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No. 12 Miami – Statement Game for Buffs

// Sep 24 - 2005

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September 24th – at Miami           No. 12 Miami 23, Colorado 3

Miami quarterback Kyle Wright passed for 264 yards and a touchdown, and ran for another score, leading No. 12 Miami to a methodical 23-3 dismantling of Colorado.

The Buffs turned the ball over three times against the Hurricanes, and committed seventeen penalties, wilting in the 86-degree Florida heat (with 70 percent humidity). Mason Crosby’s 58-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter avoided the shutout, allowing Colorado to become only the 12th team in NCAA history to score in 200 consecutive games.

The result of the contest was not always a foregone conclusion. The Buffs took their opening possession inside the Miami 10-yard line. From a first-and-goal at the seven, however, the Buffs sputtered, eventually missing a field goal attempt from 28 yards out. It was the first miss from inside of 40 yards in Mason Crosby’s career.

The Colorado defense kept the Buffs in the game throughout most of the first half, forcing Miami into field goal attempts. The score was 6-0 midway through the second quarter when Kyle Wright hit receiver Sinorice Moss on a 53-yard score to make the Hurricane advantage 13-0 at halftime.

Joel Klatt, who was not sacked on the afternoon, but was rushed, harried, and hit throughout the game, was intercepted for a second time midway through the third quarter. The CU defense, which held Miami to 394 total yards, forced another field goal, limiting the Hurricane lead to 16-0.

The Buffs’ final opportunity to make a game of it came early in the fourth quarter. Trailing by two scores, Colorado took over on the Hurricane 45-yard line. After gaining only four yards in three plays, the Buffs settled for a Mason Crosby 58-yarder. Miami then took the ensuing kickoff and put together an 80-yard drive, culminated by a Wright two-yard run, to end the scoring and the Buffs’ hopes for a comeback.

“I thought our defense played valiantly,” said Gary Barnett, trying to find a silver lining in a 23-3 defeat. “Overall,” said defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, “I think we were better against the run against a quality team than we’ve been in a while.” Still, the Buffs were now 2-1 on the season. “It is kind of tough, but it is a team loss,” said linebacker Jordon Dizon. “We inspire the offense, the offense inspires us.”

The stats sheet didn’t look all that bad. The Buffs had 331 yards of total offense, held onto the ball for 33:41, and held the opposition under 400 total yards of offense for the third consecutive game (CU surrendered an average of 452 yards/game in the three 2004 non-conference games).

That was the consoling news.

At the same time, the Buffs committed 17 penalties, second highest total in school history, for 99 yards. Colorado turned the ball over three times to none for Miami, and the Buffs failed to sack Wright, who had been sacked 14 times in the previous two games. On third down, CU was successful on only five-of-18 attempts.

“We don’t have any reasons for it,” said Barnett, “We just made a million mistakes and you can’t do that and beat this team.”

Up next for Colorado was Oklahoma State, 3-0 on the season.

The Cowboys were undefeated under new head coach Mike Gundy, but had been unimpressive in getting there. After opening with a 15-10 win over Division 1-AA Montana State, Oklahoma State had lackluster wins over Division 1-A newcomer Florida Atlantic and over Arkansas State.

If the Buffs were to rebound and open Big 12 Conference play on the road against a Southern Division team not named Baylor, Oklahoma State would be the choice.

Having lost nine games in a row to Southern Division teams (including a loss to Baylor), the Buffs had to regroup and look forward. With difficult games against Texas A&M and Texas up next, Colorado needed a win if winning the Big 12 North was to be a realistic expectation.

Statement Game

This was supposed to be it.

The breakthrough game which would put Colorado back on the national college football map. The Buffs had been on the outside looking in at the Top 25 rankings, hovering around No. 32, since the beginning of the season. After a come-from-behind win over Colorado State, matched with an impressive overall win over New Mexico State, the Buffs were a statement win away from regaining national prominence.

The Miami game gave Colorado just such an opportunity. The Hurricanes were ranked No. 12, but seemed vulnerable. After an opening loss to rival Florida State, Miami had escaped with a three overtime win over Clemson. A play away from being 0-2, the Miami offense was led by a new quarterback, and the swagger long associated with the Hurricanes had been diminished. Despite a beautiful Saturday afternoon (albeit warm and humid by Boulder standards), only 51,228 bothered to show up in the 72,319-seat Orange Bowl to watch the home team. A Colorado victory would vault the Buffs into the Top 25 for the first time in over two years.

The players and coaches knew it, too. Before the game, senior linebacker Akarika Dawn said, “It’s a statement game for this university and this program if you beat a Top-15 team. Beating a name like Miami means a whole lot.” Echoed senior quarterback Joel Klatt, “I think it’s important to most of us because of exactly what it provides the whole program. Hopefully, we go down there and put together a solid effort and get recognized on a national stage where we feel we belong.”

Splat.

Just like every other year under Gary Barnett, the Buffs faltered against a name program. Falling to 1-7 against Top 15 teams over the past three seasons, Colorado again became an after-thought in national conversations. Even if the Buffs were to win against Oklahoma State on the road and against a dangerous Texas A&M team at home the following week, (and they were big “ifs”, looking at the mistakes made at Miami) the Buffs would likely only be back on the cusp of respect – only to face another Top-15 (and perhaps Top-5) team in Texas at Austin.

And another likely double-digit loss for the program.

Glass half full, or half empty?

On the one hand, the Buffs had won three of the past four Big 12 North titles. Despite being 4-4 in conference play in 2004, the Buffs won when they had to, something that Nebraska, Iowa State, and Missouri couldn’t claim. The defense was improving, and had a good supply of young talent. The kicking game was second to none in the nation (though hearing commentators dismiss Torp’s and Crosby’s success as being altitude related was getting tiresome). Hugh Charles showed signs of becoming a great back. The rest of the Big 12 North was stagnant as well, giving the Buffs the opportunity to claim a fourth title in five years.

On the other hand, the Buffs were not a national program any longer. The talent just wasn’t there, and that got back to recruiting. One need look no further than Barnett’s first full class, the recruiting class of 2000. Both of the name recruits from that season had turned into disasters. Hearing the names Marcus Houston and Craig Ochs caused most Colorado fans to blanche. Long before the recruiting scandals, the Buffs were mired in the 30’s and 40’s when it came to national recruiting rankings. The overall talent was not there to compete with Texas and Oklahoma in conference, or Florida State or Miami out of conference.

And that’s where the Buffs were in September, 2005. A better team on paper than the 8-5 over-achieving squad of 2004, there was still much work to be done. The offense lacked a big play receiver, allowing the opposition to key on the Buff tight ends and running game. The defense was improved, though still susceptible to the long completion. And the schedule worked against the Buffs, giving Colorado three Southern Division opponents to start conference play. A 2-4, 0-3 start was a distinct possibility. That would likely be too great a hole to climb out of to win any titles, even with all five North Division teams still to play.

The Miami game was a statement game. The statement made was that Colorado was not a national player.

The Oklahoma State game was also to be a statement game.

The issue was whether the Buffs were to be a player in the North Division race.

Game Notes

– The temperature at game time against Miami wasn’t warm enough to break into even the top ten of warmest CU games (the warmest: 99 at kickoff against UCLA in the Rose Bowl, 9/21/02, a 31-17 CU win).

– Mason Crosby’s 58-yarder tied Jerry Hamilton’s effort against Iowa State (10/24/81), as the longest by a Buff kicker on the road, and tied as the longest in Division 1-A in 2005.

– Colorado’s 17 penalties against Miami was close to the record. The greatest number of penalties in a game by the Buffs: 18, against Kansas, 9/30/50, a 27-21 loss).

– The Buffs finished 2-1 in non-conference play in 2005, the last year of 11-game seasons. Overall in 2005, the Big 12 went 31-5 in non-conference play. In the North, only Colorado and Missouri (to New Mexico) suffered losses. Still, the North was far from dominant. Iowa State had to rally to beat Army. Kansas State defeated Marshall on an interception on the game’s last play (when the Thundering Herd was already in position to kick a game-winning field goal), while Nebraska blocked a field goal attempt by hapless Pittsburgh to preserve an ugly 9-7 home win.

– In the South, only Oklahoma had two losses, falling to TCU and UCLA to fall out of the polls. Entering conference play, neither Oklahoma nor Nebraska was ranked. The last time neither was ranked? November 3, 1969.

– Interesting side note. Buff fans are often ridiculed for not supporting the home team, but Miami, despite four national championships, had only 28 sellouts in team history coming into the Colorado game, with 25 coming since the first national title in 1983, (the total including four Orange Bowls). During that same span, Colorado had 44 sellouts. Granted, Colorado’s stadium has 20,000 fewer seats, but during the 21 seasons in question, Miami finished ranked in the top ten 14 times; Colorado six times.

[In memoriam: In reviewing and recording my thoughts concerning the past quarter century of Colorado football, I have often digressed to discuss the goings on in my personal life. I take the time to do so now, even though the loss involves the passing not of a parent or sibling, but of our family dog, Micki. Micki died two days before the Miami game, after suffering from an assortment of ailments over the summer. Micki was with us for 11 years, and she was a good companion and a true friend. Loyal and loving to the end, Micki will be sorely missed.

Death affects us all in different ways, and often forces us to realize what is truly important in our lives. While I often say that I “live and die” for CU football, I am, of course, acutely aware that life goes on whether the Buffs win or lose. I just wanted to take a few lines in remembrance of a good dog; an integral part of my life.

Just one last time, allow me to say to Micki, “Good girl”.]

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