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Colorado's Nelson Spruce stretches out at the end of a play during Saturday's game against Arizona at Folsom Field in Boulder. The Buffs led 24-17 going into the fourth quarter only to lose 38-31.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Nelson Spruce stretches out at the end of a play during Saturday’s game against Arizona at Folsom Field in Boulder. The Buffs led 24-17 going into the fourth quarter only to lose 38-31.

After losing so many close games a year ago, the Colorado football team made it a point of emphasis this year to win the fourth quarter.

The Buffaloes have prided themselves on their physical conditioning and they’ve felt all along that they would be the stronger team at the end of each game.

Three games into Pac-12 play this season, the Buffs (3-4, 0-3 Pac-12) have yet to win a fourth quarter. CU has been outscored 41-20 in the fourth quarter of their three Pac-12 games.

Saturday’s 38-31 loss to Arizona was the most disheartening. CU led 24-17 going into the final frame, but gave up 21 straight points.

“One of our big things is win the fourth quarter,” defensive lineman Justin Solis said. “Just to be in the fourth quarter and let the game slip away like that really hurts more. We all played our hearts out.”

Since the start of last year, CU has been in the lead or tied in six of its Pac-12 games, and lost all six. The Buffs have been tied at the half in two of their three conference games this year.

“We just have to go out there and finish the game,” quarterback Sefo Liufau said.

CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said these results are much more gut-wrenching than in 2013, when the Buffs were blown out nearly every week in Pac-12 play.

“You’re so close and you can taste it,” MacIntyre said. “It’s a lot harder than being far, far away, really. You just agonize over the little plays you’re talking about. The little plays are big plays. We’ll find a way to get there.”

Stepping up

In the past two weeks, Liufau has the passing game on a bit of a roll, throwing for 728 yards (364 per game) and three touchdowns, while completing 63.9 percent of his passes.

Through the first five games, Liufau averaged 200.4 yards, with five touchdowns, while completing just 58.7 percent of his throws.

“I just think I’m healthier now and I’ve been able to practice more, which helps,” he said. “It’s been a goal of mine to get this offense kick-started at the beginning of each half.”

Liufau has just three interceptions in 238 throws this season, or one every 79.3 passes. A year ago, he was picked off once every 33.2 throws (15 INT in 498 passes).

Notable

During an overtime loss to Cal a year ago, CU receiver Nelson Spruce had 19 catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns. In 10 Pac-12 games since, he has just two touchdowns, and none this year. … Liufau has rushed for four touchdowns this year, the most by a CU quarterback since Tyler Hansen had four in 2010. The last CU quarterback with more than four was Bernard Jackson, who had seven in 2006. … Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and Solis are tied for the team lead with three sacks each. … Running back Phillip Lindsay has led the Buffs in rushing the past four games. He’s the first player to lead the Buffs in rushing four games in a row since Christian Powell did it in five consecutive games late in 2012.

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.

CU opponent glance

Opponent: Oregon State Beavers

Game time: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MDT at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore.

Coach: Gary Andersen, 1st season (2-4; 51-44 career)

Record: 2-4, 0-3 Pac-12

Last week: Lost at Washington State, 52-31.

Key players: QB Seth Collins, Fr. (77 of 149, 813 yards, 6 TD, 4 INT; 90 rushes, 486 yards, 5 TD); WR Victor Bolden, Jr. (23 catches, 188 yards, 1 TD); WR Jordan Villamin, So. (22 catches, 315 yards, 4 TD); RB Storm Woods, Sr. (65 rushes, 351 yards, 1 TD); LB Rommel Mageo, Jr. (47 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT); S Justin Strong, So. (43 tackles); CB Larry Scott, Sr. (18 tackles, 2 PBU); LB Caleb Saulo, Jr. (40 tackles, 1 INT)

Notable: Since winning at Colorado on Oct. 4, 2014, the Beavers are 1-9 in Pac-12 play. … The Beavers are 2-1 at home this year, with wins against Weber State and San Jose State and a loss to Stanford. … From 2011-14, Andersen went 24-5 in conference games (two seasons at Utah State, two at Wisconsin).

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