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No. 22 Oklahoma – The return of Great Expectations

// Oct 27 - 1990

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October 27th – Boulder           No. 10 Colorado 32, No. 22 Oklahoma 23

Like the Buffs, the Oklahoma entered the 1990 campaign with high hopes.

Five weeks into the season, the Sooners seemed to be well on their way to realizing their dreams. Oklahoma took a 5-0 record and a No. 4 national ranking to play Texas in Dallas, only to be turned away by the unranked Longhorns, 14-13. The loss was hard to take, but not nearly as debilitating as the loss the next week to Iowa State, 33-31. The upset by the Cyclones left the Sooners looking for answers as they headed to Boulder. Now ranked 22nd in the nation, Oklahoma was riding a two game regular season losing streak for the first time in almost a decade. Colorado already had a loss and a tie, but was undefeated in Big Eight play.

With Nebraska still undefeated, the Sooners and the Buffs knew that the loser of their game was likely out of the race for the Big Eight championship.

In a game filled with anxious moments and big plays, the Colorado Buffaloes finally prevailed over the Oklahoma Sooners, 32-23. Each team posted scores in all four quarters as neither team could take control. In fact, the game turned on a controversial call by Oklahoma coach Gary Gibbs early in the fourth quarter which turned the momentum finally in the Buffs’ favor.

The game started poorly in the eyes of most of the sellout crowd of 51,967. Oklahoma scored on its opening drive of the game, going 80 yards on 16 plays to take a 7-0 lead, with the six minute drive capped by a five-yard run by quarterback Cale Gundy. The Buffs responded with two Jim Harper field goals to cut the lead to 7-6 midway through the second.

Oklahoma quickly expanded the edge to 14-6, though, scoring on an 80-yard pass from Mike Gundy to Ted Long on the Sooners’ next play from scrimmage. The Buffs appeared to be reeling, as on Oklahoma’s next possession, the Sooners drove deep into Colorado territory. The Buffs’ defense stiffened, though, and Oklahoma was denied a 17-6 lead when a 37-yard field goal attempt by Oklahoma kicker R.D. Lasher was blocked by Colorado free safety Greg Thomas. “That was a big play,” coach Bill McCartney would say after the game. “It shifted things around.”

The Buffs managed to score just before half for the fifth consecutive game, with Darian Hagan connecting with Mike Pritchard from 12 yards out. The two-point conversion attempt failed, however, and Oklahoma took a 14-12 halftime edge into the lockerrooms.

Eric Bieniemy, who had 188 yards on 28 carries on the day, gave Colorado its first lead of the game, 18-14, early in the third quarter on a 69-yard run. The score was 18-17, Colorado, when the game turned on just a handful of plays.

Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, the Sooners were driving. At the Colorado 11-yard line, Oklahoma faced a fourth-and-one. Eschewing the easy field goal, Oklahoma head coach Gary Gibbs went for the first down. On the option play, the mainstay of the Sooner offense, tailback Dewell Brewer was dropped by safety Tim James for a four yard loss. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, they’ve got something they know will work’,” said Bill McCartney. “I don’t know what their thinking was, but I’m not going to second-guess them. But it certainly didn’t hurt us.”

Taking over on their own 15-yard line, the Buffs immediately capitalized, with Hagan connecting with junior tight end Rico Smith for an 85-yard touchdown pass. A few minutes later, Sooner quarterback Steve Collins, subbing for an injured Cale Gundy, was intercepted, and Darian Hagan scored on a three-yard run. What had appeared to be a go-ahead drive by the Sooners just a few moments earlier was now a 32-17 Colorado lead.

After the game, Gibbs defended his call. “Three points wasn’t going to win the football game for us,” said the Sooner head coach about his fourth down call. “We felt the odds were in our favor. But Colorado did a nice job of taking away the option we had called.” Said Colorado head coach Bill McCartney: “I was surprised when they went for it on fourth down.” Tim James, who made the momentum-swinging tackle, was not. “I wasn’t surprised so much”, said the senior safety, “because they’re so arrogant. I knew they’d go for it.”

Gibbs’ gamble paid off well – for the Buffs. Oklahoma, losers now of three consecutive games (for the first time in 25 seasons), fell out of the Big Eight race (though the Sooners would respond with three wins to finish the season 8-3). Now Colorado and Nebraska stood alone, and were set now to do battle in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers were 8-0, ranked third in the country, moving up one spot after No. 2 Auburn had to block an extra point late to preserve an 18-17 win over Mississippi State. The Buffs also moved up one spot in the new poll, to No. 9 overall.

Six teams, including No. 7 Washington, were still receiving first place votes. For Colorado, the opportunity was there; the math was simple.

Beat Nebraska, and national prominence would be restored.

A loss to the Cornhuskers, on the other hand, meant a third blemish on the season record, and a mid-major bowl at best.

The Nebraska/Colorado duel was an all-or-nothing proposition – and the Colorado Buffaloes would choose “nothing” for three quarters against Nebraska … then take it all.

Here is the YouTube video of the game, courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul:

 

Great Expectations

If any team in the nation could be unhappy about a No. 3 ranking and an 8-0 record, it was Nebraska. The Cornhuskers had posted gaudy offensive numbers, scoring over 40 points in five of its wins (including two games over 60 points). The Nebraska defense led the nation in fewest yards and points allowed. But for all of the statistics, Nebraska could not generate the national attention it desired.

The Colorado game, the ninth game of the season, would represent only the second television appearance of the season for the Cornhuskers. The media perception was that Colorado had played a tough schedule, while Nebraska would be facing its first true test of the season the first weekend of November. “We certainly, admittedly, have not played anywhere near the schedule Colorado has played and yet we’ve survived some reasonable teams”, said Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne. “They (Colorado) have not had many patsies.”

A Nebraska win would all but assure the Cornhuskers of an Orange Bowl invitation, and a likely opportunity to play Virginia or Notre Dame for the national title.

A Colorado win would breathe life into the national title aspirations of a number of teams, including the Buffs.

Game Notes –

– For his 13-tackle performance (which included a sack), senior defensive tackle Garry Howe was named the Big Eight Defensive Player-of-the-Week.

– The Oklahoma game was the only game in the entire 1990 season in which Colorado did not suffer a fumble.

– After throwing only four touchdown passes in the Buffs’ first eight games, quarterback Darian Hagan had two touchdown passes against Oklahoma, going for 12 yards to Mike Pritchard, and 85 yards to Rico Smith. Before the Oklahoma game, Rico Smith, a junior college transfer, had seven catches totaling 165 yards for the entire season. The 85-yard touchdown was the fourth longest pass completion in Colorado history (the longest being a 90-yarder from Marc Walters to Jeff Campbell v. Kansas State in 1988).

– The 460 yards of total offense was the most for Colorado against Oklahoma since 1976 (when the Buffs put up 477 yards in a 42-31 victory).

– The win gave Colorado back-to-back victories in the series against Oklahoma for the first time since 1965-66, and was only the 10th victory ever for the Buffs against the Sooners (10-34-1). Some of the sobering numbers about the Colorado/Oklahoma series … coming into the game in 1990, Oklahoma had a 15-5-1 record against Colorado in Boulder … In the all-time series, Oklahoma held a scoring edge of 1288-633 (a score of 29-14, on average) … the last Colorado win over Oklahoma in Boulder had come in 1976.

– Oklahoma’s score on its first possession marked the eighth time in nine games in which the Colorado opponent scored first (the lone exception being the Kansas game).

– Eric Bieniemy’s seventh 100-yard game in eight outings (Bieniemy had 99 yards against Texas) helped move the senior into second place on the all-time total offense list. Bieniemy had 188 yards against Oklahoma, giving him 3,612 yards of total offense, passing Steve Vogel (3,501; 1981-84).

– The sellout crowd of 51,967 marked the third consecutive sellout at Folsom Field, and only the second time in Colorado history (1972) in which the Buffs had drawn 50,000+ in four consecutive home games.

Associated Press poll – October 29th

1. Virginia

2. Notre Dame

3. Nebraska

4. Auburn

5. Illinois

6. Houston

7. Washington

8. Miami

9. Colorado

10. BYU

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