November 1st - @ Texas Tech Texas Tech 26, Colorado 21
In a game in which the offenses for both teams were supposed to be showcased, the defenses for both Colorado and Texas Tech made surprise appearances, with the Red Raiders holding on to defeat the Buffs, 26-21. The Buff defense created six turnovers, including five interceptions, but that was not enough to prevent Colorado from dropping its third straight to fall to 3-6 on the season.
The game started off as well as any Colorado fan could have hoped. Just 17 seconds into the game, Colorado was up 7-0. Sophomore safety J.J. Billingsley made his first career interception on the first play from scrimmage. On the next play, Joel Klatt hit Derek McCoy from 27 yards out, and the Buffs had the lead. Later in the first quarter, after another interception, this one by Medford Moorer, Daniel Jolly capped a second short drive by the Buff offense with a one yard touchdown run. The Buffs were up 14-0, and seemed on their way to their fourth win of the season.
The Red Raiders, though, did not fold. After a 37-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, Texas Tech scored on a 58-yard punt return by Wes Welker. Welker’s score, an NCAA record eighth by punt return, pulled the Red Raiders to within 14-9 (the extra point attempt was blocked). A second field goal made the halftime score: Colorado 14; Texas Tech 12.
Still trailing, but with all the momentum, the Red Raiders dominated the third quarter. Outscoring the Buffs, 14-0, Texas Tech out-gained Colorado 140 yards to 5 to take a 26-14 lead into the fourth quarter. Down two scores, the Buffs rallied late. A second 27-yard touchdown pass from Klatt to McCoy made the score, 26-21, with 6:27 remaining.
In the Colorado’s final possession, Klatt drove the Buffs as far as the Texas Tech 26, but was intercepted. Thereafter, the Red Raiders, now bowl-eligible at 6-3, ran out the remaining clock.
“We played well enough in a lot of different areas that we could have won the game,” Barnett said. “We just didn’t get it done.”
The defense, for a change, made a stand, holding the dynamic Texas Tech offense at bay for most of the game. While surrendering almost 500 yards through the air, the Buffs did pick off five passes, and kept the nation’s highest scoring offense (45.1 points/game coming into the contest) to two touchdowns and two field goals. The offense, after creating two touchdowns early, did not score again until after the Red Raiders had posted 26 unanswered points. “It seemed like we came out strong,” said wide receiver D.J. Hackett, “Then we came off those first two touchdowns and just fell off after that.” Hackett went on to add: “I just don’t know really where we tailed off.”
No one seemed to have any answers for the Buffs.
But there were multiple questions:
Could the Buffs, losers of three straight, rally to win three in a row to become bowl-eligible?;
Could the Buffs’ defense, which was showing some improvement on the scoreboard if not on the statistician’s page (still ranked 110th or worse in passing defense, passing efficiency defense, total defense, and scoring defense), continue to improve?; and
Could the Buffs’ offense, rushing for under 100 yards a game, find enough balance to keep the CU defense off the field?
The Buffs returned home to face the Missouri Tigers. Missouri was 6-2 (2-2), but controlled its own destiny in the Big 12 North despite its third place position. The Tigers had defeated 3-2 Nebraska, and still had 3-2 Kansas State left to play. If Missouri could win its remaining four games, they would play for the Big 12 title for the first time.
Colorado, meanwhile, had to win out just to become bowl-eligible. Three wins did not seem to be a Herculean task, until you remembered that the Buffs had now lost six of their last seven games.
Third Quarter Doldrums
In case there was any sense in refuting the obvious, I will admit it: I am a statistics junkie. I love statistics when it comes to college football. I devour Dave Plati’s (CU’s Director of Media Relations) media guide every fall, and anxiously awaited the Tuesday afternoon press releases for that week’s upcoming game (which by season’s end extend over 40 pages). I love to keep track of player’s stats during the year as they rise up season and career lists. I love team stats, trends, history, and knowing obscure Colorado statistical trivia.
That background is what made the statistical trend for the 2003 season so disturbing.
It was right there, in black and white, clear to anyone who wanted to take the time to notice.
Through eight games, Colorado had been outscored by its opponents 96-40 in the third quarter. True, the 3-6 Buffs had been out-scored in every quarter overall, but it was the third quarter that had been the Buffs’ albatross. Washington State turned a 23-13 game into a 47-19 rout after a 24-6 third quarter. Florida State put a 16-7 game out of reach after a 10-0 third stanza.
The message was consistent in CU’s losses: outscored 21-13 by Baylor; 14-0 by Kansas State; 10-0 against Oklahoma; and now 14-0 by Texas Tech.
What was even more alarming was the first drive in the third quarter. In nine games, only UCLA had failed to score in its opening drive of the second half against the Buffs. The shortest drive against the Buffs to open the third? A total 39 yards by Colorado State, but that was only because they only had to drive 39 yards for a touchdown. Even UCLA, the only team not to post a score, managed 43 yards in its opening drive of the third quarter. Touchdowns had been surrendered to CSU, Washington State (actually two – the Cougars scored on the opening kickoff of the second half, and then scored a touchdown on their opening possession of the stanza), Baylor, and Kansas State, while Florida State, Kansas, and Oklahoma had scored field goals to open the third against the Buffs.
And how had the Buffs’ offense fared after halftime? Touchdowns against Baylor and Kansas. Otherwise – nothing. In five games, CU had not even managed a so much as a first down in its first drive.
An obvious trend? You tell me.
Out-coached? Gary Barnett had won back-to-back Big 12 North titles with backup quarterbacks, so it was difficult to judge the 2003 team too harshly. Yet statistics are what they are. Against Texas Tech, the Buffs managed to not surrender a score to the opponent on their first drive of the second half for the first time since the UCLA game, but the third quarter meltdown history continued, as the Buffs were out-scored 14-0 in turning a 14-12 halftime lead into a 26-14 deficit.
Two other statistics which worked against the Buffs in Lubbock. When leading at halftime, Gary Barnett’s teams had been 25-4, but could not hang on to a 14-12 edge at the break against Texas Tech. Also, for only the 12th time since the start of the 1976 season (a span of 324 games) the Buffs had a two score lead (over nine points) at some point during the game, and lost. CU had an early 14-0 lead on the Red Raiders, but still managed to lose.
Still not concerned? Of those 12 losses after leading by two or more scores, only eight of them occurred in the 25 seasons between 1976 and 2000. Four now had occurred during the Barnett era, including the second time in 2003 (a 23-14 lead against Baylor becoming a 42-30 loss).
Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Numbers can be construed in any number of ways. The third quarter statistics for 2003, it could be argued, had to be taken in the context of each individual game and opponent. Fair enough. But for the 2003 Colorado Buffaloes, one statistic could not be misstated or misinterpreted:
And the third quarter was the culprit in all six losses.
- Defensive back J.J. Billingsley had two interceptions in the first quarter against Texas Tech, becoming the 10th Colorado player to have two picks in a quarter (and the first since Terrence Wood, v. CSU in 2000).
- The Buffs’ score 17 seconds into the game marked the second quickest score from scrimmage ever, and the third fastest score overall.
- The five interceptions were the most since the Buffs picked off five against Texas in 1997 (a 47-30 CU win). Amongst the five picks was an interception by defensive tackle Brandon Dabdoub, the first by a defensive lineman since Viliami Maumau returned an interception for a touchdown against CSU in 1996 (a 48-34 CU victory).
- Texas Tech, despite generating only 20 offensive points, did rack up 32 first downs, tied for the fourth most ever against the Buffs.