September 9th – @ USC #11 USC 17, Colorado 14
Southern California kicker David Newbury connected on a 23-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining to give the 11th-ranked Trojans a 17-14 win over Colorado. 65,153 were on hand in the Los Angeles Coliseum to witness a defensive struggle between two offenses which could move the football but could not capitalize on opportunities.
USC quarterback Carson Palmer hit on 25 of 31 passes, but could not manufacture more than two touchdowns. The Buffs’ “bend-but-don’t-break” defense kept CU in the game for much of the night, but Palmer was able to put together a string of seven straight completions to end the game, driving the Trojans 72 yards in nine plays to set up the winning field goal.
The first half ended in a 7-7 tie. USC dominated early, but one scoring drive went awry when CU safety Robbie Robinson intercepted a Palmer pass in the Buff endzone, and another ended with a missed 30-yard field goal attempt by Newbury. Still, the Trojans led 7-0 when the Buffs put together an 80-yard, 12-play drive of their own to end the half. Zac Colvin, returning to the starting role at quarterback, connected with Javon Green from 11 yards out.
The second half started badly for the Buffs. A Colvin fumble near midfield was returned to the CU 16 yard line. Three plays later, Colorado was down 14-7. After the Buffs failed to move on their next possession, Bobby Pesavento replaced Colvin at quarterback, and Pesavento promptly took the Buffs 73 yards on just four plays, hitting tight end Daniel Graham for a 36-yard score.
Each team had opportunities to take the lead in the fourth quarter. The Buffs’ best chance came with 1:14 left, when kicker Mike Mariscal was wide left on a 40-yard field goal attempt. Mariscal’s miss was his second of the night (a earlier 30-yard attempt had been blocked), and left Colorado 0-2 for the first time since 1986.
The sole bright spot for CU was freshman running back Marcus Houston, making his starting debut in place of the injured Cortlen Johnson. Houston slashed his way to 150 yards on 25 carries, earning the respect of opposing coach, Paul Hackett. “Houston is remarkable,” said the USC coach. “Imagine what he is going to be like in a couple of years.” CU’s Barnett agreed. “For a kid his age (19) to play like that and have that kind of composure in a game like this, just shows you how special he is.”
In two games, the exciting freshman had accounted for 280 yards of total offense. But the Buffs were 0-2. “This is not an 0-2 team”, linebacker Jashon Sykes protested. “We’re just going through some tough times right now. I know it. The coaches know it. Those guys over there (in the Southern Cal locker room) know it. We’re not an 0-2 team.”
But the Buffs were 0-2.
What could be worse? How’s this – three of the CU’s next four games would be played against teams ranked in the top ten in the nation. As if to add insult to injury, Colorado’s next opponent was the Rick Neuheisal-led Washington Huskies. The former CU coach’s team was ranked 9th, having just knocked off #4 Miami, 34-29.
What else could go wrong?
Where have you gone, Ben Kelly?
Carson Palmer was a talented player. But the Buffs made the Southern Cal quarterback look like the second coming of Pat Haden. Palmer completed an ungodly 80% of his passes against the CU secondary. Colorado clearly was in no mood to have a repeat of the debacle against CSU, and did not allow any deep completions. The trade-off was a seemingly endless series of slant passes completed for eight to ten yards per. Still, the strategy almost worked. Thanks to a timely interception, two missed field goals, and some questionable play calling by the USC coaching staff, the Buffs were in the game to the end.
Seven points now separated the 0-2 Buffs from being 2-0 and a ranked team. But two close losses placed the Buffs in a position they hadn’t been in for 15 years – the “moral victory” zone. A close loss to the #11 team in the nation, on the road, was not the end of the world. More to the point, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if the Buffs had held serve against Colorado State. Now, the Buffs were a desperate team, and had to face all-everything Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo.
If the Buffs were to allow an 80% completion rate to Tuiasosopo, the Buffs losing streak would certainly be extended to three games.
Where have you gone, Ben Kelly?