October 21, 1989 – Boulder          No. 3 Colorado 49, Kansas 17

The largest Homecoming crowd in the Bill McCartney era, 50,057, witnessed the methodical dismantling of the Jayhawks as the Buffs rolled to a 49-17 win.

Starting for the injured Eric Bieniemy, senior tailback J.J. Flannigan ran for 178 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the second quarter as Colorado built a 21-3 halftime advantage.  Before Kansas was allowed to score its two consolation touchdowns in the fourth, Colorado had built the lead to 42-3.

The 482 yards of total offense was becoming expected of the Colorado offense.  After scoring once in the first quarter, on a 13-yard run by Darian Hagan midway through the quarter, Colorado proceeded to score 14 points in each of the remaining three quarters. While not treated to an exciting finish, Buff fans were at least entertained by Flannigan, who put an end to any lingering doubts about the Colorado running game without Bieniemy. Flannigan had touchdown runs of four and 41 yards in the second quarter, then a 64-yard score in the third quarter before taking his 178-effort to the bench in the fourth quarter. Senior fullback Erich Kissick scored his first touchdown of the season on a one-yard run, while backup quarterback Charles S. Johnson scored on an eight-yard run, to close out the Buffs’ onslaught.

It was now – finally – time to stop pretending to be focused on only the team immediately before the Buffs.  Ever since the Washington rout, writers and fans had pointed to the Oklahoma and Nebraska games as the true test of the Buffs.  Missouri, Iowa State, and Kansas were not expected to seriously challenge Colorado, and they did not.  The Buffs had taken care of business – nothing more, nothing less.  The bullies of the Big Eight, the “Big Two”, were ready to re-establish order and put the upstart Buffs back in their place, just as they had done to Oklahoma State the year before (The Cowboys had a great year in 1988, going 10-2 overall … but were 0-2 against the Big Two).

Colorado remained at No. 3 in the next poll, actually losing two of its three first place votes.  While Colorado was putting it to Kansas, Notre Dame was outlasting No. 9 USC, 28-24, to regain the confidence of the pollsters (No. 2 Miami was idle; No. 4 Nebraska thumped Oklahoma State, 48-23).

With its 7-0 start, the 1989 Buffs were off to the best start of any Buff team since the 1937 Buffs of Byron “Whizzer” White fame went 8-0 to start the year.

For the dream of an Orange Bowl birth, the Buffs needed to exorcize some demons of their past.

The first awaited them in Norman.

Things Have Changed

 The week before the Oklahoma game, the history of the rivalry was oft-cited, and it did not paint a pretty picture for the Buffs.  Oklahoma led the series, 34-8-1, including a 19-3 record against Colorado in Norman.  The Buffs had not beaten the Sooners in any of Bill McCartney’s previous seven attempts, losing by an average score of 33-11.  Colorado had not so much as been in the lead in any game since 1976.  The last Colorado victory over Oklahoma had come in the 1976 game; the last Colorado win in Norman? 1965.  “Nobody”, Bill McCartney understated, “has dominated Colorado more through the years than Oklahoma.”

But this was 1989.

The Oklahoma Sooners of 1989 were not the force of the previous decade.  Gone was Barry Switzer, who had led the Sooners to an average of almost ten wins a year in his 16 seasons.  Switzer had left the school in the shadow of probation, leaving it to first year head coach Gary Gibbs to pick up the pieces.  On the year, the Sooners were an uncharacteristic 5-2, losers to Arizona and arch-rival Texas.  The week before the Colorado game, Oklahoma defeated Iowa State.  But the lackluster performance in the 43-40 win had dropped the Sooners out of the top 25 for the first time in recent memory (Iowa State rolled up 609 total yards against Oklahoma, which was to that date, the most ever against the Sooners).  Colorado, the undefeated and 3rd ranked team in the nation, would be playing an unranked Oklahoma team looking to cling to its past.

Head coach Bill McCartney seized upon this opportunity.  On Thursday, October 26th, two days before the Oklahoma game, McCartney handed out t-shirts to the players.  On it was written:  “Things Have Changed”.  It was a simple message, but one which rang true to the Buffs.  The opportunity to change the established pattern and the established hierarchy of the Big Eight was there for the taking.  “This is what we’ve worked for”, said Bill McCartney before the Oklahoma game.  “We’re putting it on the line now.”

 Game Notes … 

– Senior kicker Ken Culbertson connected on all seven extra points in the rout of Kansas. The fourth such kick gave Culbertson 44 consecutive makes, a new school record (Culbertson would go to finish the season with 66 consecutive conversions, a school career record – as was his 59 consecutive makes for the 1989 season).

– Senior wingback M.J. Nelson received the start against Kansas, with J.J. Flannigan starting for Bieniemy. This alteration of the starting lineup represented the only shift in the offensive lineup for Colorado – the entire season. All five offensive linemen, the quarterback, the wide receiver, fullback and tight end – all had the same names attached to them all year.

– For only the 28th time in 100 years of Colorado football – but for the third time in 1989 – the Buffs had two rushers go over 100 yards. J.J. Flannigan had 178 yards on only ten carries (a clean 17.8 yards/carry average), while Hagan had 118 yards on 17 carries.

– The 49 points against the Jayhawks was the most-ever in the 86-year series, besting the previous record of 45 put up in the 45-29 victory in 1970. The record would stand for five years, when the Buffs out-scored the Jayhawks, 51-26, in 1994.

– Kansas had the ball for 82 plays to Colorado’s 62, and held the ball for 33:10 of the game clock. Still, the Buffs out-gained the Jayhawks on the day, 482-359.

 AP Poll – October 23, 1989

1. Notre Dame (56)

2. Miami (3)

3. Colorado (1)

4. Nebraska

5. Michigan

6. Alabama

7. Pittsburgh

8. Illinois

9. Florida State

10. USC


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