November 25th – at Utah Colorado 17, Utah 14
Colorado used an almost perfect first half to take the lead, and then played just well enough in the second half to hold the lead, taking the first “Rumble in the Rockies” against Utah, 17-14.
Utah junior kicker Coleman Petersen, the Pac-12 Player-of-the-Week for his three-for-three performance in a 30-27 overtime victory over Washington State, had a chance to tie the game with a 48-yard kick, but the effort went wide and short, giving Colorado the hard-earned victory.
The road win, as every Buff fan could recite in his sleep, was the first for Colorado since 2007. The school-record streak of 23 road losses (24 counting the 2007 Independence Bowl) finally came to an end before a crowd of 45,026 in Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
Utah came into the game hot, with four straight Pac-12 victories, and a chance at a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. Colorado came in cold, with a 2-10 record and a 23-game road losing streak. Utah had everything to gain; Colorado had nothing to lose.
So what happened? For one of the few times all season, Colorado played like the Colorado team Buff coaches and fans had expected all season.
Colorado came into the game having been out-scored 142-27 in the first quarter of play, tied for the worst (with lowly New Mexico) for the worst point differential in the first quarter in all of college football.
So naturally, in the final game of the season, Colorado played an (almost) perfect first quarter.
The Buffs opened with a 12-play, 80-yard drive to score its fourth opening drive touchdown of the season. After senior quarterback Tyler Hansen hit sophomore Paul Richardson for a nine yard gain to earn the first first down of the drive, the Buffs were seemingly stopped near midfield when Rodney Stewart was dropped after a one yard gain on third-and-three. The Utes, however, were called for a personal foul on the play, keeping the drive alive.
Hansen next hit Paul Richardson for 19 yards, then senior tight end Ryan Deehan for 20, putting the ball into the red zone. Against the best red zone defense in the Pac-12, and with one of the worst red zone offenses in the Pac-12, the Buffs’ offense nonetheless converted. Two Rodney Stewart runs gave Colorado a first-and-goal at the one, with Tyler Hansen doing the honors with a quarterback sneak. Colorado 7, Utah 0.
Okay, the Buffs had scored on their first drive of the game for the fourth time, but it was the Colorado defense which now took the field. On the season, no fewer than seven opponents had scored touchdowns on their opening drive, including six of eight Pac-12 opponents.
Utah’s first drive? Three-and-out, with Josh Hartigan picking up a first down sack to set the tone.
On the Buffs’ second drive, the offense took over at the CU 11 yard line. On first down, Hansen hit a wide open DaVaughn Thornton, with the sophomore tight end being pulled down after a 52-yard gain. Three more passes netted another nine yards, leaving Colorado with a fourth-and-one at the Utah 28-yard line. A false start penalty turned the play into a fourth-and-six at the 33, but the Buffs still went for the first down.
A completion from Hansen to senior wide receiver Toney Clemons appeared to give the Buffs a big play. Clemons carried the ball down to the two-yard line, where Clemons fumbled. The ball bounced into the endzone, giving Utah a touchback, ending the Colorado drive (in fairness, it must be remembered that the Buffs were called for a personal foul on the play, so had Clemons not fumbled, the Buffs would have been backed into a fourth-and-21 situation and an almost certain punt).
Taking over at their own 20, with momentum finally turned in the Utes’ favor, the Utah offense … went three-and-out. Three plays netted nine yards, and the second punt of the first quarter for Utah.
Backed up at the five yard line, the Colorado drive stalled after one first down. A short punt by freshman punter Darragh O’Neill was returned 29 yards to the Colorado 27-yard line. The first quarter ended with the Utes facing a third-and-eight at the Colorado 25 yard line. It had been a very good first quarter for the Colorado Buffs on the road, but could the quality play continue?
An incomplete pass by Utah to open the second quarter was followed by a missed 42-yard field goal attempt by Utah kicker Coleman Petersen.
Colorado was still alive, and still had the lead.
The Colorado offense responded to the Utah missed field goal drive with a field goal drive of its own. The Buffs took off on a 15-play, 69-yard drive. On the first play, Hansen hit Clemons for a 19-yard gain, but, once again, it appeared that the Colorado drive would stall near midfield. On third-and-13 from the CU 41-yard line, Tyler Hansen’s throw fell incomplete, but the Utes were called for defensive holding on the play, giving the Buffs new life.
A pass interference penalty moved the ball further into Utah territory, but there again, the Colorado offense stalled. The Buffs faced a fourth-and-four at the Utah 17 yard line. Rather than attempt a field goal, the Buffs went for a first down instead. A scrambling Tyler Hansen then made just enough yards for a first down, out-racing the Utah defenders to the first down sticks. Three more plays, though, gained only six more yards. Facing a fourth-and-three at the Utah six yard line, Colorado head coach Jon Embree had seen enough, and called in Will Oliver. The freshman then hit from 23 yards out, setting a new freshman record in the process with his 11th field goal of the season. Colorado 10, Utah 0.
A pair of three-and-outs ensued, with Utah then taking over at the 48-yard line. Two rushes gave Utah a first down … the first first down of the game for the Utes, coming with 2:48 to play before halftime.
The Utes could go no further, however, and Utah was forced to punt once again. Colorado then ran out the clock, content to take a lead into the locker room.
Halftime score: Colorado 10, Utah 0.
At the break, the stats sheet looked about as good as any Buff fan could have hoped. While the Buffs had 12 first downs and over 250 yards of total offense, the Utes had one first down and only 39 yards of total offense. As had been the look of the Buff stats sheet for much of the season, at halftime, Utah had more penalty yards (40) than offensive yards.
Still, the lead was only 10-0, and the question for the Buffs and their coaches: Could Colorado hold on?
The third quarter opened quietly, but not because the Utes were trailing. Rather, two Utah stars in succession, running back John White and Sam Brenner, went down with injuries. With Brenner’s injury, an ambulance was brought out onto the field, but Brenner gave the crowd a thumbs up before leaving.
Seemingly energized by the two injuries and the stoppage of play, the Utah offense found its rhythm for the first time all game. A 26-yard pass from Jon Hays to DeVonte Christopher on third-and-ten after the injuries gave the Utes momentum. Running back Tauni Vakapuna, in for the injured John White, took over from there. Four Vakapuna rushes, the last from three yards out, put Utah on the board with 10:22 to play in the third quarter. Colorado 10, Utah 7.
Colorado had played well – as well as it had on the road since the first three quarters of the Kansas game in 2010 – but now the Utes had all the momentum. It was time for the Buffs to collapse.
Instead, the Buffs did just the opposite.
The much-maligned Colorado offense, playing without senior running back Rodney Stewart for much of the second half, nonetheless took off on an 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive. Three times, Colorado faced a third down. Three times, the Buffs converted. On third-and-two at the Buff 26-yard line, Hansen hit senior wide receiver Logan Gray for seven yards. On third-and-one at the CU 42, red-shirt freshman Tony Jones gained three yards. Then, on third-and-six at the CU 49-yard line, Hansen connected with Toney Clemons for 16 yards.
On the first play after the Hansen/Clemons hook up, the pair did it again. Hansen hit Clemons, who had four catches for 102 yards on the day, for a 34 yard gain down to the one yard line. On first-and-goal at the one, Hansen played pitch and catch with fullback Evan Harrington. The senior’s sixth catch was good enough for his first touchdown, putting the Buffs back up by ten with 4:42 to play in the third quarter. Colorado 17, Utah 7.
Down two scores with the third quarter winding down, the Utah offense finally made it look easy against the smaller Colorado defense. It took the Utes only eight plays to cover 58 yards, with Jon Hays hitting fullback Shawn Asiata for a six yard touchdown in the final minute of play. Colorado 17, Utah 14.
Rather than fold, the Colorado offense did what it had done after the first Utah touchdown – march smartly down the field. Taking over after an onside kick attempt nearly succeeded, the Buffs displayed the power rushing game which had eluded the Buffs all season. A 14-yard run by Tony Jones, who would go on to lead the Buffs with 72 yards on 12 carries, was followed by a 21 yard run to end the quarter.
Changing ends, the Buffs appeared to keep the momentum going, with Tony Jones breaking off for a 16-yard touchdown run. However, the play was called back for holding, and the touchdown run was nullified.
From there, it just got worse for the Buffs. On the next play, Tyler Hansen was sacked for a ten-yard loss. Then, on second-and-30 from the Utah 36, Hansen was intercepted by Reggie Topps. Down three points, the Utes’ offense, which had two drives and two touchdowns in third quarter, moved in for the kill. Once again, the Utah offense made it look easy, taking only six plays to cover 60 yards.
With a first-and-goal at the Colorado six yard line, the Buff lead, held since early in the first quarter, was precarious indeed. Two runs, though, gained only one yard, and on third-and-goal quarterback Jon Hays was sacked by Travis Sandersfeld and Patrick Mahnke for a four yard loss. A chip shot field goal of 26 yards would have tied the game, but Coleman Petersen, for the second time on the day, was wide right.
Unable to handle the prosperity, the Colorado offense punted the ball back to Utah after gaining only one first down. Darragh O’Neill’s best punt of the day, a 52-yarder, pinned the Utes back at their 19 yard line.
Colorado 17, Utah 14, with 5:39 left to play.
On the third play of the drive, Tauni Vakapuna, who would rush for 77 yards in place of the injured John White, rushed up the middle for 14 yards. At midfield, though, Vakapuna was hit by junior safety Ray Polk, jarring the ball loose. The ball was picked out of the air by senior nose tackle Curtis Cunningham, who returned the ball eight yards to the Utah 43 yard line.
With a chance to put the game away, the Colorado offense short-circuited: Tony Jones was caught behind the line of scrimmage for a two yard loss; then senior guard Ethan Adkins was called for a false start (one of five on the CU offensive line on the day); then, after a three-yard run by Jones, the red-shirt freshman dropped a pass from Tyler Hansen. Jones would not have picked up the first down, but he would have kept the clock running. In all, the Buff offense was able to burn off only 1:24 of playing time on its drive.
A short punt by O’Neill set up the Utah offense at the 29-yard line. The Utes still had 3:14 of clock, and two time outs to work with. Early in the drive, the Colorado defense was twice able to force a third down, but twice Utah converted.
Then, on second-and-two at the Colorado 37, Jon Hays threw an incomplete pass to DeVonte Christopher. On the play – which might have been the play of the game – Colorado defensive back Parker Orms was called for a personal foul. First-and-ten, Utah, at the Colorado 22-yard line. With still over a minute to play, Utah not only had enough time to go for a tie and overtime, but for the win.
With its back against the wall, the Colorado defense, in Game 13 of the 2011 season, finally said, “enough is enough”.
On first down, Utah quarterback Jon Hays was sacked by senior defensive lineman David Goldberg. Hays fumbled on the play, but the ball was recovered by the Utes.
On second-and-15, Hays was sacked again, this time by junior linebacker Jon Major.
On third-and-22, now backed up to the 34 yard line, the Utes hurried to the line. Hays’ pass was intercepted by senior defensive back Travis Sandersfeld. However, linebacker Josh Hartigan had jumped offside on the play, and the Utes had new life.
On third-and-17 at the Colorado 29 yard line, Utah, without any time outs left, inexplicably decided to run. Instead of catching the Buffs off-guard, the Colorado defense held Vakapuna to a two yard gain.
With the clock running down, the Utah field goal unit rushed onto the field. Coleman Petersen, who had missed his first two attempts, missed wide right once again.
Colorado had held! The streak was over!
All that remained was for senior quarterback Tyler Hansen, for the first time in four years on the road, to take a knee to end the game.
Final score: Colorado 17, Utah 14.
“Our goal coming in here was to end our road losing streak, and that is what we did,” said a very happy Colorado head coach Jon Embree. “It feels awesome. I am happy for our kids. Four years of not winning on the road has come to an end. We have a tradition of singing our fight song when we get off the airplane, and now these kids will get to do that.”
On the day, Colorado mustered only 373 yards of total offense, not a great deal higher than its 344 yard average (ranked 96th in the nation). What made the difference, though, was the play of the Colorado defense. Utah managed only 274 yards of total offense against a team giving up 453 yards per game. “Our defense played great,” said Embree. “Utah only had two drives that hurt us. We did a good job bringing pressure and containing finally this week.”
Senior quarterback Tyler Hansen, in his final game of his Colorado career, hit on 22-of-36 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown, being sacked just once. Hansen’s favorite targets were Paul Richardson, who had his most productive game in over a month (five catches for 45 yards) and Toney Clemons, with four catches for 102 yards. With Rodney Stewart hampered by a sprained ankle for much of the game (ten carries for 35 yards), red-shirt freshman Tony Jones gave Buff fans some hope for the future, carrying the rushing load with 72 yards on 12 carries (not including the 16-yard touchdown run which was called back).
The win gave Colorado a final record of 3-10, avoiding the first 11-loss season in school history. The end of the road losing streak was certainly the main focus, but the win also kept Colorado from finishing alone in the cellar of a conference for the first time since 1915. The victory also gave Colorado two wins in their final three games, an upward trend the Buff coaches would be certain to point out on the recruiting trail.
Embree and his staff didn’t want to leave Salt Lake City with the road losing streak hanging over them. Removing it, he said, “helps us with recruiting . . . we’ve played well at times and we’re showing flashes. As I’ve been telling recruits, it’s not about what we are right now, it’s what we’re going to be. They can see us for that, because we’re going to be something. We are.
“I want kids who want to come here and be a part of that – and this win helps us. I told these guys they’re spring-boarding us into 2012. When you sit there and look at Washington and some of these other programs, they’ve played well at the end . . . it shows the young guys how to fight and compete on the road and win, shows them how to play with passion, emotion and energy and with the focus on the road. This does a lot for our program; this is a program win.”
How the win will affect the future of the program is anyone’s guess. At the end of the day, though, only one thing was certain: The Streak was over.
Said Embree: “The four year stain has finally been taken off of our program.”
Game Notes -
- If you are a regular with CU at the Game, you already know this: With the win, Colorado finished in a tie for fifth in the Pac-12 South, preserving one last streak – Colorado has not finished last outright in any conference or division standings since 1915;
- Colorado is now 23-71-2 (since 1989) when held to two touchdowns or less;
- Utah’s 274 yards of total offense represented the second-best showing by the Colorado defense all season (CSU had 243). The defense did limit the Utes to only two plays of over 20 yards (explosion plays), a season best;
- Red-shirt freshman Tony Jones’ 72 yards was a career high, besting his 71-yard effort vs. Ohio State. Jones will be the Buffs’ leading returning rusher in 2012; he finished 2011 with 297 yards on 78 carries (3.8 yards per carry). Jones had two touchdowns rushing this fall, and two touchdowns receiving (27 catches for 168 yards);
- Freshman kicker Will Oliver finished the season with 11 field goals, a freshman record (10, by Tom Field in 1979). Oliver also set a freshman scoring record, with 62 points (52, Mason Crosby in 2003);
- Senior defensive end/linebacker Josh Hartigan had two sacks against Utah, giving him 15 for his career. Hartigan finished tied for 12th all-time … with his position coach, Kanavis McGhee;
- Senior nose tackle Curtis Cunningham first made the stat book with an interception against Florida State in his freshman year. Cunningham ended his career with another turnover, recovering a fumble in the fourth quarter;
- Senior fullback Evan Harrington’s sixth reception of his career went for his first career touchdown;
- Junior defensive end turned tight end Nick Kasa recorded his first career catch, going for eight yards;
- The 10-0 halftime lead represented the first time since the 2010 opener against CSU in which the Buffs shut out a team in the first half. The last time CU shut out a team on the road came in 2007, when the Buffs led 21-0 at the break (but ended up losing, 31-28);
- You have to go back to 1999 to find a game (Kansas State, a 54-7 win) in which Colorado held an opponent to fewer than 39 first half yards (KSU had32 in the 1999 game).
Year End Notes
Individual Records set -
Most Games Started, Career— 47, Ryan Miller, OG, 2007-11, (old record: 45, Jordon Dizon, ILB, 2004-07).
Most Games Started, Career, Offensive Player — 47, Ryan Miller, OG, 2007-11, (old record: 44, by Joe Garten, OG, 1987-90 and Bryan Stoltenberg, C, 1992-95).
Most Rushing Attempts, Career— 809, Rodney Stewart, 2008-11, (old record: 699, Eric Bieniemy, 1987-90).
Most All-Purpose Yards, Career – 4,828, Rodney Stewart, 2008-11, (old record: 4,351, Eric Bieniemy, 1987-90).
Most Career Receptions, Running back – 93, Rodney Stewart, 2008-11, (old record: 86, Lee Rouson, 1981-84).
Most Career Yards from Scimmage, Running back – 4,567, Rodney Stewart, 2008-11, (old record: 4,320, Eric Bieniemy, 1987-90).
Most Career Receiving Yards, Running back – 969, Rodney Stewart, 2008-11, (old record: 725, Herchell Troutman, 1994-97).
Most Passing Yards Gained, Game— 474, Tyler Hansen vs. California in Boulder, Sept. 10, 2011 (old record: 465, Mike Moschetti vs. San Jose State in Boulder, Sept. 11, 1999).
Most Passing Yards Gained By Class/Senior, Game— 474, Tyler Hansen vs. California in Boulder, Sept. 10, 2011 (old record: 465, Mike Moschetti vs. San Jose State in Boulder, Sept. 11, 1999.
Most Yards Gained, Total Offense, Game— 500, Tyler Hansen vs. California in Boulder, Sept. 10, 2011 (474 pass, 26 rush), (tied old record: Mike Moschetti vs. San Jose State in Boulder, Sept. 11, 1999 (465 pass, 35 rush).
Most Touchdown Passes, Duo/Senior— 8, Tyler Hansen to Toney Clemons, 2011 (Tied old record: 8, Koy Detmer to Rae Carruth, 1996).
Most Receptions, Game— 11, Paul Richardson vs. California in Boulder, Sept. 10, 2011 (for 284 yards), (Tied old record: (for 186 yards) Michael Westbrook vs. Baylor at Waco, Sept. 12, 1992; (for 168 yards), Charles E. Johnson vs. Missouri at Columbia, Oct. 8, 1992; (for 131 yards), Derek McCoy vs. Washington State in Boulder, Sept. 13, 2003; Scotty McKnight vs. Toledo at Toledo, Sept. 11, 2009; Markques Simas vs. Oklahoma State at Stillwater, Nov. 19, 2009).
Most Receptions By Class/Sophomore, Game— 11, Paul Richardson vs. California in Boulder, Sept. 10, 2011 (for 284 yards), (Tied old record: Michael Westbrook vs. Baylor at Waco, Sept. 12, 1992; Markques Simas vs. Oklahoma State at Stillwater, Nov. 19, 2009).
Most Receiving Yards, Game— 284, Paul Richardson vs. California in Boulder, Sept. 10, 2011 (old record: 222, Walter Stanley vs. Texas Tech in Boulder, Sept. 12, 1981 and Rae Carruth vs. Missouri at Columbia, Nov. 2, 1996).
Most Receiving Yards By Class/Sophomore, Game— 284, Paul Richardson vs. California in Boulder, Sept. 10, 2011 (old record: 222, Walter Stanley vs. Texas Tech in Boulder, Sept. 12, 1981).
Most Receptions By A Running Back/Season— 45, Rodney Stewart, 2011 (571 yards), (old record: 39, Chris McLemore, 1982 (337 yards).
Most Receiving Yards By A Running Back/Season— 571, Rodney Stewart, 2011 (45 receptions), (old record: 382, Cortlen Johnson, 2001 (24 receptions).
Most Receiving Yards By A Running Back/Career— 969, Rodney Stewart, 2008-11 (84 receptions). (old record: 725, Herchell Troutman 1994-97).
Most Punts Inside-the-20, Game— 6, Darragh O’Neill vs. Oregon in Boulder, Oct. 22, 2011, (old record: 4, Mitch Berger vs. Texas in Boulder, Sept. 4, 1993).
Most Punts Inside-the-10, Game— 4, Darragh O’Neill vs. Oregon in Boulder, Oct. 22, 2011, (old record: 3, on several occasions; last: John Torp vs. Nebraska in Boulder, Nov. 25, 2005).
Most Points Scored, Freshman, Season— 62, Will Oliver (29 PAT, 11 FG), (old record: 52, Mason Crosby, 2003 (31 PAT, 7 FG)
Most Field Goals Made, Freshman, Season— 11, Will Oliver (16 attempts), (old record: 10, Tom Field, 1979 (14 attempts)
Longest Field Goal Made, Freshman— 52, Will Oliver vs. California in Boulder, Sept. 10, 2011, (old record: 51, Tom Field vs. Oregon, Sept. 8, 1979 in Boulder and vs. Oklahoma State in Boulder, Nov. 10, 1979).
Most Consecutive Road losses – 23, November 10, 2007 to November 19, 2011 (old record: 10, September 13, 1980, to November 14, 1981).