Colorado v. Texas – 1990
After opening the 1990 season with a 1-1-1 record, there was little discussion about a national championship in Boulder. Coming off an 11-1 season in 1989, expectations were high for the Buffs, but a 31-31 tie with Tennessee, a last-second win over Stanford, and a loss to Illinois reduced Colorado fans to looking forward to the Big Eight campaign.
Two non-conference games remained, both against ranked teams. Before a home game against 12th-ranked Washington in Boulder, the Buffs had to travel to Austin to face Texas. The 22nd-ranked Longhorns were 1-0, have defeated Penn State to open the season. Texas was looking to improve on a 5-6 record in 1989 (the Longhorns would go on to a 10-2 season), and had a bye week to prepare for the Buffs.
A 1-3-1 non-conference record, unthinkable a few weeks earlier, was now a distinct possibility.
September 22nd – @ Texas #20 Colorado 29, #22 Texas 22
Colorado returned to the win column with a hard-fought 29-22 victory over Texas. Eric Bieniemy scored three touchdowns, including the go-ahead touchdown with 5:57 to play. For the game, Bieniemy rushed for 99 yards, while his backfield mate, fullback George Hemingway, posted 76 yards rushing on only seven carries.
The game was one of streaks. Two Darian Hagan fumbles in the first quarter led to two Texas scores. The first led to a six-yard touchdown pass from Peter Gardere to Kerry Cash. Then, after Hagan connected with fullback George Hemingway on a 38-yard touchdown to tie the game, a second Hagan fumble resulted in a 47-yard field goal by Michael Pollak just before the end of the first quarter.
The Buffs took their first lead of the game midway through the second quarter with an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped by an Eric Bieniemy two-yard touchdown run. A second Pollak field goal just before half, this time from 25 yards out, cut the Buffs’ lead to 14-13 at the break.
The third quarter was all Texas. The Longhorns kept possession for 12:17 of the quarter, allowing the Buffs only five offensive plays. Still, Texas could only post one score, a two-yard run by Phil Brown. The score remained 19-14 a few moments later, though, when a two-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
The Buffs were down only one score, but it may as well have been three. The Colorado offense was showing no signs of life. From the end of the second quarter through the start of the fourth, Texas ran 27 plays. During that same time, the Buffs ran only five. A 22-yard field goal by Texas early in the fourth quarter upped the lead to 22-14.
Their season now on the line, the Buffs quickly responded. A four minute drive covering 60 yards in nine plays ended with Bieniemy scoring from four yards out with still over ten minutes to play. A Hagan pass to tie the score failed, however, and the Buffs were still down two, 22-20. Energized, the Colorado defense forced a punt on the Longhorns’ next possession. A 43-yard punt return by Dave McCloughan gave the Buffs’ momentum. “You always want to make big plays,” said McCloughan. “They kicked it to the right side of the field, and I got behind the wall. It turned into a big play”. The Buffs took the lead for good on Bieniemy’s third touchdown of the afternoon, a two-yard run with 5:47 to play.
The game still in doubt, the Colorado defense did not allow Texas past its own 40-yard line on the Longhorns’ final two possessions. The first ended when defensive lineman Garry Howe tackled Gardere for a loss on fourth down. After a Tom Rouen punt rolled dead at the Texas three yard line, as senior linebacker Alfred Williams sacked Texas quarterback Peter Gardere for a safety with 29 seconds to play.
Colorado 29, Texas 22.
Alfred Williams recalls Bieniemy rallying the troops
When, in 2010, linebacker Alfred Williams was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, one of the games which stood out in his mind was the 1990 Texas game. Williams told CUBuffs.com about the pivotal fourth quarter:
“I remember that fourth quarter of the Texas game my senior year when we took over,” Williams said. “It had been so long since we were in that kind in situation, trailing on the road in the fourth quarter (22-14) in a hostile environment, I am pretty sure for the first time since my sophomore year.
“EB (Eric Bieniemy) led the offense out on the field between the third and fourth quarter to fire up the defense, what many say was the turning point of the season. It worked, and we held them to a field goal (to keep the score manageable, at 22-14), the offense came back and I was fortunate to end the game with a sack in the end zone for a safety to seal the deal. But very rarely did we correspond so-to-speak during the game because EB was offense and I was defense and we were seldom on the sidelines at the same time.”
The Buffs’ win over Texas knocked the Longhorns out of the poll, but did not move the Buffs up, as Colorado remained ranked #20. The 2-1-1 Buffs could now head home, but there was no time to rest. Washington, another 1989 Colorado victim, was coming to Boulder with a #12 national ranking. The 3-0 Huskies were fresh from a 31-0 pasting of rival USC, and were ready to show they were national title contenders themselves.
The road to national attention and respect was a difficult one, and Colorado could not afford any let up. A loss to Washington from the Pac-10 would not affect Buff hopes for returning to the Orange Bowl as champions of the Big Eight, but a 2-2-1 record would undoubtedly push the Buffs off of the national radar.
It was time for the Colorado defense to make a stand.
Game Notes -
– After being suspended for the opener, Eric Bieniemy went on to post over 100 yards rushing in every other game in 1990 – except the Texas game. The Longhorns held Bieniemy to 99 yards on 26 carries, but did not keep Bieniemy from getting into the endzone three times. Bieniemy also had the Buffs’ longest non-scoring catch of the season in the Texas game, a 41-yarder.
– Senior linebacker Alfred Williams, for the fourth time in his Colorado career, was named the Big Eight Defensive Player-of-the-Week. Against Texas, Williams had ten tackles (seven solo). Included in that total were two sacks, including a tackle in the endzone of the Longhorn quarterback for a game-clinching safety.
– The Buffs fumbled the ball seven times against Texas, but lost only three.
– A week after linebacker Greg Biekert set a new school record with 20 tackles in a game, fellow linebacker Chad Brown matched it, with 20 tackles against Texas.
– Fullback George Hemingway, who did not see the ball much in the first three games, gained 76 yards on seven rushes, and caught three passes for 54 yards, including the 38-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
– The win, coupled with the 27-6 win in the 1989 season opener, gave Colorado a 2-4 overall record against Texas.
– Texas recovered well from its loss to Colorado, going through the remainder of the season undefeated. A 10-1 record was good enough for third in the nation heading into the bowl season. A 46-3 thumping by 4th-ranked Miami, though, dropped the Longhorns all the way to 12th in the final poll (and certainly didn’t help the Buffs’ with the pollsters when left to choose between Colorado and Georgia Tech).