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Wisconsin – Alamo Bowl – 2002 a Dramatic Act in three parts

// Dec 28 - 2002

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December 28th – Alamo Bowl           Wisconsin 31, No. 14 Colorado 28 – OT

Sophomore kicker Mike Allen connected from 37 yards out to lift the Wisconsin Badgers to a 31-28 overtime win over Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. Allen’s kick capped a fourth quarter rally by the Badgers, who won for the seventh time in eight bowl games under head coach Barry Alverez.

Neither team led by more than seven points throughout the game. The Buffs opened the scoring on Donald Strickland’s Alamo Bowl record 91-yard interception return in the first quarter. After one of Robert Hodge’s three interceptions in the first half, Wisconsin scored on a three-play, 19-yard drive to tie the score. The Buffs responded with their best drive of the game, going 83 yards in 11 plays. Senior receiver D.J. Hackett scored on a 10-yard pass from Hodge to put the Buffs up 14-7 on the last play of the first quarter.

The second quarter was all Wisconsin, as the Badgers turned two more Hodge interceptions into scores. Quarterback Brooks Bollinger hit two touchdown passes to give Wisconsin a 21-14 halftime edge. Just before halftime, Barnett lifted Robert Hodge in favor of backup senior quarterback Zac Colvin.

In the third quarter, it was Wisconsin’s turn to suffer from turnovers. A botched punt return gave the Buffs good field position. Chris Brown, playing for the first time since the Iowa State game, scored from four yards out to tie the game at 21-all. Running back Anthony Davis fumbled on Wisconsin’s next play, setting up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Colvin to Hackett. Colorado took a 28-21 lead into the final stanza.

Wisconsin took possession, still down 28-21, with 2:25 left in the game at its own 20-yard line. Five plays later, Bollinger and the Badgers faced a 4th-and-18 at their own 48-yard line. Bollinger promptly completed a 27-yard pass to Brandon Williams for a first down. Four plays later, the Badgers were again one play away from a loss, staring at 4th-and-10 at the Colorado 29-yard line. Bollinger this time hit wideout Darrin Charles for 28 yards to the Colorado one yard line. With 51 seconds to play, Bollinger did the honors himself, tying the game with a one-yard run.

In overtime, the Colorado offense, which had gone into a shell after Chris Brown left the game with a concussion, was useless. Three plays lost four yards, leaving Buff hopes in the hands of Pat Brougham. Brougham, who had missed three field goals against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, was not close from 45 yards out. Three conservative plays later, Mike Allen connected for Wisconsin from 37 yards, and the Buffs had lost consecutive games for the first time all season.

“We had our opportunities, you know,” said junior defensive end Marques Harris. “We just didn’t come through.” Gary Barnett concurred. “We had a chance to win the game before” overtime, said the Buffs’ head coach, now 1-2 in bowl games at Colorado (1-4 overall). “Bottom line, we had chances.”

The loss left the Buffs at 9-5, falling to a final No. 20 ranking in the polls. “I’d hate to have this (loss) take away from our season,” said Barnett. Despite having overcome a 1-2 start, an 0-2 finish left a bad taste in the mouths of many Buff fans.

Neill Woelk of the The Boulder Daily Camera spoke for many Colorado faithful in his column (December 29, 2002) after the game:

“You don’t get to decide which losses count and which don’t. The Buffs final record will always read 9-5. Long after folks have forgotten that you lost at least three key starters to injury in this game (Brown and two starting offensive linemen), long after the details have faded, that number will still stand out. A chance for back-to-back 10 win seasons, a chance to put double digits into the Buff record book one more time, was tossed away ….”

2002 – A Dramatic Play in Three Acts

The 2002 Colorado football team was difficult to diagnose.

Riding high coming into the season, the Buffs fell far and hard. Then, when the plight of the Colorado program seemed to be at its worst, the ship was righted, and the Buffs marched through the conference schedule. But, before the Coloradofaithful could relish in another successful campaign, the Buffs faltered once again.

A dramatic play – in three acts.

Act One – Farce

A No. 7 pre-season ranking. A difficult but not insurmountable schedule. Numerous stars returning, including quarterback Craig Ochs and record-setting running back Chris Brown. A national audience on ESPN2 to witness the emergence of a dominating program.

Thud.

An embarrassing loss to Colorado State, 19-14, in the opener (head coach Gary Barnett’s fourth consecutive opening loss at Colorado), with CU’s national title hopes were dashed before Labor Day. Next came a sluggish win over pass-happy San Diego State which featured the loss of quarterback Craig Ochs to a concussion. Then came the humiliating defeat at home, 40-3, to USC. The Buffs, in the top ten in the nation to open the season, were out of polls altogether after just three games.

To make matters worse, Craig Ochs decided this would be a good time to announce that he was leaving the program. The dark shadow already cast over Folsom Field grew that much darker as speculation about Barnett’s relationship with his players grew.

Up next were games against undefeated and ranked UCLA and Kansas State. What seemed like a dream season in the making was now unraveled. Could the Buffs even muster a winning season? Would 2002 be a repeat of the 3-8 debacle in 2000? Would Barnett survive the season?

Enter Tyler Brayton.

Act Two – Dramatic Heroes

Senior defensive tackle Tyler Brayton was elected as one of the Buffs’ team captains before the season began. Not as vocal as 2001 captain Justin Bannan, also a defensive tackle, Brayton took the opportunity before the UCLA game to assert his leadership. Challenging the Buffs to play “Colorado football” against the Bruins, the Buffs responded with a 31-17 win over UCLA.

The victory on the road against a ranked team gave the Buffs momentum heading into their conference opener against Kansas State. Behind Chris Brown’s 167 yards and two touchdowns, coupled with two defensive stands at the end of the game, Colorado came away with a 35-31 win and renewed hope for the 2002 season.

For the next three weeks, the Buffs took care of business, defeating Kansas, Baylor, and Texas Tech. Chris Brown totaled 309 rushing yards against Kansas, the defense stepped up and shut out Baylor, and the Buffs showed a complete team effort in handling the Red Raiders, 37-13.

The high of a 4-0 conference record and a No. 13 ranking came back to earth in a 27-11 loss to No. 2 Oklahoma in Norman. But the Buffs’ fate remained in their hands. Three tough games remained, and the drama would continue. Against Missouri on the road, the Buffs squandered an early lead before rallying late and holding off the Tigers in overtime. Then came a back-and-forth battle with Iowa State with the Big 12 Northern Division title on the line. A hard-won 41-27 victory over the Cyclones gave the Buffs their rematch with the Sooners.

Still, a trip to Lincoln was still on the schedule. Even though Colorado did not need a win over Nebraska to return to the Big 12 title game, the Buffs, behind freshman running back Brian Calhoun, came away with a satisfying 28-13 win over the Cornhuskers.

The tumult of the 1-2 opening was long forgotten. The Buffs were back up to No. 13 in the polls, and a win over the Sooners would give Colorado a top ten ranking to go with the distinction of being the first repeat champions in conference history.

Too good to be true.

Act Three – Tragedy & Suspense

While still the underdogs against the 8th-ranked Sooners, the Buffs had not lost to any other teams since September. The Buffs wanted a re-match, and were given one.

Same song. Different verse.

The Sooners dominated the Buffs, 29-7, relegating Colorado to the Alamo Bowl against Wisconsin. The only consolation in being placed in the conference’s No. 4 bowl game was that the opponent, the Badgers, were much easier than the No. 2 Oregon Ducks were in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2001 season.

Still, the Buffs refused to put away the Badgers, and after Chris Brown and two offensive linemen went down in the third quarter, Colorado went completely into a shell on offense. The defense had two fourth down opportunities to stop Wisconsin, but failed on both. The overtime result was a foregone conclusion. The Badgers had the momentum, the defense, and a field goal kicker.

9-5. The glass half full or half empty?

Based on a 1-2 opening record, a second straight North Division title and nine wins doesn’t sound that bad. In contrast, the Buffs lost a bowl game to a team which had dropped six of its last eight games. When linemen went down, the offense died. In 2003, four offensive linemen would need to be replaced. As would the quarterback. And several key defensive players.

To make matters gloomy once again, there was the reality that nine of Colorado’s twelve 2003 opponents went to bowl games in 2002, including all four of the Buffs’ non-conference opponents. Three of those four, Colorado State, Washington State, and Florida State, won their conference championships. The fourth, UCLA, did not win a title, but did take away two of the Buffs’ best assistant coaches, Jon Embree and Eric Bieniemy.

How well would the 2003 Buffs meet the challenge?

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