September 10th – Boulder Colorado 45, Fresno State 3
Colorado opened the 1988 season with an impressive domination of Fresno State, running up a final score of 45-3 before a sparse crowd of 32,417. The Buffs amassed a decade-high 446 yards rushing, led by Eric Bieniemy, who posted 118 yards and a touchdown. In all, Colorado had four players rush for over 70 yards, with the outcome never seriously in doubt.
For a team which spent most of its time on the ground, the Buffs scored their first touchdown of the season in an unusual fashion -through the air. With 10:40 left to play in the first quarter, Sal Aunese connected with Mike Pritchard for a 35-yard score and a lead Colorado would not relinquish. A 29-yard field goal by Eric Hannah gave the Buffs a 10-0 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
The Bulldogs tried to make a game of it ended early in the second quarter, driving inside the Colorado ten yard line. The Buffs’ defense stiffened, though, and Fresno State had to settle for a 24-yard field goal.
A 14-point burst in the first five minutes of the third quarter removed any doubts about the outcome. A 74-yard run by Jeff Campbell gave Colorado a 17-3 lead, with the advantage upped to 24-3 a few moments later after a 35-yard touchdown run by Eric Bieniemy. The remainder of the game the Buffs’ coaching staff experimented with different lineups, with sophomore backup quarterback Marc Walters contributing a 20-yard touchdown pass to fullback George Hemingway, and freshman backup quarterback Darian Hagan scoring on a ten-yard run.
The Buffs= defense more than held up its end, holding Fresno State to 177 total yards, allowing only the 24-yard second quarter field goal.
Colorado had won convincingly, but did not impress the nation=s pollsters. Colorado did make its debut amongst the Aothers@ in the AP poll, but only accumulated two points and a Aranking@ of 39th overall. There was some good news for the Buffs that first weekend, though, as 2nd-ranked Nebraska was stunned by 5th-ranked UCLA, 41-28, dropping the hated Cornhuskers out of the top ten.
But Colorado could not worry about any other schools. Up next for the Buffs was a trip to Iowa City, Iowa, to face the 19th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa, stunned by Hawaii, 27-24, in its season-opener, was 1-1 on the season after rebounding with a 45-10 rout of Kansas State. The Hawkeyes, led by senior quarterback Chuck Hartlieb, had national aspirations of their own, and knew they could not afford to look past the Buffs if their goals were to be achieved.
The Buffs were touted as a possible contender for Big Eight and national honors in 1988. The program had put together three consecutive regular season winning records for the first time since 1976-78. Any yet, only 32,417 bothered to attend the 1988 season opener. Granted, Fresno State was not a marquee draw and the Buffs had yet to prove themselves to be consistent winners, but 32,417? The crowd was the smallest home crowd to come see the Buffs since 28,210 braved a November chill in 1985 to see Colorado close out the season against hapless Kansas State.
For Colorado to demand national respect, the Buffs would have to first win over their own fans.
Game Notes –
– On offense, two linemen received their first starts against Fresno State. For junior Darrin Muilenburg, the “first start” label came with an asterik – it was his first start at right guard. Muilenburg, as a sophomore, started all 11 games in 1987 at right tackle. For sophomore Mark VanderPoel, however, Fresno State marked his first start at any position. VanderPoel took ovedr Muilenburg’s former position of right tackle, and the tandem went on to start every game of 1988 side by side.
– For the defense, junior Oakland Salavea received his first career start, lining up at outside linebacker. Joining Salavea in making their first career starts against Fresno State was the entire starting defensive backfield. The Buffs started four seniors in 1987, requiring four fresh faces for 1988. The starting cornerbacks for the game with the Bulldogs were junior Keith Pontiflet and and sophomore Dave McCloughan. At safety, the starters were sophomore Tim James and junior Bruce Young. The Colorado secondary held Fresno State to only 80 yards passing, but it was not one of the new defensive backs who made the headlines. Instead, it was sophomore linebacker Terry Johnson, who had not one, but two interceptions on the afternoon.
– Freshman quarterback Darian Hagan gave Colorado fans a glimpse of what was to come, going for 85 yards on only four carries against Fresno State. Oddly enough, though, the Fresno State game was to be the highwater mark of the 1988 season for Hagan, who would go on to participate in only 71 plays all season, failing to letter (100 plays required).
– The Colorado passing game was still all but non-existent against Fresno State, with the Buffs only attempting seven passes all day. The Buffs were efficient, however, as of their three completions, two went for touchdowns.
– Jeff Campbell had the Buffs’ longest run from scrimmage for all of 1988 with his 74-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against Fresno State. The longest non-scoring run of the year also came against the Bulldogs, as freshman Darian Hagan went for 63 yards before being tackled.
– While the final score may give the impression that 1988 was a down year for Fresno State, the results were actually quite the contrary. The Bulldogs would go on to post a 9-2 regular season record (losing only to Colorado and Oregon State), and would finish a 10-2 campaign with a 35-30 win over Western Michigan in the short-lived California Bowl (played in Fresno between 1981-91). Despite the ten win season, Fresno State finished the 1988 season outside of the Top 20 in the final poll.