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CSU – Role reversal: “Return to Dominance” put on hold

// Sep 4 - 1999

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September 4th – at Denver           Colorado State 41, No. 14 Colorado 14

“Return to Dominance” would have to be put on hold.

Ruining Gary Barnett’s debut as head coach, the Colorado State Rams routed the 14th-ranked Buffs, 41-14, in a game that was not even as close as the score indicated. Colorado committed six turnovers, four of which led directly to CSU points, as the Rams rolled to a 28-0 halftime lead before cruising to the biggest win over the Buffs since a 39-7 win way back in 1927. Kevin McDougal rushed for 190 yards and two touchdowns as Colorado State defeated Colorado for the first time since 1986.

The game, and the season, started ominously for the Buffs.

On CU’s second possession, quarterback Mike Moschetti attempted to pass out into the left flat. Senior linebacker Rick Crowell intercepted the pass, however, racing 54 yards untouched for a CSU touchdown. 7-0, CSU. Later in the first quarter, running back Kevin McDougal broke through the line. A quick 59 yards later, the Rams were up 14-0, and the rout was on. A 67-yard pass early in the second quarter upped the Ram lead to 21-0, with an intercepted lateral taken to the CU one-yard line giving the Rams an easy scoring opportunity midway through the quarter.

The halftime statistics were misleading, but demonstrated how the Buffs’ miscues changed the game. At half, CU had 13 first downs to CSU’s five. Colorado had the ball for 22:19 of the first half, compared to 7:41 for Colorado State. The Buffs even had the edge in total yards, 205-199. The halftime score: Colorado State, 28; Colorado, 0.

Barnett noted the obvious, stating that the Buffs “committed some major, major errors in the first half. We didn’t make the plays. We couldn’t run the ball (the Buffs ended up with 82 yards rushing).” In addition to six turnovers, the Buffs’ offensive line, trumpeted as the strength of the team, allowed nine sacks. The CU defense, which was supposed to use its superior speed to dominate the game, allowed big plays and could not stop McDougal, who rushed for 190 yards on 22 carries.

The harsh reality … The 41-14 final could have been even worse.

The Rams opened the second half with a dominating 80-yard drive, taking exactly half of the third quarter clock before a one-yard quarterback sneak by Matt Newton put CSU up 35-0. The score was up to 41-0 before CU scored two consolation touchdowns late. A 43-yard touchdown pass from Mike Moschetti to Roman Hollowell midway through the fourth quarter allowed the Buffs to avoid the shutout, with a five yard touchdown pass from Moschetti to Javon Green accounting for the final points a few minutes later.

Now what?

Colorado had not lost to its in-state rival since 1986, and had not lost a season opener since 1987. The preseason poll ranking was now a memory, as the Buffs were quickly dispatched from the top 25, receiving only 25 points in the next poll, good enough for a “ranking” of 33rd amongst the “others receiving votes”.

The Return to Dominance was now looking like “Return To Defeat” or “Restoration of The Disarray”.

The following week’s game against San Jose State, which had previously been seen as a mere speed bump in the schedule, now took on huge significance.

Role Reversal

The 1999 Showdown at Mile High Stadium in Denver proved to be the mirror image of the 1998 contest. In 1998, Colorado State, the designated home team, entered the contest ranked 15th in the nation. Much was expected of the Rams, and there were whispers of a conference title and perhaps even a run at a BCS bowl game. Colorado, meanwhile, was coming off a 5-6 campaign, and had more preseason questions than answers.

The result: CU 42; CSU 14.

One year later, the Buffs were designated as the home team, and sported a No. 14 ranking. Much was expected of the Buffs, and there were whispers of a conference title and perhaps even a run at a BCS bowl game. CSU was coming off an 8-4 season, but had lost much of its defense and most of its offensive skill position players.

The result: CSU 41; CU 14.

The rout was not pre-ordained. In fact, as we headed off to Mile High Stadium for the pregame parties, we were more concerned about parking problems caused by the construction of the new Mile High Stadium than we were about the Rams.

The pregame festivities, as had been the case a year before, were fun. Our merry band, including travelers from Montana and Tennessee in addition to Colorado, had increased from ten to twelve, and we were all quietly confident of a Colorado victory. Truth be told, I was more worried about it raining than I was about the final outcome.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, was predicting CU dominance.

Moschetti’s first interception, returned for a touchdown, really did not upset me that much. It was still early in the first quarter, and the Buffs were allowed to work out the kinks of a new offense before assuming the dominant role.

But the dominance just never came.

At halftime, the score 28-0, and I was numb. Stunned into silence, I was already doing the math on the rest of the season. Disappearing from the polls was a given, but what to make of this debacle? Was this an anomaly, or was it a trend? Barnett was brought in partially due to his ties to the Colorado prep scene. What influence would this rout have on in-state prep all-stars (some 30 Colorado high school seniors were guests of the Buffs at the game)? On recruiting in general? What 18-year old – or his parents – wouldn’t be concerned about the future of the program?

And what of the rest of the season? San Jose State had put up a better fight than expected against LSU in its season opener, falling 29-21. Would the Buffs respond and put the loss behind them, or would self-doubt infiltrate the CU practices?

The national championship, BCS bowls, even the conference title, spoken of openly only a week before, were now off the Buffs’ radar screen.

The next few weeks, with San Jose State and three winnable “payback” games, would dictate the rest of 1999, if not Barnett’s tenure as the Buffs’ head coach.

Game Notes

– The loss to the Rams was the first loss to CSU suffered by the Buffs as a ranked team.

– Kevin McDougal set a record for the most yards rushing in the series, as his 190 yards bested the 184 posted by CU’s Eric Bieniemy in the 1996 game.

– In the previous eight games against the Rams (all wins), CU had thrown a total of two interceptions. In the 1999 game, the Buffs threw four picks.

– In a testament to what six turnovers can do to a game … Colorado had more total yards than did Colorado State (373 to 336), more first downs (23 to 12), and dominated time of possession (34:37 to 25:23).

– Mike Moschetti set a school record for total offensive plays in a game, with 60 (45 passes; 15 rushes … including nine sacks). Moschetti’s 45 passes, 30 completions, and three interceptions were all team highs in the 1999 season.

– Three players earned their first career starts in the 1999 opener … wide receiver John Minardi, fullback Brandon Drumm, and linebacker Drew Wahlroos.

– The game would go down in CU/CSU annals as the “tear gas” game. Colorado State fans, described as “unruly”, showered Colorado players with debris, with Denver police resorting to tear gas, mace, and pepper spray to keep CSU fans from storming the field.

– In its first season as a member of the Mountain West Conference (after 30 years in the Western Athletic Conference), Colorado State would go on to post an 8-4 record, 5-2 in MWC play. The Rams finished the regular season with five straight victories, but fell to Southern Mississippi, 23-17, in the Liberty Bowl on December 31st, closing out the 1990’s with a loss.

 

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