October 25th - Boulder No. 1 Oklahoma 34, Colorado 20
Oklahoma jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead, then held Colorado at bay for the remainder of the evening, winning 34-20. Playing before the largest crowd in Colorado history, 54,215, Oklahoma posted its third win over Colorado in less than twelve months.
The Buffs were 25-point underdogs at home to the Sooners, and it looked early on as if Oklahoma would easily cover the spread. Sooner quarterback Jason White, who would go on to win the 2003 Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best player, connected with Brandon Jones on a 54-yard touchdown on the Sooner’s third play from scrimmage. Oklahoma covered 70 yards on its second drive, scoring on a two-yard run by Renaldo Works to make the score 14-0 with 6:03 left to play in the first quarter.
The expected Sooner domination was coming to pass.
But then something funny happened on the way to the rout.
The Buffs started playing well …. Or at least better.
Joel Klatt connected with D.J. Hackett on three passes on the Buffs’ next drive, including a three-yard scoring pass late in the first quarter to cut the lead to 14-7. The only other first half score was a 42-yard field goal by Oklahoma. The Buffs’ defense forced two first half turnovers, keeping the Sooners within range at halftime, 17-7.
In the second half, Oklahoma slowly pulled away. Another field goal and another White touchdown pass, this time a 15-yarder to Mark Clayton late in the third quarter pushed the lead to 27-7. At last, the Sooner contingent began to relax.
But the Buffs, out-gained in the third quarter, 155-16, did not go quietly. Joel Klatt hit Brian Calhoun for a 21-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 27-14. On the Buffs’ next possession, the anemic Colorado offense, which didn’t have a rushing first down until the fourth quarter (and that was on a 20 yard fake punt run by John Torp), put together a 61-yard drive. The drive was culminated on a nine yard scoring pass from Klatt to Derek McCoy. The jubilation of the Colorado crowd was only slightly dampened when the extra point attempt was blocked, leaving the score at 27-20.
Over five minutes still remained, and the Buffs were within a touchdown of the No. 1 team in the nation.
A stop by the CU defense, and the Buffs would have the opportunity to shock the college football world. With 2:13 left, the Sooners faced a third-and-six. Instead of succumbing to the moment, the Sooners demonstrated why they were the top-ranked team in the country. Jason White hit Mark Clayton on a short pass, and Clayton did the rest. Fifty-nine yards later, Oklahoma had its game-clinching touchdown and a 34-20 win.
“I’m really proud of this football team,” said Gary Barnett, whose team fell to 3-5 (1-3) on the season. “We laid it on the line and we came up short to a really good team. I think Oklahoma left here knowing that this is a good team that’s really improving … “.
There were some positives in the defeat. The Colorado defense was not embarrassed – at least the streak of giving up over 40 points every game came to an end at five – but did give up 434 total yards. The Buffs’ offense did score on the Sooners, but only had 40 yards rushing. Joel Klatt passed for 187 yards, but was sacked seven times.
Despite running for his life most of the night, Klatt remained optimistic about his team. “Our team played exceptionally better than we have all year,” said Klatt. “We played well in all phases of the game, as you saw a much more complete Colorado Buffaloes team here tonight. I think that is what you will see from here on out.”
The complete Colorado Buffaloes team was going to have to play well the remaining four games if the Buffs were to have a chance at a bowl game. Now 3-5 overall, the remaining games were on the road against Texas Tech and Iowa State, and at home to Missouri and Nebraska. Up next were the Red Raiders, 5-3 (2-2) on the season. Texas Tech was coming off a blow out loss to Missouri, 62-31. The Tigers, for their part, were 6-2 (2-2), right behind Nebraska, 7-1 (3-1) in the Big 12 North standings. The only game in the final four in which the Buffs figured to be favored was the Iowa State game. The Cyclones were now 2-6 (0-4), coming off a shutout loss to Nebraska, 28-0. For Colorado to go bowling, the Buffs would have to win three out of four of the remaining games – after losing five of their past six.
Texas Tech provided interesting possibilities, at least to the fan of offense. The Red Raiders led the nation in scoring (45.1 points/game) and passing offense, connecting for 513.5 yds./game. Colorado was ranked dead last, 117th, in pass efficiency defense, and third to last, 115th, in passing defense. Almost unbelievably, the Buffs’ defense was still better than the Red Raider defense in yards allowed. The Buffs were surrendering 457.0 total yards per game, but that was still better than the 503.8 total yards per game given up by the Red Raiders.
Texas Tech scored in bunches, but also gave up points in bunches.
Hope existed that if the Buffs played as well as in the Oklahoma game, a win on the road was a possibility.
The week before playing Colorado, Oklahoma played the Missouri Tigers. After playing Oklahoma to a 10-10 standoff through the first quarter, the Sooners ran off 21 unanswered points to take a 31-10 halftime lead on their way to a 34-13 win. Asked if his team could take anything from holding the Sooners to three points in the second half, Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel was quoted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying:
“I’m not a moral victory guy. The first thing I told my football team was, ‘I’m disappointed we didn’t win the game.’ “.
One week later, Colorado was also on the short end of the final score against the Sooners, succumbing 34-20 after rallying to within a touchdown with five minutes remaining. Asked a similar question to the one posed to Gary Pinkel a week before, Colorado head coach Gary Barnett responded:
“I always say that I don’t like moral victories, but at this point in time, I guess you have to take this as one.”
Was this a sign of how far the Buff program had fallen in just one season?
Missouri had not been bowling since 1998, but their second-year head coach was refusing to take three quarters of even play against the nation’s best team as a positive sign. Pinkel wanted his team to settle for nothing short of victory. Yet here was the Colorado head coach reaching for silver linings to explain away a 3-5 record. “At least we didn’t get embarrassed”, seemed to be the message.
I must admit that before the kickoff of the CU/OU game, I was as calm as I had been in years. I had actually taken the time to enjoy the company of my friends with whom I attended the game. Normally, I am a nervous wreck before a game, whether I am attending in person or just a spectator from 700 miles away. I am always anxious about the outcome, about the effect of this week’s game on next week’s game, on the effect of this game’s outcome on the entire season, and even its effect on recruiting.
But before the Sooner game, I was calm. Colorado had the worst scoring defense in the country, playing against the No. 1 team in the nation, which just happened to have the No. 2 scoring offense in the country. Hmm. No. 2 (45.7 points/game) v. No. 117 (40.1 points/game). Colorado was a 25-point underdog. The CU media guide (to its credit) does not list a history of point spreads, but I certainly could not think of a time in the past decade when the Buffs were almost a four-touchdown underdog at home.
So even I was looking for moral victories. Oklahoma had scored on its opening drive in each of its first seven games in 2003, so I thought it would be a moral victory for the Buffs if they could keep the Sooners from scoring on their first drive.
Oklahoma’ first drive: three plays; touchdown.
So much for that moral victory.
Yes, the Buffs did play the Sooners even after falling behind 14-0 early in the first quarter. Yes, the defense played its best game of the season. Yes, the Buffs played with heart and enthusiasm not seen since the opening game against CSU.
And yes, CU lost, 34-20.
A moral victory?
The CU media guide for 2003 was 484 pages long, second in length nationally only to the Texas media guide in length.
Yet for all of its girth, the Colorado media guide did not contain a heading for “moral victories”.
If Colorado was to take something of value from the Oklahoma loss, it would have to carry over onto the field against Texas Tech.
- Beore the bar was raised to 54,215, the previous Folsom Field record for attendance, 54,063 was set against Nebraska in 1995 (a 44-21 Nebraska win, 10/28/95).
- With the loss to Oklahoma, Colorado’s record against (subsequent) Heisman Trophy winners fell to 1-8-1. The only win came over Eric Crouch of Nebraska (the 62-31 win in 2001), with the tie coming against Oklahoma and HB Billy Vessels. (The 1952 CU/OU game ended in a 24-24 tie).
- In the decisive third quarter, Oklahoma held the ball for 11:22, to just 3:38 for the Buffs.
- With the loss, Colorado fell to 0-10 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 at the time of the game. Six of the ten contests came against Oklahoma (Nebraska, three times; USC, once).
- The Buff loss to Oklahoma was the first home loss by the Buffs to a conference opponent in three years (a 35-27 loss to Iowa State, 11/11/00).