys tonight," he said.
Backup Steve Montez led CU to its only touchdown drive, late in the first quarter. He didn't fare much better than Liufau, however, completing only five of 15 throws for 60 yards.
MacIntyre said he contemplated going back to Montez after Liufau's third quarter struggles.
"Yeah, I probably thought about it, but (Liufau) is the guy and I wanted to keep him playing and hopefully he would play through it," MacIntyre said. "He brought us here, and he's our leader."
Strong leadership, by Liufau and several others, had guided the Buffs all season. On this night, however, the Huskies were too much.
Jake Browning threw a pair of touchdown passes, while Myles Gaskin (159 yards) and Lavon Coleman (101 yards) both had great games running the ball.
Defensively, Rapp and the Huskies dominated all night and took the Buffs out of their game.
Coming into the game, the Buffs had an outside shot at the CFP semifinals, but looked nothing like the team that won the South and closed the regular season on a six-game winning streak.
"We hurt. We lost and we lost to a good team," MacIntyre said. "We made some mistakes that gave them a chance to pull away from us."
After a season-long quest of being the champions of the Pac-12 conference, the Buffaloes will have to settle for being second best.
The ride is not over for the Buffs, however.
For the first time since 2007, CU is headed to a bowl game. Now, they just have to regroup and put this one behind them over the next few weeks.
"Hopefully we'll be in the best bowl we can be in," MacIntyre said. "We'd love to play in the Rose Bowl. Every team in the Pac-12, I believe, wants to play in the Rose Bowl."
WAS_L.Coleman 1 run (Van Winkle kick), 11:53
COL_Lindsay 3 run (Price kick), :49Second Quarter
WAS_Daniels 15 pass from Browning (Van Winkle kick), 6:38Third Quarter
WAS_Rapp 35 interception return (Van Winkle kick), 14:44
WAS_FG Van Winkle 24, 11:27
WAS_J.Ross 19 pass from Browning (Van Winkle kick), 5:21
COL_FG Graham 24, 3:43Fourth Quarter
WAS_FG Van Winkle 20, 14:07
WAS_McClatcher 8 run (Van Winkle kick), 4:23
First downs 9 22
Rushes-yards 29-82 54-265
Passing 81 118
Comp-Att-Int 8-25-3 9-24-0
Return Yards 98 61
Punts-Avg. 7-30.57 5-40.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 3-35 3-35
Time of Possession 21:25 38:35
RUSHING — Colorado, Lindsay 19-53, Liufau 6-13, Montez 3-11, MacIntyre 1-5. Washington, Gaskin 29-159, L.Coleman 18-101, McClatcher 1-8, Browning 3-2, (Team) 3-(minus 5).
PASSING — Colorado, Montez 5-12-0-60, Liufau 3-13-3-21. Washington, Browning 9-24-0-118.
RECEIVING — Colorado, Lindsay 3-19, Fields 2-26, MacIntyre 1-16, Evans 1-13, D.Ross 1-7. Washington, J.Ross 4-51, Gaskin 1-24, Daniels 1-15, McClatcher 1-11, Pettis 1-9, Sample 1-8.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.