He will be widely criticized for what transpired in the third quarter of this Pac-12 championship blowout, but Sefo Liufau deserves some credit for stepping back into the fray.
There was little glory to be had against Washington’s defense.
But Liufau wanted badly to return from injury to attempt to lead his Colorado Buffaloes to a comeback victory on Friday at Levi’s Stadium, and so the senior quarterback from Tacoma went back into the game to begin the second half after an apparent ankle injury forced him to sit most of the first.
His first pass – his first play – changed the complexion of the game. In favor of the Huskies.
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Liufau looked for receiver Jay MacIntyre,but threw high and through MacIntyre’s hands. The ball was instead snagged by UW freshman safety Taylor Rapp, who covered the remaining 35 yards for a game-changing touchdown.
Rapp, a Bellingham native, intercepted Liufau again on Colorado’s next possession to set up a UW field goal, one that gave the favored Huskies a three-score lead.
They did not need it.
The Huskies were not perfect on this night. Far from it. They couldn’t throw the ball, thwarted by a talented group of Colorado defensive backs. Star quarterback Jake Browning did not look like himself for most of the game. But the Huskies were so much better than Colorado in every other way, so much faster and more imposing defensively, that they pounded their way to a 41-10 victory to clinch their first Pac-12 championship since 2000 and all but assure themselves of a spot in this year’s College Football Playoff.
Postseason arrangements will be sorted out Sunday, but it is difficult to imagine that the Huskies (12-1), ranked No. 4 already, will fall from that spot after this convincing victory over the nation’s No. 9 team.
If it wasn’t over after Rapp’s consecutive interceptions, it certainly was after John Ross turned a prayer of a pass from Browning into a touchdown in the third quarter, the Huskies already leading 24-7 and driving at CU’s 19-yard line.
Browning was hurried and nearly sacked. But as a Buffaloes defender pulled him to the turf, Browning unloaded a pass to Ross at the right sideline, and the junior receiver leapt, grabbed the ball with one hand in front of a CU defensive back, then sprinted into the end zone to give UW a 31-7 lead.
Nothing really mattered after that. Colorado (10-3) returned the ensuing kickoff to UW’s 2-yard line – after returner Anthony Julmisse fumbled and CU tailback Phillip Lindsay scooped it up and returned it the rest of the way – but the Huskies pushed them backward and forced a meaningless field goal.
Washington’s first possession of the game offered no foreshadowing for its ensuing offensive struggles. The Huskies covered 65 yards in seven plays – six of them rushes – and capped that bruising journey with Lavon Coleman’s 1-yard touchdown run.
UW continued to run the ball effectively, but Colorado’s heralded pass defense prevented much offensive rhythm. Browning finished 9 for 24 for 118 yards. But Washington’s run game – Coleman finished with 101 yards, and Myles Gaskin had 159 – and defense rendered its passing struggles moot.
In addition to Rapp’s game-changing interceptions, UW safety Zeke Turner grabbed one at CU’s 11-yard line on the final play of the third quarter. The Huskies followed with a field goal.
Colorado managed only 163 yards of total offense, averaging 3.0 yards per play. Liufau, who completed only 3 of his 13 pass attempts, appeared to injure his ankle on a sack by UW linebacker Psalm Wooching on CU’s first possession of the game. Liufau sat on the turf for a while before struggling off the field. Then he headed for the locker room.
Still, he took the field with Colorado’s offense when the second half began, inspiring a cheer from Buffaloes fans who might not have believed CU could pull this off without him.
But they couldn’t do it with him, either.