October 8th – Boulder           No. 13 Oklahoma State 41, Colorado 21

In Colorado=s earlier game against a ranked team (on the road v. Iowa), the Buffs raced to a 14-0 lead on their way to 24-21 upset. Versus 13th-rated Oklahoma State, Colorado again opened strong. A three-yard scoring run by quarterback Sal Aunese gave Colorado a 7-0 lead six minutes into the game.

That was about it, however, for the Buffs’ chances at an upset.

There were no fourth quarter heroics in Colorado’s Big Eight opener, as the Cowboys, behind All-American running back Barry Sanders, scored the next 24 points of the game on their way to a 41-21 decision over the Buffs.

After Aunese=s score, Oklahoma State responded with three Sanders= touchdown runs and a 30-yard field goal to take a commanding second quarter lead of 24-7. Colorado showed some life just before half, as Aunese scored his second touchdown of the afternoon from a yard out with eight seconds left to pull the Buffs to within 24-14. This was as close as the Buffs would come, however, as Barry Sanders put the game away with a 65-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. On the day Sanders put up four scores in rushing for 174 yards on 24 carries.

With Colorado trailing by double digits much of the game, the likely conclusion would be that the Buffs were run out of their own stadium. In fact, the Buffs were their own worst enemies, turning the ball over six times. The six miscues lead directly to 20 Oklahoma State points.

Colorado did put up 390 yards of total offense (compared to 440 for Oklahoma State), but did not convert when it mattered most. The result was a 20-point home loss.

Colorado was now 4-1 on the season, but, more significantly, 0-1 in Big Eight play. With Oklahoma and Nebraska – both in the national top ten – still to play, the Buffs could not afford another loss to any other conference members if there was to be any hope of avoiding a losing conference record and a possible bowl snub for the second consecutive year.

Watching Barry

Barry Sanders in 1988 would go on to set single season NCAA records in a number of categories. The Oklahoma State running back would rush for a total of 2,628 yards in 1988, smashing the NCAA single-season record of 2,342 yards set by Marcus Allen of USC. His yards/game average of 238.9 also set a national record, as did his 37 touchdowns and per carry average of 7.64. When viewed against this background, the four touchdown, 174-yard performance against the Buffs was not extraordinary.

But it was.

In the first half of the Colorado/Oklahoma State game, Sanders scored three times. The longest of these runs, though, was only seven yards.

Nothing spectacular.

It was the fourth touchdown, though, which I remember. The Buffs had scored just before halftime to pull within 24-14. Colorado was still ten down, but these Buffs had rallied for wins in each of the last three contests. If the Buffs could contain Sanders and his Cowboy teammates, the Buffs still had a chance, and the 41,854 on hand were hoping for just such a comeback.

Leave it to Barry Sanders to take away all hope.

Sanders, on a third-and-one from the Oklahoma State 35-yard line, raced around the corner for 65 yards and a score which took the wind out of the Buffs= sails. Two quick Buff turnovers were then converted into ten more points for the Cowboys and a 24-14 game was quickly converted into a 41-14 rout. Only a 16-yard touchdown run by freshman quarterback Darian Hagan with just over a minute remaining in the game gave the Buffs some measure of solace.

Everyone in attendance in Boulder knew that Sanders was a special talent, destined for future glory. As Sanders was a junior, we figured we would have one more look at this back before he turned pro. We did not know at the time that Sanders would instead opt to leave early for the NFL.

Brad and I would see Sanders once more in his collegiate career, but it would not be against the Buffs …

As fate would have it, we ended up in southern California for CU’s 1988 Freedom Bowl appearance, then drove down to San Diego to watch Oklahoma State take on Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl.

Game Notes –

– Sophomore linebacker Terry Johnson, the hero of the Colorado State game (two interceptions) earned his first career start against Oklahoma State. Johnson subbed for an injured Don DeLuzio, who returned to the starting lineup the following week.

– The Buffs’ rushing numbers were almost identical to those posted by the Cowboys. Oklahoma State had 238 yards on 51 carries; Colorado had 241 yards on 52 carries. The difference? Oklahoma State had five rushing touchdowns, while the Buffs could only post two rushing scores.

– Down two scores or more most of the game, Colorado had the most passes completions of any game all season – eight. And it took three quarterbacks to do it. Sal Aunese hit on five-of-13 passes, for 98 yards; Darian Hagan hit on two-of-three, for 33 yards (and an interception), while Marc Walters hit on one-of-three attempts, for 18 yards. Meanwhile, future Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy, when he wasn’t handing off to Barry Sanders, completed 13-of-20 passes for 202 yards.

– Barry Sanders’ four touchdown effort against the Buffs matched the best effort of any player against Colorado in 1988 … and Sanders did that often that season. Sanders, who would win the Heisman trophy at the conclusion of the 1988 season, joined some illustrious company with his four-touchdown game against Colorado:

— Steve Owens, the 1969 Heisman trophy winner for Oklahoma, had four rushing touchdowns against the Buffs in 1969;

—  Joe Washington, who finished third in the Heisman voting in 1974, had four rushing touchdowns for the Sooners in 1974; and

— Mike Rozier, the Heisman trophy winner in 1983, had four rushing touchdowns against the Buffs for Nebraska in the 1983 game.

– Colorado gave up 41 points to Oklahoma State, but only one other team in 1988, Oklahoma, held the potent Cowboy offense below that number (the Sooners held the Cowboys to 28 points). Oklahoma State led the nation in scoring in 1988, posting an average of 47.5 points per game.

– The win over Colorado bumped Oklahoma State up from 13th in the polls to 10th. The stay in the top ten was to be short-lived, however, as the following week, the Cowboys lost to No. 7 Nebraska, 63-42, dropping Oklahoma State to 15th. The only other loss for Oklahoma State in 1988 came at the hands of No 8 Oklahoma, 31-28. A 10-2 season was capped off by a 62-14 destruction of Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl (referenced above – Brad and I went to the Holiday Bowl after watching the Buffs play in the Freedom Bowl the night before. Stories on both games can be found in the Archives of the 1988 season).


One Reply to “No. 13 Oklahoma State – Watching Barry Sanders”

  1. This was the final autumn of my four years at CU. Thanks to Coach Mac’s “We’ll play anyone” philosophy and the NFL-laden rosters of our then-conference rivals in Norman and Lincoln (and Stillwater to a lesser degree)between 1985 and 1988 we were treated to seeing some exceptionally talented players come in to Folsom to battle the Buffs.

    Barry Sanders was at that time – and remains so almost a quarter-century later – the best college football player I have ever seen play live and in person. The description in this piece of the way in which he sucked the life right out of the stadium at the start of the 2nd half when we were still all hoping against hope that the Buffs might be able to hang with them is wholly consistent with my memory. When one considers the talent the Buffs had on the defensive side of the ball – and the # of guys who ended up cashing at least a couple of years’ worth of NFL paychecks – his performance against them was nothing short of legendary.

    During my four years at CU the 1988 team was the best – losing only three games all season. We lost by a field goal to Oklahoma on a Saturday night in what was (I think anyway) the first night game Folsom had ever hosted. We lost at Nebraska 7-0 on a frigid day and should have been no worse than tied 7-7 but for J.J. Flanagan’s fumble as he was in the clear and on his way to the end zone. I think he dropped the ball while trying to switch hands (but the likelihood of my recollection being wrong is very high). The only team that whipped us all season was OK State.

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