Against USC, Colorado rediscovered its run game.
Against Arizona State, Shedeur Sanders rekindled his Rocky Mountain Showdown magic.
Sanders, CU’s starting quarterback and son of coach Deion Sanders, threw for 239 yards, including a critical 43-yard toss to Javon Antonio with 50 seconds left in a tie game, to power the Buffs to a 27-24 win over the Sun Devils early Saturday night at Mountain America Stadium.
The victory was CU’s first in Pac-12 play after an 0-2 conference start and moved the Buffs to 4-2 on the season. Coach Prime’s roster is two wins away from bowl eligibility with six games left to play — three of the next four tilts coming at Folsom Field.
The Buffs had momentum when Carter Stoutmire blocked an ASU field goal with 6:32 left, preserving a 24-17 CU lead.
But the visitors couldn’t take advantage, punting the ball back after seven plays and 21 yards.
ASU quarterback Trenton Bourguet took over from there, completing seven of 12 passes and orchestrating a 13-play, 94-yard touchdown drive capped by a stunning, 15-yard scoring pas to Troy Omeire, setting up the game-tying extra point.
But the Buffs had the final say.
Shedeur Sanders could be seen sitting with his head in a towel with 3:20 left in the third quarter after two fruitless drives, one that included his fourth sack of the contest.
But the transfer QB led the offense back onto the field with 1:07 left in the third quarter — and led with his passion and his legs. On second-and-3 from the Buffs’ 46, the CU signal-caller took off, picked up the first down, and engaged two ASU defenders rather than that slide to avoid contact. A 12-yard run set up a first down and another Sanders run, this one evoked a late hit on Caleb McCullough and another set of downs at the Sun Devils’ 22. A zone-read mesh between the younger Sanders and Hankerson turned into a 13-yard rush to the hosts’ 9.
CU took its first lead of the evening two plays later on a pick play in the end zone that freed up Antonio for a 9-yard scoring catch. The extra point put the Buffs up 21-17 with 14:32 to play.
Special teams were a mixed bag for the Buffs, to put it kindly. The highlight was Xavier Weaver’s 51-yard punt return with 12:07 left in the game, a jolt to the visitors’ sideline that gave CU the ball at the home 25. The drive stalled but Alejandro Mata nailed a 42-yard field goal, his longest of the season, to extend the Buffs’ lead to 24-17 with 10:13 remaining in the fourth stanza.
The second surge came four minutes later, when Stoutmire got a mitt up and deflected Dario Longhetto’s 52-yard field-goal attempt, keeping the hosts scoreless in the second half.
The Buffs looked got the last word in a herky-jerky, see-saw first half when Shedeur Sanders saw a gap open up in the ASU defense on third-and-10, scrambling for a 16-yard score and trimming the Sun Devils’ cushion to 14-13 before the extra point with 54 seconds left in the second quarter.
But the hosts cowboyed-up, zipping 48 yards on seven snaps the other direction, capping a 50-second drive with a 33-yard field goal as time expired to reclaim the lead, 17-14, at the break.
The polish and poise Coach Sanders wanted to see early was absent for CU’s first quarter-and-a-half. The Buffs had a kickoff trickle out of bounds, shanked a 29-yard punt that gave ASU the ball at midfield, and surrendered three sacks in the tilt’s first 16 minutes and four in the opening 25. CU converted just one of its first seven third-down opportunities.
A Shilo Sanders missed tackle on third-and-7 with 11:30 left in the first half turned a potential 5-yard gain at the Buffs 18 into a 13-yarder and a fresh set of downs. ASU would score three plays later to regain the lead, 13-7.
Center Van Wells missed first drive; the Buffs went backward, losing 12 yards on three snaps. Wells returned for the offense’s second series as coordinator Sean Lewis shifted gears. Going with an even increased tempo, Hankerson touched the ball four straight times — catch, run, run, catch — to help propel CU from a third-and-3 at its own 32 to a first-and-10 at the ASU 42.
The Buffs appeared to stall at the ASU 29, but the elder Sanders went for it on fourth-and-8 with a perfectly-timed screen to speedy back Dylan Edwards, who found a corner and turned it up field for a 15-yard gain. The younger Sanders’ next pass was 12-yard dart to Michael Harrison to to the Sun Devils 2. The visitors netted only one yard over the next three players, but Coach Prime rolled the dice again rather than attempt a short kick, and came up trumps again, as a slot run by receiver Xavier Weaver got CU into the end zone for the first time and capped a 16-play, 75-yard drive that saw the Buffs convert both of their fourth-down tries.
On the Sun Devils’ opening drive, CU forced long downs-and-distances, only to wind up burned in the desert. The hosts faced a third-and-12 at the Buffs 48, but the defense unraveled quickly. ASU’s Trenton Bourguet found Troy Omeire for a 27-yard gain to the CU 21. On first-and-19 at the Buffs 30, Bourguet found Elijhah Badger on a crossing route — another one — for a 28-yard gain to the 2. That set up ASU’s first score of the afternoon, a 2-yard Bourguet run on off a funky formation with massive offensive line splits that was ruled legal after a review.