Stanford committed four turnovers Saturday and sustained a disappointing 10-5 defeat to Colorado on Reunion Homecoming at sunny and breezy Stanford Stadium.
The Buffaloes intercepted three passes and recovered a fourth-quarter fumble deep in their territory to beat the Cardinal for the first time in six meetings.
"We're capable of doing so much more," said David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.
Colorado (6-2, 4-1) dominated much of the game but allowed the Cardinal to stay close by missing three field goals, two inside the 30.
After missing last week's game against Notre Dame with an injury, running back Christian McCaffrey returned to the starting lineup but couldn't ignite the struggling offense. He finished with 92 yards on 21 carries, but his longest run was 11 yards.
Burns had a difficult day, completing 16 of 29 attempts for 170 yards and was picked off three times. A costly fumble on first and goal at the Colorado 4 with 10:34 remaining in the fourth quarter came when Burns mishandled the exchange from center Jesse Burkett.
That spoiled a gallant effort by the Stanford defense, which yielded a game-high 131 rushing yards to Phillip Lindsay. Led by Solomon Thomas and Joey Alfieri, the unit produced five sacks.
Although Colorado out-rushed Stanford, 224-93, its 10 points were the fewest by the Buffs in a winning cause since a 6-0 victory at Missouri in 1992.
"We missed too many tackles," said Thomas. "That's totally unacceptable. We can't let that happen."
Through three quarters, Colorado out-rushed Stanford, 187-69. Still, thanks to the missed field goals, the Cardinal trailed only 7-3.
A 60-yard punt by Jake Bailey pinned Colorado at its own 6, and the defense forced a quick punt.
Starting from his 34, Burns hit Trenton Irwin on third-and-8 for 16 yards. A personal foul tacked on 15 yards to the Colorado 15, where two McCaffrey runs gave Stanford first-and-goal at the 4. But the snap was fumbled and Bay Area product Kennth Olugbode recovered.
The Cardinal defense gave the offense another opportunity but again it resulted in a turnover. On third-and-15 from his own 30, Burns was intercepted by strong safety Tedric Thompson, who returned it 30 yards to the Stanford 20.
This time, Colorado capitalized. Although the defense dug in, Chris Graham converted a 23-yard field goal to give the Buffs a 10-3 lead with 2:30 left.
The Cardinal caught a break on the ensuing kickoff when the ball sailed out of bounds. But Burns was intercepted again.
Colorado took an intentional safety with four seconds to play, and Stanford ran one play before time expired.
"Moments don't make good teams," said Shaw, who liked what he saw during the week in practice. "Consistency does. We have to get that translated to game day."
Even with the return of McCaffrey, Stanford sputtered offensively in the first half. It's only points came on a 26-yard field goal by Conrad Ukropina late in the first quarter, capping a seven-minute drive.
Stanford was its own worst enemy, committing six penalties. The toughest sequence occurred midway through the second quarter when Burns lofted a well-thrown pass down the far sideline to Michael Rector, who caught the ball in stride for a 25-yard gain to the Colorado 45.
It went backwards from there. The Cardinal sustained two holding calls, a delay of game penalty and a sack, the latter resulting in a 19-yard loss and fumble recovered by offensive lineman Casey Tucker, preventing further damage.
For the first time since facing UCLA in the season's third game, Stanford starting cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder were back in the lineup. That bolstered the secondary until Colorado's first possession of the third quarter when Holder was assisted off the field with an injury.
The lone touchdown of the half came early in the second quarter when Liufau drilled a 19-yard scoring pass to Shay Fields on a slant pattern on third and 12.
The Buffaloes, who used a no-huddle offense, also drove to the Cardinal 22 but were unable to capitalize when Chris Graham missed a 42-yard field goal attempt wide left.
No one is more frustrated by his team's offensive struggles than Shaw, who has guided Stanford to three Pac-12 titles in the past four years, two Rose Bowl Game wins and at least 11 victories in four of his previous five seasons at the helm.
"We have high expectations for our football program," he said. "Our fans deserve better and our defense deserves better."
Saturday's starting offensive line was the fourth combination Shaw has used and the Cardinal was minus senior guard David Bright, who missed his first game in three years.
"It's difficult to get guys healthy in the middle of the year without a bye," said Shaw. "But that's our charge."
So is improved execution. He still believes much can be achieved in the last five games, starting next Saturday night at Arizona.
"Our personnel doesn't reflect our production, and all the fingers point to me," he said. "It's my responsibility to get the most out of what we have."