The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - Nick Kos­mider: 303-954-1516, nkos­mider@den­ver­ or @nick­kos­mider

Colorado quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau dives for a short gain against Ok­la­homa State in the sec­ond quar­ter of Thurs­day night’s Alamo Bowl in San An­to­nio. Li­u­fau got in­jured on the play and came out the game. The Buf­faloes lost 38-8. Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post » den­ver­,

san an­to­nio» The round bal­loons, hun­dreds of them in a dozen dif­fer­ent col­ors, were sus­pended high above the 50-yard line at the Alam­od­ome on Thurs­day night, ready to ac­cent a cel­e­bra­tion. Below all of that re­strained he­lium, Colorado was play­ing for val­i­da­tion.

The Buf­faloes piled up 10 wins and then fell on their col­lec­tive face in the Pac-12 cham­pi­onship game against Wash­ing­ton, los­ing 41-10 nearly a month ago. They in­sisted they were mo­ti­vated to give a turn­around sea­son the end­ing it de­served at the Alamo Bowl.

But the bal­loons that dropped af­ter CU walked off the ar­ti­fi­cial turf late Thurs­day be­came the first re­minder for the Buffs that The Rise ended in a plunge.

CU was life­less, un­fo­cused and un­pre­pared in its first bowl game in nine sea­sons, un­able to muster any of the magic that pro­duced a Pac-12 South Di­vi­sion cham­pi­onship in a 38-8 loss to Ok­la­homa State (10-3).

“It’s frus­trat­ing the way things hap­pened,” said CU se­nior quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau. “We didn’t come out fir­ing. We got ou­t­ex­e­cuted. I en­joyed this sea­son a lot. We didn’t end with an ex­cla­ma­tion point. The wheels on the bus kind of fell off, but I wouldn’t trade this sea­son for any­thing.”

The Buffs, who fin­ished 10-4, had been no match for the national play­off-bound Huskies back on Dec. 2. A top-15 matchup against a for­mer Big 12 op­po­nent af­ter nearly a month lay­off was a con­so­la­tion prize many Buffs fans couldn’t have imag­ined.

Some­how CU ap­peared even less pre­pared for this prime-time TV ap­pear­ance. The Buffs couldn’t muster any trac­tion on of­fense, nar­rowly avoid­ing their first-ever bowl shutout only on a Li­u­fau touch­down run with 5:28 left. Ok­la­homa State en­tered the game

al­low­ing more than 200 rush­ing yards per game. The Buffs gained only 47 yards on the ground in the first half, by which time they trailed 17-0.

CU had fewer than 200 to­tal yards through three quar­ters, by which time Ok­la­homa State had its vic­tory all but wrapped up.

“It comes down to play­ing foot­ball,” CU run­ning back Phillip Lind­say said. “It’s about who is go­ing to be more phys­i­cal. You could see the ex­pe­ri­ence of them be­ing in a bowl game. We just didn’t ex­e­cute. We have to get into a groove. That’s what our of­fense is based on. When you can’t be bal­anced, it’s tough.”

Li­u­fau in­jured his right an­kle near the end of the first half. He re­turned late in the third quar­ter but was in­ef­fec­tive for most of the game. He had 1 yard on nine car­ries through three quar­ters, and was con­sis­tently stonewalled by the Ok­la­homa State de­fense on third- and fourth-and-short sit­u­a­tions.

A CU de­fense that had to deal with the loss of co­or­di­na­tor Jim Leav­itt, who left three weeks ago to take the same job at Ore­gon, looked con­fused against Ok­la­homa State’s vaunted pass­ing at­tack. Be­fore he left in the third quar­ter with a hand in­jury, Cow­boys wide re­ceiver James Wash­ing­ton had al­ready caught nine passes for 171 yards and one touch­down.

The Buffs en­tered Thurs­day hav­ing al­lowed only 182.5 pass­ing yards per game.

But Ok­la­homa State quar­ter­back Ma­son Ru­dolph had an easy time carv­ing up a CU se­condary that was hob­bled, throw­ing for 314 yards and three touch­downs. CU’s top cor­ner­back, se­nior Chi­dobe Awuzie, was slowed by an ap­par­ent toe in­jury and couldn’t keep pace with Wash­ing­ton. CU’s other se­nior cor­ner, Ahkello Wither­spoon, didn’t start and played only spar­ingly. Safety Ryan Moeller also missed time af­ter ab­sorb­ing a crush­ing block in the first half.

By the time Ru­dolph threw his third touch­down pass of the game at the end of the third quar­ter, a 23-yard throw to Jha­juan Seales that put Ok­la­homa State ahead 31-0, he had al­ready com­pleted 20-of-29 passes for 294 yards.

Typ­i­cal spe­cial-teams woes — a missed field goal, short punts — also added to the long list of woes for CU.

“Any time you lose a game, it hurts,” Lind­say said. “When you win 10 games, it isn’t a fluke. We just didn’t go out and do it.”

Lind­say was a rare bright spot for the Buffs. The ju­nior ran hard, and his 38-yard catch-and-run play near the end of the sec­ond quar­ter put CU into Ok­la­homa State ter­ri­tory. But fresh­man quar­ter­back Steven Mon­tez, who re­placed Li­u­fau in the sec­ond quar­ter, threw an in­ter­cep­tion on a fleaflicker on the next play.

“It was my fault,” Mon­tez said at half­time. “I un­der­threw it.”

It may not have mat­tered much, the way things went for the Buffs deep in the heart of Texas.

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Ok­la­homa State’s James Wash­ing­ton cel­e­brates Thurs­day af­ter scor­ing against CU’s Chi­dobe Awuzie, left, and Tedric Thomp­son.

Ok­la­homa State wide re­ceiver James Wash­ing­ton makes an ac­ro­batic catch against Colorado de­fen­sive back Chi­dobe Awuzie dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter of the Alamo Bowl in San An­to­nio on Thurs­day night. Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Colorado line­men show their dis­ap­point­ment late in the fourth quar­ter of the Alamo Bowl on Thurs­day night. Ok­la­homa State pounded the Buf­faloes 38-8 in San An­to­nio.

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