November 12th – Boulder Colorado 48, Arizona 29
In the best offensive showing of the 11-game Jon Embree era, Colorado won it’s first-ever Pac-12 game in dominating Arizona, 48-29.
On a Senior Day when there was a chance that the 2011 Buffs would become the first Colorado team to fail to win a home game at Folsom Field, the Colorado seniors came up big. Senior running back Rodney Stewart had 24 carries for 181 yards and three touchdowns, while also contributing a touchdown passing. On the other end of that halfback pass for a score was senior quarterback Tyler Hansen, who went 16-for-26 for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
On a 57-degree afternoon with winds gusting as high as 62 mph, Colorado posted 500 yards of total offense for only the second time in 2011, while holding the opposition under 500 yards for the first time in six games. The Colorado defense, which had only four interceptions in the first ten games of the year, had three against Arizona quarterback Nick Foles.
While there was hope amongst the members of the Buff Nation that this would be the week that the lopsided losses would come to an end, Colorado was still posted as an 11-point underdog to 2-7 Arizona. As the 48,111 on hand settled into their seats, the first question on everyone’s mind was: Can the Buffs prevent the Wildcats from scoring on their opening drive?
In the five games since Washington State ended its opening drive with a turnover, every Buff opponent had scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game. It was no small victory for the Colorado defense, then, when the Arizona offense was only able to generate one first down before punting the ball away.
Perhaps this day would be different …
The Colorado offense responded to the defensive hold, putting together a touchdown drive to open the game for only the third time all season. After sophomore wide receiver Paul Richardson opened the drive with a 15-yard run, Tyler Hansen hit wide recediver Keenan Canty on a short pass which the red-shirt freshman turned into a 39-yard gain. Two Tyler Hansen runs put the ball at the Wildcat five yard line, where Rodney Stewart did the honors to give Colorado an early lead. Colorado 7, Arizona 0.
Arizona responded with a long drive of its own, but the 11-play effort came up short. Two five yard penalties in successsion in the Colorado red zone halted the drive, and the Wildcats had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by John Bonano. Colorado 7, Arizona 3.
On the ensuing drive, the Buffs put together another 80-yard drive. Aided by a 23-yard run by Rodney Stewart after a holding call pushed the Buffs back, Colorado took advantage of a pass defense ranked 112th in the nation. Tyler Hansen hit senior wide receiver Toney Clemons for 35 yards to the Arizona 13-yard line as the first quarter ended.
That Colorado led, 7-3, at the end of the first quarter was significant enough, but the fact that Arizona had only three points represented new territory for the Buffs. Over the previous five weeks, Colorado had been out-scored 91-14 in the first quarter, and for the season, 118-20.
The drive which had progressed to the Arizona 13 almost stalled after a pitch from Tyler Hansen to Tony Jones was fumbled, with the result of the play pushing the Buffs back to the 26-yard line. Instead of faltering – as had been the case for the Colorado offense much of the season – the Buffs responded, with Hansen hitting Clemons on the next play for a 21-yard gain to the Arizona five yard line.
Faced with a fourth-and-two at the five, with the Buffs leading, 7-3, the Colorado coaches were presented with a decision. The choice to go for the first down was rewarded, with Tyler Hansen hitting red-shirt freshman Tony Jones for a five yard touchdown with 13:18 to play before halftime. The extra point by Will Oliver was missed, leaving the score at: Colorado 13, Arizona 3.
With the Buffs staked to a two-score lead for the first time since the Washington State game, it was the Buffs’ defense which next made a play. Senior linebacker Patrick Mahnke forced a fumble by Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, with the ball recovered at the CU 38-yard line by junior defensive end Will Pericak.
Unable to sustain the momentum, the Colorado offense, which already had two 80-yard drives to its credit, went nowhere, going three-and-out. This time, Foles and the Arizona offense made quick work of the Colorado defense, taking only seven plays to cover 65 yards. A one yard touchdown run by Ka’Deem Carey brought the Wildcats back to within a field goal, at 13-10, midway through the second quarter.
A three-and-out by the Colorado offense gave Arizona its best opportunity of the day to take the lead. Instead, the Wildcats went three-and-out as well … except that the Wildcats failed on the “and out” part of the equation. Arizona punter Kyle Dugandzic was called for kneeling down while trying to field the snap, with the downing of the ball giving Colorado the ball at the Arizona 28-yard line. From there, the Buffs took advantage of the Wildcat miscue. After an eight yard pass from Hansen to senior tight end Ryan Deehan set the Buffs up at the Arizona 17-yard line, sophomore Josh Ford scored the first touchdown of his Colorado career on a run up the middle, and the Buffs were back up again by two scores, 20-10, with 2:08 to play before halftime.
With still plenty of time before half, Foles got the Wildcats out as far as the Arizona 47-yard line before the drive stalled, forcing the Wildcats into their second punt of the afternoon.
Halftime score: Colorado 20, Arizona 10
The second half, as had not been the case for much of the season, opened as well as any Buff fan could have hoped. The Colorado offense took the second half kickoff and pieced together its third 80-yard touchdown drive of the game. Over the course of the 11-play drive, the Buffs converted on third-and-seven (with an eight yard scramble by Tyler Hansen), on third-and-eight (on a 19-yard run by Hansen), and on third-and-eight again (on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Hansen to Toney Clemons). Colorado 27, Arizona 10.
Armed with the largest lead of any game in 2011 to that point, the defense again forced a three-and-out from the Arizona offense. Again, however, the Wildcats neglected the “and out” part. On fourth-and-three at their own 47-yard line, the Wildcats attempted to shift the momentum of the game with a fake punt. The direct snap to the up-back, though, was read and stopped by sophomore defensive back Terrel Smith. Ball back to Colorado on downs.
Up 17 points, and with the ball near midfield, the Buffs failed to put the game away. Instead of marching downfield, the Buffs went backward. After three plays netted five yards, a punt by freshman Darragh O’Neill hit a Buff player, going backwards, with the Wildcats taking over at the Colorado 38-yard line. The Colorado defense held, though, and the Buffs escaped without further damage when Arizona kicker John Bonano missed a 57-yard field goal attempt.
On the first play after the miss, Hansen hit Toney Clemons for a 29-yard gain to the Arizona 31-yard line. From there it was the Rodney Stewart show. Runs by the senior back of seven, four, and six yards put the ball at the Arizona 14-yard line. There, on third-and-four, Hansen pitched the ball to Stewart, who threw the ball back to a wide open Hansen. Touchdown, Colorado, with 3:50 to play in the third quarter. Colorado 34, Arizona 10.
Instead of folding, the Arizona offense, which to that point had yet to post a first down in the second half, made it look easy. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles completed six straight passes in moving the ball to the Colorado 35-yard line. There, however, Foles got greedy, and a pass to the endzone was intercepted by freshman cornerback Greg Henderson, who recorded the first pick of his career.
Unable to stand the prosperity, the Buff offense committed the cardinal sin. Arizona’s potent offense, ranked 4th in the nation in passing, had no points in three second half possessions. An errant Tyler Hansen pass intended for tight end Ryan Deehan, though, allowed the Arizona defense to post points. Wildcat linebacker Tra’Mayne Bondurant stepped in front of the Hansen offering, racing untouched fora 29-yard touchdown. All of the sudden, it was a game again. Colorado 34, Arizona 17, as the third quarter came to a close.
After a punt by Colorado, Nick Foles took the field, and showed why he was considered an NFL prospect. It took the Wildcats only seven plays – going for 16, 18, 20, four, nine, 10 and 11 – to cover 88 yards. More importantly, the scoring drive took only 1:41 off of the fourth quarter clock. After a failed two-point conversion, the Buffs still had the lead, but instead of a comfortable 34-10, it was now 34-23.
This was the Buffs’ Senior Day, however, and the Buffs’ seniors were not to be denied. Tyler Hansen hit fellow senior Ryan Deehan for 11 yards to start the Buffs’ fourth 80-yard drive of the game. Two plays later, senior running back Rodney Stewart took off on a 31-yard run. Two plays after that, it was Stewart again, going 11 yards for his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon. Colorado 41, Arizona 23.
The Wildcats did score on their next drive, but it took 12 plays to go 50 yards, and – more importantly for Buff fans – it took another 3:20 off of the fourth quarter clock. Another two-point conversion failed, and, with 4:12 left to play, the Buffs were up by 12 points. Colorado 41, Arizona 29.
Despite the Arizona score, all that could keep the Buffs from their first home victory of the season was a Kansas-like meltdown …
… which seemed far more likely after the Wildcats recovered an on-side kick. Suddenly, memories of Kansas in 2010, as well as the loss of a ten-point lead late to Washington State on October 1st, returned to haunt the Buff sideline.
Enter senior Jason Espinoza.
Espinoza, a wide receiver by trade, had been converted to defensive back for the 2011. On the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage after recovering the on-sides kick, Foles was intercepted by Espinoza, effectively ending Arizona’s last threat.
It was then time for Rodney Stewart, the Buffs’ all-time leader in all-purpose yards and yards from scrimmage, to take a final bow before the home crowd. The Buffs’ final home drive of the season went for 57 yards in seven plays – all Stewart runs. The final run went for nine yards and a touchdown, Stewart’s third of the game, with 1:45 to play.
Final Score: Colorado 48, Arizona 29
“These seniors, they did it,” said Colorado head coach Jon Embree in his post-game press conference, surrounded by his 28 seniors. “I’m proud of these guys. I love them … Everyone up here made a contribution, they all had big plays in games, interceptions, touchdowns, big blocks that allowed ‘Speedy’ to run, good protection, it was a great team effort. It wasn’t pretty – actually, I thought it was pretty. It was a great win for our program, first Pac-12 win.”
Colorado, for only the second time all season, posted 500 yards of total offense (582 v. Cal). The Buffs gained 289 yards rushing, led by Stewart’s 181, was almost as many yards rushing (303) as the Buffs had against Stanford, Washington, Oregon and Arizona State – combined.
In addition to Stewart’s heroics, other seniors had a good day against Arizona. Tyler Hansen had 213 yards passing, with two touchdowns, to go with his first career reception for a touchdown. “He threw a perfect spiral, it could not have been better,” said Hansen of Stewart’s 14-yard touchdown pass. “I have caught a pass once before in high school, but nothing compares to here at Folsom on Senior day. It was awesome.” On the other end of five of Hansen’s passes was Toney Clemons, who posted 115 yards receiving and a touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, in addition to the interception by senior Jason Espinoza, senior defensive back Travis Sandersfeld had a great day. In leading the team with 11 tackles, Sandersfeld also had an interception, a sack, and three tackles for loss. “After the game I was telling everybody it feels so great to get this win,” said Sandersfeld. “We could have easily quit, but we still have drive and passion to come out and this three game winning streak to send the underclassmen off right.”
For Colorado to end the season with a three game losing streak, the Buffs would first have to end a four-year road losing streak. The 2011 campaign had two road games to end the season – at UCLA and at Utah. The Bruins and head coach Rick Neuheisel reprensented the first opportunity. Left for dead after falling, 48-12, to Arizona, the Bruins posted two straight wins to take control of their own destiny in the Pac-12 South race. Back on the road against Utah, though, the Bruins fell flat, losing 31-6 to Utah. At 5-5 (4-3), the Bruins would face the Buffs in a precarious position – two wins to end the season would mean a Pac-12 South title, while two losses would mean no bowl game and, perhaps, a new head coach.
Game Notes –
– Rodney Stewart had 204 yards from scrimmage (181 rushing; 23 receiving), moving him into first place on the all-time list in that category. The new total for “Speedy” moved up to 4,409 yards, passing his position coach, Eric Bieniemy (4,320, 1987-90). Stewart is 2nd on the all-time rushing list, with 3,486 (though well behind Bieniemy’s 3,940). Stewart’s 181 yards rushing against Arizona were the second-highest of his career (Stewart had 195 v. Kansas State in 2010);
– Stewart needs four to receptions to pass Lee Rouson for the most catches ever by a running back, and only 77 yards receiving to become just the 27th player in NCAA history to post 3,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving;
– With his 14-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Hansen, Stewart is now two-for-two passing, with both efforts going for touchdowns. Last season, Stewart had a 23-yard touchdown pass to Toney Clemons (in case you are wondering, Stewart’s pass rating is a nifty 584.5);
– For his career of over-coming expectations, Rodney Stewart was given the Buffalo Heart Award after the game by the “Fans in the Stands”. “It’s unbelievable”, said Stewart. “It makes me feel great.”
– Senior quarterback Tyler Hansen did more than score his first receiving touchdown against Arizona. With 5,314 yards passing (after posting 213 v. the Wildcats), is getting close to fourth place on the all-time passing list (5,314 yards to Koy Detmer’s 5,390) and on the all-time total offense list (5,789, to Darian Hagan’s 5,808). Hansen is now third all-time in pass attempts (805) and completions (467), passing Kordell Stewart (786; 456) on both lists. With 33 career touchdown passes, Hansen is tied for fifth, alongside Stewart and Mike Moschetti;
– Senior wide receiver Toney Clemons continued to shine in the absence of Paul Richardson. With the sophomore star hampered by injuries, Clemons had his third-straight good game. Against Arizona, Clemons had five catches for 115 yards. In the past three games, Clemons has posted 18 catches for 324 yards and four touchdowns;
– Colorado moved to a 24-8 record when the Buffs had both a 100-yard rusher (Stewart; 188) and a 100-yard receiver (Clemons; 115)
– Senior defensive back Jason Espinoza had his second career interception against Arizona, having come up with his first against USC the previous week;
– Freshman cornerback Greg Henderson, a starter from the first game, recorded his first career interception;
– Freshman kicker Will Oliver, despite missing his first extra point attempt of the season (now 27-28), became the school record holder for freshman scoring. Oliver’s six points gave him 57 of the season, five more than Mason Crosby’s 52 points in 2003;
– Colorado led for 55:56 of game time against Arizona. In the first ten games of the 2011 season, Colorado held the lead for a combined 81:08 (opponents, in the first ten games, held the lead for 452:42);
– Colorado entered the game last in the nation in red zone offense, with only 13 touchdowns in 26 penetrations of the opponents’ 20-yard line. Against Arizona, the Buffs went seven-for-seven in scoring touchdowns in the red zone;
– Colorado had only four interceptions in ten games, but had three against Arizona. It was the first three-interception game for Colorado since the 2010 season opener against Colorado State;
– With the win, Colorado upped its record against Arizona to 13-1 all-time. The 48 points were the second-highest total in the series (65 in 1958), and the most for any Colorado team since the Buffs defeated Nebraska to end the 2007 regular season with a 65-51 victory;
– The Arizona game was the windiest in at least 15 years in Folsom Field. At kickoff, the winds were clocked at 32 mph. Just after halftime, the wind speed hit its peak – 45 mph, with gusts up to 71 mph;
– Despite a 1-4 home record, Colorado averaged over 50,000 per game in 2011. With 48,111 on hand for the Arizona game, the average attendance for 2011 home games dipped, but still finished at 50,355;
– Several dubious streaks came to an end against Arizona. After having never given up more than 500 yards of total offense in three consecutive games, the Buffs gave up over 500 yards in five straight games, ended with the Wildcats’ 412. CU’s streaks of allowing over 30 points (seven straight games) and over 40 (five straight) also came to an end.