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No. 11 USC – Where have you gone, Ben Kelly?

// Sep 9 - 2000

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September 9th – at USC           No. 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. A crowd of 65,153 was 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 for the game, 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, with Donald Strickland getting a hand on the ball to deflect the attempt.

Still, the Trojans led 7-0 after an eight-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Matt Nickels with 3:47 to play before halftime. The Buffs, though, responded, putting 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 with four seconds left before the break to tie the score.

The second half started badly for the Buffs.

A Colvin fumble at the Buff 35-yard line was returned to the Colorado 16-yard line. Three plays later, Colorado was down, 14-7, after a five yard scoring run by Sultan McCullogh. The Buffs failed to move on their next possession, with Bobby Pesavento replacing Colvin at quarterback on CU’s next opportunity. Pesavento promptly took the Buffs 73 yards on just four plays to tie the score. A 32-yard run by Marcus Houston put the ball into Trojan territory, with Pesavento hitting tight end Daniel Graham for a 36-yard score to tie the game at 14-14 late in the third quarter.

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). Carson then led the Trojans 72 yards in just 61 seconds of game clock, setting up the 24-yard game winner with 13 seconds to play.

The sole bright spot for 0-2 Colorado was true 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, becoming the first Buff in school history to rush for over 100 yards in each of his first two games at Colorado.

Houston also earned the respect of the opposing coach, Paul Hackett. “Houston is remarkable,” said the USC coach. “Imagine what he is going to be like in a couple of years.” Colorado head coach Gary 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 Neuheisel-led Washington Huskies. The former CU coach’s team was ranked 9th, having just knocked off No. 4 Miami, 34-29.

What else could go wrong?

The Buff Nation was about to find out.

 

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 Colorado secondary. The Buffs were clearly in no mood to have a repeat of the debacle against CSU, and did not allow any deep completions. The trade-off, though, was a seemingly endless series of slant passes completed for eight to ten yards per catch.

It was almost like watching a scrimmage.

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 No. 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?

 

Game Notes –

– The game against USC was the first between the two teams since 1964, with the Trojans taking a 4-0 lead in the series with the victory.

– The two teams combined for 801 yards of total offense (433 for USC; 368 for Colorado), but only four touchdowns and 31 total points between them.

– Other than Marcus Houston, Colorado had no rushing attack against USC. For the game, counting the 22 yards lost to six sacks, the Buffs had 39 carries for 137 yards … So, doing the math, other than Houston, Colorado had 14 carries for a minus-13 yards against USC.

– The USC game marked the second – and last – start for Zac Colvin as the CU quarterback. Colvin would go on to play in only three more games the remainder of the 2000 season at quarterback, completing 6-of-17 passes after going 18-for-28 in his two starts. Colvin would transfer out of the CU program after the season, only to return later in the spring to try and make the team as a wide receiver or a tight end. Colvin did not record any statistics in 2001, returning as a backup quarterback in 2002. Colvin went 1-for-5 for 4 yards and an interception in 2002, with four of those passes coming, ironically enough, in a game against USC.

– Junior strong safety Michael Lewis, who would go on to lead the team in tackles in 2000 (with 117), led the Buffs against the Trojans, with 11 tackles (seven solo).

– USC would rise to No. 10 in the polls after defeating Colorado, then to No. 9 after defeating San Jose State to go 3-0. The rest of the season, though, was dismal for the Trojans, however. USC would go on to win only two more games in 2000, finishing 5-7. Paul Hackett was let go after the season, finishing his three year stint with an overall record of 19-18. He would be replaced at head coach by Pete Carroll.

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