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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Commentary: Deion Sanders looked out of ideas. Travis Hunter looked gassed. Is Colorado’s run over?

Colorado coach Deion Sanders stands at Folsom Field on Friday in Boulder, Colo.  (Tribune News Service)
By Sean Keeler Denver Post

BOULDER, Colo. – When Deion Sanders demanded his theme music, the Buffs played “Yakety Sax.” If Travis Hunter ran for 140 yards, defensive coordinator Charles Kelly rambled for at least 220 on the sideline, arms waving furiously, as if trying to hail the last taxi in Times Square.

“If you’re gonna point the fingers, point it at me, because if I’m allowing it, it should be on me, not (Kelly),” Coach Prime said of his veteran defensive coordinator after CU squandered a 29-0 halftime lead against Stanford in a 46-43 double overtime loss.

“Put it on me. We go over this stuff. And there are times where you know what group is in … what group you’re on, but you have a lapse of understanding in those crucial moments. Right now, we’re not built for the moment. We’re not built for the moment.”

For 30 minutes, the Buffs almost looked built for the College Football Playoff, a fireball of speed and swagger. For the next 30, they looked as if former coach Karl Dorrell had never left, a smug, satisfied roster going through the motions and punching below its weight.

Steven Montez and K.D. Nixon, you’re off the hook. Oregon State’s stunning win in Boulder – a 41-34 victory after trailing 31-3 early in the third quarter – in 2018 feels like a paper cut compared to the flesh the Cardinal ripped out of Folsom Field late Friday night.

For one thing, actors such as Anthony Anderson and Cedric The Entertainer, two Buffs-vs.-Stanford’s celeb VIPs, did not seek an audience with then-CU coach Mike “Buffalo in the Storm” MacIntyre. The Buffs are cool now, you see. Cool kids ain’t supposed to blow four-touchdown halftime leads at home to 1-4 teams, no matter how clever that 1-4 team happens to be.

Stanford’s Elic Ayomanor, a 6-foot-2 sophomore wide receiver from Alberta, turned into a Canuck Calvin Johnson, racking up 294 yards on 13 catches with three scores. And he turned out to be CU’s second-worst enemy on the evening.

No. 1? The Buffs themselves. CU (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) was pure bull junk, logging a whopping 17 penalties on the evening. The flags amounted to a new high for the Deion Era and were the most by the Buffs in a single game since Oct. 10, 2009, when Dan Hawkins’ guys committed 20 against Texas in Austin.

That’s about twice as many penalties (17) as the Buffs averaged over the course of a game (8.7) coming into Friday night. Like a football Benjamin Button, Sanders’ first CU team is aging backwards, maturing in reverse. The Buffs made Week 1 mistakes in Week 7, getting flagged for an illegal substitution on defense four times – three in the second half – helping the Cardinal (2-4, 1-3) chip away, shaming a sellout crowd into stunned silence and sending Kelly into apoplectic fits.

“What was happening (was), one guy was coming off the field appropriately and he saw something and he stopped,” Sanders explained, “so that gives us 12 men on the field.”

Context helps to stem the bleeding. A little. Eighty percent of Buffs Nation would’ve snapped your hand off in June for a 4-3 start after seven games, putting CU within two wins of bowl eligibility with five tilts still left on the docket.

On the other hand, have you seen the tilts? After an Oct. 21 bye, the Buffs visit No. 18 UCLA (4-1 before Saturday), host No. 15 Oregon State (5-1) and Arizona (3-3), then close out with visits to No. 19 Washington State (4-1) and No. 16 Utah (4-1). The only one of those in which the Buffs likely won’t be underdogs is probably the Wildcats’ visit to Folsom on Nov. 11.

Meanwhile, CU seems incapable of playing more than 30-35 minutes of good football on a given weekend, win or lose, and even Sanders and his staff seem genuinely befuddled as to when that light might suddenly come on and how best to maintain it before the flickering kicks in. Sean Lewis’ offense scored touchdowns on their first four possessions, then took a nap in the third quarter, getting outscored immediately after halftime by a count of 19-0.

“What I just said in the locker room to the team is, they gotta make up their mind,” Sanders continued. “Are they in love with this game or (are) they in ‘like’ with it? Because when you love something, you give to it unconditionally. You give everything you got.”

In his first game back after suffering a lacerated liver Sept. 16, Hunter looked even better as a wideout (13 catches, 140 yards) than he did at cornerback.

Although credit on that last front should also go to Ayomanor, who did all of his damage after halftime and even spent a few minutes after the game alone on the cold Folsom turf taking pictures for posterity. At one point, the Canadian posed in north end zone with the iconic “COLORADO” logo along the south side positioned over his shoulder.

“I was too late to find (Sanders and Hunter) when they went off the field, but I was trying to find them,” the Stanford wideout told me as he was leaving the building early Saturday morning.

“I have a whole bunch of respect for those guys. Especially Travis, to see that he plays both ways – I was super-gassed this game. I was so tired and had to go against him every snap, basically. And just to see how much resilience he has, it’s awesome. I have a lot of respect for that dude.”

That dude looked super-gassed, too, by the way. Or hurt. Or both.

Coach Prime has been tempting the football gods for two years by running Hunter, who was dinged at Jackson State, too, out for more than 100 snaps per game. Yes, the kid’s special. He’s not a cyborg.

“Things like that, that (were) transpiring, which I – we – can’t even wrap our head around it,” Coach Prime groused, “because we practiced this stuff. Repeatedly.”

Man, these Buffs are gonna kill Kelly yet. Assuming, of course, he doesn’t kill them first.