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Dozens of former Colorado Buffaloes visited the home team locker room Friday before the big rivalry game with Nebraska at Folsom Field. It was an electric scene quarterback Tyler Hansen confessed gave him goosebumps for the first time in his career in Boulder.
He will be a junior next fall.
Hansen said he realized in the moments before running on to the field how much beating Nebraska and upholding the traditions of those who came before really means to the 40 or 50 men he heard speak or who just came by to visit the team. He saw it in their eyes, on their faces. Heard it. Felt it.
It would have made a much better story if the Buffs had managed to follow up all that pregame emotion and the farewells of senior day with a victory. Instead, they fell victim to many of the same old problems that have plagued them all season in a 28-20 bummer of a season finale.
The Buffs wanted to send the thousands of red-clad Cornhuskers fans who jammed the north end of thestadium home quiet and wondering about their chances next week in the Big 12 Conference championship game.
Well, they might have succeeded in that regard at least.
Colorado outgained Nebraska 403 yards to 217. The Buffaloes made more first downs, racked up nearly 200 yards more passing, tied in penalties (yes, that is accomplishment for this team) and had four more opportunities in the red zone than their opponent. The Buffs` produced their two longest offensive plays of the season, 58 and 56 yard receptions by Markques Simas and Scotty McKnight, respectively.
One key to Friday`s game was Colorado`s defense needing to play as well or better than the nationally ranked Nebraska defense. The Buffs matched the Cornhuskers tackle for tackle, but the offense and special teams didn`t do their part, continuing a season-long trend of ineffectiveness and inconsistency.
"We just need to clean a couple things up here and there," CU coach Dan Hawkins said. "It`s kind of the story of the season."
The Buffs` season ended with three wins and nine losses, seven wins short of the number Hawkins challenged his team to produce in the preseason. Wonder what he might say Sunday afternoon at this year`s senior banquet ...
The Huskers (9-3, 6-2) won for the fifth consecutive time on their way to the Big 12 championship game next weekend in Arlington, Texas, against No. 3 Texas. It is the fifth appearance in the championship game for Nebraska since the Big 12 was founded in 1996.
Nebraska probably won`t go in feeling confident after the Buffs gained more yardage against its stout defense than any previous opponent this season.
"I don`t think we played good football from start to finish," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "I don`t like the way that we played, I don`t like the execution. We have got to get better as a football team."
Funny thing. That`s just what they were saying in the home team locker room afterward. But the Buffs don`t have a game next week. They have nine long months to wait for their next opportunity to prove their embattled coach deserved to keep his job after 16 wins and 33 losses in four full seasons.
Once again, the Buffs fell behind in the first quarter and were forced to play catch-up. CU was outscored 92-34 in the first quarter this season. Colorado failed to earn a first down on its four possessions in the first 15 minutes.
Three of those drives started inside the Buffs` 10-yard line, including one when Scotty McKnight botched fielding a punt inside the five.
Two big plays ultimately made the difference. Nebraska`s Niles Paul returned a punt for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and the Huskers jumped to a 21-7 lead in the second quarter after Matt O`Hanlon`s 20-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Colorado scored in the second quarter on a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Hansen to senior fullback Jake Behrens, a product of Omaha, Neb. The Buffs cut the lead to one score in third quarter when Hansen found McKnight for a six-yard touchdown pass.
Colorado place-kicker Aric Goodman missed field goal attempts of 52 and 37 yards. The Buffs drove into the red zone five times and came away with just two scores, in part because of penalties and in part because of Goodman`s misses.
Nebraska finally took control for good, bullying its way to a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that made the difference.
Colorado running back Rodney Stewart rushed for 110 yards, his fifth 100-yard game of the season. Hansen threw for 269 yards.
"It was a lot closer than it looked," Behrens said. "We had a lot of missed opportunities out there."
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