HONOLULU -- There have been much worse head coaching debuts in Colorado's recent history.
The Buffs were clobbered 41-14 by Colorado State in Gary Barnett's first game on Sept. 4, 1999.
And Montana State stunned CU 19-10 at Folsom Field on Sept. 2, 2006, to set an ominous tone for the Dan Hawkins era.
But no first-year CU head coach has had to endure a longer trip home after his first defeat than Jon Embree did after the Buffs' 34-17 loss to Hawaii on Saturday night at Aloha Stadium in front of a crowd of 35,645.
"I'm not a moral victory guy," Embree said. "We did not win. That was our goal."
The Buffs of the Pac-12 picked up where the Buffs of the Big 12 left off, suffering the program's 18th consecutive true road loss (19 straight out-of-state defeats including the Independence Bowl loss to Alabama) dating back to a win at Texas Tech on Oct. 27, 2007.
Entering the game, it was feared that Bryant Moniz, the nation's leading passer in 2010, would have his way with the Buffs' inexperienced cornerbacks.
But Hawaii's senior quarterback started his dark horse Heisman Trophy campaign by spreading out the CU defense and then gashing it for three touchdowns and 121 yards rushing on 14 carries.
The Buffs -- who trailed Hawaii 10-0 at halftime last season before storming back for a 31-13 victory at Folsom Field -- were down 17-0 at the intermission in the rematch.
The offense finally responded to coordinator Eric Bieniemy's pleas for a dramatic comeback in the second half.
Hansen started locating CU's best play-makers -- hitting Rodney Stewart on a 52-yard screen pass and then connecting with Paul Richardson for a 15-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 17-7.
The Warriors answered with
Hansen, playing for thefirst time since rupturing a spleen last October against Texas Tech, stood strong in the pocket and threw a 21-yard dart to Richardson in the end zone to bring the Buffs within 24-14 with 1:51 left in the third quarter.
And then Greg Brown's defense, which had been getting consistent pressure on Moniz throughout the game, completely shifted the momentum to the Buffs.
Chidera Uzo-Diribe sacked Moniz, forcing a fumble that Conrad Obi recovered at the Hawaii 34.
CU was unable to cash the turnover in for a touchdown, but true freshman Will Oliver's 34-yard field goal made it a one-score game (24-17) with 14:51 remaining.
On the next Warrior possession, cornerback Greg Henderson, another true freshman, made a key third-down tackle to force a Hawaii punt.
But Hansen took back-to-back sacks, forcing walk-on freshman punter Darragh O'Neill, who had kept the Buffs in the game with five clutch boots in the first half, to kick out of his own end zone.
O'Neill delivered a booming 52-yard punt, but the Warriors had an 11-yard return and possession of the ball at the CU 45.
Moniz converted a critical fourth-and-1 and moments later slipped a sneaky pass to fullback Joey Iosefa, who stumbled, bumbled and rumbled for a 22-yard touchdown reception on third-and-10 to make the score 31-17.
A Hansen telegraph moments later was intercepted by linebacker Art Laurel, whose pick-six was negated by an illegal block.
"We killed ourselves," Hansen said. "Colorado beat the Buffs."
The Warriors settled for a field goal to make it a 17-point cushion with 4:52 left.
Moniz struggled to find rhythm with his new receivers in the first quarter but improvised nicely. He scampered for 34 yards, and Ray Polk was assessed a personal foul at the end of the play to set the Warriors up with a first down at the 14.
But a timely 12-yard sack by Doug Rippy stalled the drive and forced Hawaii to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Kenton Chun, which hit the right upright and bounced through off the crossbar for the game's first points.
Moniz finished 20-for-33 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions.
CU's Stewart finished with four catches for 98 yards and Richardson had three catches for 49 yards to highlight Hansen's inconsistent 16-for-30 night that included two touchdowns and an interception.
The Warriors, the preseason favorite to win the WAC, outgained CU 343-240 in total yardage. The Hawaii football program will join the Mountain West in 2012 with the rest of its sports teams moving to the Big West.
This was CU's first true road game to open a season since 1995 when the Buffs trounced Wisconsin 43-7 in Madison to deliver a victory for Rick Neuheisel in his debut as head coach.
That Badger beating marked the only time since 1932 that a full-time CU head coach won his first game. Brian Cabral won his first game as CU's interim head coach last season (34-14 over Iowa State).
The Buffs will lick their wounds and try to regroup for next Saturday's home opener against Cal at Folsom Field.
"We're a much better disciplined football team than what we showed today," Bieniemy said. "So what does that mean? We have to go back to the drawing board and make sure we're giving ourselves a chance."