August 31st – Boulder No. 5 Colorado 37, Washington State 19
Senior quarterback Koy Detmer made a triumphant return to Folsom Field, leading the Buffs to a convincing 37-19 win over Washington State.
Washington State came into the game on the heels of a 3-8 1995 campaign, but were not to be taken lightly. Led by sophomore quarterback Ryan Leaf, the Cougars were picked to finish in the middle of the Pac-10 Conference in 1996.
The Buffs started slowly, scoring only on a 31-yard field goal by Jason Lesley in the first quarter. In the second stanza, though, Colorado posted three scores to take a commanding 24-6 halftime lead. Detmer opened the touchdown spree, scoring on a one-yard sneak to open the second quarter. Detmer later connected on scoring tosses of seven yards to senior receiver James Kidd and 43 yards to junior Chris Anderson.
Taking the second half kick, the Buffs marched down the field, going 96 yards in eight plays to take any lingering mystery out of the game. On a perfectly timed screen, Detmer hit running back Herchell Troutman for 25 yards and a 31-6 lead.
From there, the Buffs went on cruise control, coasting to a 37-19 victory.
Detmer finished with 254 yards passing on the day, chipping in an additional 23 yards rushing. For his efforts, Detmer was named the first-ever Big 12 Conference’s Offensive Player-of-the-Week. Troutman led all rushers with 83 yards on 15 attempts, including his regular-season best carry of 50 yards, while junior Lendon Henry chipped in 75 yards on 14 carries.
The game was not without its adverse moments, however. On the day, the Buffs were flagged for 11 penalties for 79 yards. Also, the Buffs got sloppy late in the game. Inside the Cougar 10-yard line with under five minutes to go, the Buffs’ third-string quarterback, freshman Jeremy Weisinger, fumbled the ball on a bootleg. Washington State defensive end Dorian Boose picked up the loose ball and rumbled 94 yards for a touchdown to make the score 37-13. After the Cougars recovered an onside kick, Leaf drove Washington State for a consolation touchdown with 2:30 left in the game. A 37-6 lead, with 44-6 only a few yards away, made the 37-19 final less palatable.
For his part, head coach Rick Neuheisel was philosophic: “Everybody comes with high hopes and expectations and anticipation of seeing a finished product in week one, and its just not going to be that way ….. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that you never take winning for granted, and, albeit it wasn’t as impressive as it maybe could have been, I’m still pleased with the victory.”
Perception is Everything
The two touchdowns at the end of the Washington State game would not have concerned me ten years earlier. After all, a win was a win. Now, however, the stakes were greatly raised. Colorado was the fifth-ranked team in the nation, and, especially early in the season, perception is everything. Struggle against a weaker team, or what is seen at the time to be a weaker team, and the fall can be precipitous.
An example – losses by Notre Dame and Michigan to Northwestern early in 1995 caused significant falls from grace for the losers. As this was before Northwestern went on to prove that it had a pretty darn good football team that year (under former CU assistant Gary Barnett), detractors for the more-storied teams were more vocal than they would have been had the games taken place later in the season, and the fall in the polls was more drastic than if the games had been played in November.
Colorado in the mid-1990′s was amongst the elite of college football. As a result, Colorado began several seasons ranked higher than perhaps it deserved. (I know, this is quite an admission from a Buffs fan, but it is true for all of the better teams). Other teams, who have not yet “proven” themselves, were forced to pull off an upset or post a 5-0 record to break into the ranks.(In 1996, Wyoming was not ranked until a 7-0 record was achieved; Army remained unranked until its record hit 9-0).
This brings us back to the Washington State game. Driving with a 37-7 lead, the Buffs were looking for a 44-7 lead. This certainly reads much different to one breezing through headlines than a score of 37-19.
It was no longer good enough for Colorado just to win, the Buffs had to win impressively. My frustration at the Washington State game, then, centered not so much on the penalties as the look of the final score.
Colorado had certainly come a long way.
Game Notes -
- Washington State would go on to post a 5-6 record in 1996, a prelude to its break-out season of 1997. In 1997, Ryan Leaf led the Cougars to a 10-2 record and a Rose Bowl berth. Leaf would go on to be the No. 2 pick of the 1998 NFL draft, going to the San Diego Chargers behind the Indianapolis Colts’ pick of Peyton Manning from Tennessee with the No. 1 overall pick.
- Against the Cougars, the less-than-nimble Koy Detmer had his career-long rush of 34 yards.
- Lesley’s last field goal of the afternoon, from 48 yards out, proved to be his career long.
- Washington State earned only nine first downs against the Colorado defense, and had only five net yards of rushing (on 21 attempts). Linebacker Matt Russell and senior safety Steve Rosga led the way for the defense with seven tackles each. The Buffs also forced four turnovers against, Washington State, a season-high.