September 14th – Boulder No. 11 Michigan 20, No. 5 Colorado 13
The college football world turned its focus on Boulder, Colorado, for the season’s third weekend. As it turned out, the Colorado/Michigan game was be the only game in the country between two ranked teams, so the national media, including the Gameday crew from ESPN, were on hand for the game. A crowd of 53,788, the third-largest in Folsom Field history, crammed into the stadium to see the second game of the three game series. If the “Hail Mary” game of 1994 was any indication, the game would be one for the ages.
Make that one for the “do over” file.
The game can be summarized by three numbers: 14, 99, and -1. Fourteen were the number of penalties committed by the Buffs (the third straight game with over 10 penalties); 99 represents the yards lost on the penalties, and -1 for the 20-13 loss.
Colorado was held scoreless in the second half for the first time in 42 games after assuming a 13-10 halftime lead. Lendon Henry scored on a eight yard run to put the Buffs up 7-3 in the second quarter, and the Buffs went to the locker room up 13-10 (the PAT was blocked) after Koy Detmer hit junior receiver Phil Savoy on a five-yard strike.
Capitalizing on two short Colorado punts, Michigan scored twice in the third, first on a 42-yard field goal to tie the game, then taking the lead for good in the final minute of the third on a three-yard touchdown pass from Scott Dreisbach to Matt Tuman.
While the Buffs were held scoreless in the second half, they did have their chances in the fourth quarter. Midway through the fourth, Detmer hit James Kidd for an apparent 46-yard touchdown pass, only to have the play called back on an illegal motion penalty on freshman tight end Brody Heffner. Instead of tying the score, the drive ended on a failed fourth-down pass. In the fateful drive, the Buffs gained 102 yards (not including the 46 yards for the nullified touchdown) and yet failed to score. Penalties. Penalties. And more Penalties.
All hope for a miracle finish looked bleak for Colorado as Michigan was running out the clock with the Buffs out of time outs. Fortunately for Colorado, Wolverine quarterback Scott Dreisbach suffered a mental lapse late as Michigan faced a fourth down with the clock running. Instead of taking the snap from center and holding the ball for a few seconds, Dreisbach took a knee. The clock automatically stopped with the change of possession.
Five seconds still remained on the game clock.
The opportunity for one play remained. Colorado had the ball at the Michigan 37 yard line. Colorado called the same play which had sent the 1994 game into history – Rocket Jets Right. Detmer took the snap, faded back, paused, and then heaved the ball for the right side of the endzone. Several Buffs and Wolverines were there (including a sophomore Wolverine defensive back by the name of Charles Woodson), but this time the ball was deflected harmlessly toward the sidelines.
Game over. Michigan 20, Colorado 13.
This time, it was Michigan’s turn to celebrate on the opponents’ home turf. As if the sting of the sudden end to the game was not enough, the skies over Boulder, which had been clear and sunny at kickoff, drenched the near-record crowd as they scrambled for the exits.
Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel had no answers after the game. “We made far too many little mental mistakes – in terms of penalties – for us to be a successful football team. We’ve been living kind of on the edge with those in the first two weeks of the season, and for whatever reason – although we addressed it with a great amount of vigor during the week – we came apart.”
Colorado, with the loss, fell from No. 5 to No. 12 in the national rankings. It was CU’s first ranking outside of the top ten in 19 straight polls, dating back to the middle of the 1995 season.
Colorado now had a bye week to contemplate its 2-1 record, and to prepare for Colorado’s first ever Big 12 Conference game.
The night before the Michigan game, a pep rally was held on the Boulder campus. It was the first pep rally of any significance which I could remember since 1982, when new head coach Bill McCartney tried to inspire the student body during the week leading up to the Nebraska game. Local celebrities, including CU’s own Chris Fowler from ESPN, were on hand. Also in attendance was CU head coach Rick Neuheisel.
Neuheisel, as had become a custom on his local television show, had guitar in hand. With the encouragement of the thousand or so CU faithful in attendance at Farrand Field behind Baker Hall, Neuheisel led the Colorado band in the playing of the school song. Neuheisel also had a song for Michigan. To the tune of “Home on the Range”, Neuheisel crooned:
“Home, home, on the range
Where the Colorado Buffaloes play
We’ll run and we’ll pass
We’ll kick your ass
And send you on your way”
Neuheisel was quite popular the night before the Michigan game. 2-0 on the young season, 12-2 as Colorado’s head coach, Neuheisel could afford to be quirky and unconventional. Neuheisel was seen as a breath of fresh air after the staid and strict regime of coach Bill McCartney.
After the Michigan game, though, “unconventional” was replaced by “undisciplined” as the description of choice for those uncomfortable with the new coach’s style. The Buffs had 36 penalties in three games – the most in all of Division 1-A. The new coach was now somewhat on the defensive as the Buffs headed into conference play in the new Big 12.
Game Notes -
- Colorado was held scoreless in the second half of a game for the first time since 1992 (a 42-game span).
- Colorado out-gained Michigan, 357 yards to 247, but could not overcome 14 penalties (to three called on Michigan).
- Junior Rae Carruth led the Buffs with 116 yards on seven catches. Carruth would go on to lead the team in 1996 with 1,116 receiving yards on 54 catches (eight touchdowns).
- Safety Ryan Black had a great game against the Wolverines, posting 23 tackles (12 unassisted). Also posting double digits in tackles were linebacker Ron Merkerson (11) junior nose tackle Ryan Olson (11) and junior defensive tackle Viliami Maumau (10).
- Michigan would go on to post an 8-4 record in 1996. A 13-9 victory over No. 2 Ohio State was the highlight, but the Wolverines finished with a No. 20 ranking after a 17-14 loss to Alabama in the Outback Bowl.