Koy Detmer Under the Microscope

Everyone knew shortly after the Texas A&M game was over that quarterback Koy Detmer, whose efforts over the first three games of the season had merited a “Colorado’s Detmer throws his hat into ring” Heisman-watch headline from USA Today (9/18/95), was seriously injured.

What happened?

Detmer:  “It was weird the way it happened.  I went to spin out of the pocket and take off running, but my foot was hung up in the turf and when I pushed, my knee kind of dug way in and just kind of twisted it and shifted the bones a little bit.”

A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury can be career threatening.  But how serious was Detmer’s injury?

Speculation in the media ran from the positive:  “Detmer could return in two weeks” (Buffalo Sporting News, 9/25/95), to the hopeful:  “Detmer optimistic despite knee injury” (Denver Post, 9/24/95), to the negative:  “Detmer may be out for the season” (Rocky Mountain News, 9/24/95).

What was the truth?

“It looks as though if they can brace him and stabilize the knee, he might be able to play”, reported head coach Rick Neuheisel.  “Koy is of the mind that he wants to play …. if he wants to play and is able to play, we’re excited to have him play.”  Neuheisel then added, in a remark which would come back to haunt him a few weeks later:  “If the risks (for additional injury) are significant, he won’t play.”

One issue had been decided … Detmer would not play against Oklahoma.

The job as the starting quarterback now fell to super-sub John Hessler.  Colorado would thus enter its final season as a member of the Big Eight conference with a first time starter at quarterback … on the road … at historic and raucous Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma … before a national television audience on ESPN (the fourth national television appearance in five games for the Buffs) … against the No. 10 team in the country.

An Associated Press article the week leading up to the game was headlined:  “Colorado title hopes on hold“.  If Colorado was to compete for the national and conference titles, though, there were no second chances.  Any loss from here on would severely impact the Buffs chances in the polls and in the standings.

The Buffs could look back on what head coach Rick Neuheisel had said after the Northeast Louisiana game: “You only get 11 shots.”

Fire away, John Hessler.

September 30th – at Oklahoma          No. 4 Colorado 38, No. 10 Oklahoma 17

How did John Hessler do in the pressure-packed game before 75,004 crazed Sooner fans?

Try a new school record for touchdown passes in a game.

In an atmosphere where most Colorado fans were hoping that Hessler would produce an effort sufficient to keep the Buffs in the game, the sophomore delivered five touchdown passes to lead the Buffs to a 38-17 romp over Oklahoma.

Hessler struggled early in the game, but came on to complete 24-of-34 passes for 348 yards.  Oklahoma jumped out to a 10-0 advantage before Hessler caught fire.  Hessler’s first touchdown pass covered 19 yards to Phil Savoy, making it a 10-7 game six minutes into the second quarter.

After another Sooners score, Hessler connected with Rae Carruth from 11 yards out to finish off a 13-play, 71-yard drive to pull the Buffs to within 17-14 at the break. The key play in the drive came on a fourth-and-one at the Oklahoma 13 yard line with 31 seconds left before half. Rather than kick a 30-yard field goal, the Buffs went for the first down, with Hessler picking up the necessary yardage on a quarterback sneak. The very next play was the touchdown toss to Carruth, getting the Buffs back into the game.

In the third quarter, Colorado raced ahead and then pulled away.

The go-ahead score came on a 71-yard catch and run by Carruth to give CU its first lead of the game, at 21-17, midway through the third quarter.  On Colorado’s next possession, Hessler connected with running back Lendon Henry on a swing pass. A total of 28 yards later, the Buffs had a 28-17 cushion.

Hessler broke the Colorado school record, and tied the Big Eight record, with his fifth touchdown pass, a 42-yarder to Phil Savoy, midway through the fourth quarter. A 28-yard field goal by Neil Voskeritchian after a Sooner turnover a few minutes later provided the final points in a 38-17 victory.

While John Hessler was leading the offense, the defense, which had surrendered 17 points in the first 25 minutes of play, stiffened considerably.  In shutting out the Sooners in the second half, the Buff defense held Oklahoma to just two net rushing yards, 56 yards overall.  For the game, the 10th-ranked Sooners mustered only 218 total yards, compared to 419 for Colorado.

Only one stat was on everyone’s mind after the game, though, and that belonged to the surprise star of the game, Hessler.  “In the back of my mind, I wanted to go out and prove to everybody what I could do”, said Hessler after the game.  “I thought about it all week and I didn’t want this opportunity to slip by me.”  Rick Neuheisel, notorious for being Hessler’s worst critic, was willing to praise his backup on this night:  “It’s an unknown deal how he’s going to do when he gets out there.  Fortunately for us, Hessler came up aces.”

Hessler was still the backup, however.

“I don’t mean to be callous,” said Neuheisel.  “But the truth of the matter is that we’ve got a starting quarterback.”  Detmer’s status had been upgraded, but season-ending surgery was still being considered.

The 24th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks were up next.  While the Buff Nation was celebrating the big victory, there was still precious little time to read newspaper clippings, as yet another big game was up next.

Here is a YouTube video with highlights from the game (put together by a Sooner fan, featuring mostly Oklahoma highlights, but does show CU’s scores), courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul:

Yo, Howard.  Sit Down and Shut Up

Howard Schnellenberger was the coach of the Oklahoma Sooners in 1995.

He came in to Norman with plans to rebuild the Sooners as he had the Miami Hurricanes in the early 1980’s.  Schnellenberger had taken over a Miami program in 1979 which had only two winning seasons in their previous 11 campaigns.  Within four years, the Hurricanes were National Champions.

Storming into Norman, Schnellenberger predicted a quick return to national prominence for the Sooners, and on a pace even faster than that of Miami.  “I am not used to coming into a program that has already achieved national championship status, not just once but six times”, said Schnellenberger before the season.  “I’m also not used to …. all those things necessary to take this great program back to its natural level, competing for the national championship.”

Even though the 1994 edition of the Sooners had finished 6-6, Schnellenberger had his converts.  The media had bought into the hype, and had the 3-0 Sooners ranked 10th in the nation before the Colorado game.  Schnellenberger had even gone so far as to say that his team would rather face Detmer than Hessler in the showdown, for, as he put it, he didn’t want an asterisk next to the Sooners win “when we beat their ass.”

Inspired and “fired up” by Schnellenberger’s comments, Hessler played a game which put him in the Colorado record books.

It also sent Schnellenberger on the road to a quick demise.

The Sooners loss to the Buffs dropped Oklahoma to 3-1, 14th in the polls.  The remainder of the year, the Sooners would win only two more games, finishing the year 5-5-1.  Schnellenberger, just as quickly as he had blown into town, was gone.  The Colorado game, on national television on ESPN (complete with the ESPN GameDay crew), was the high water mark of Sooners’ season.

The talk of an immediate restoration of the “Sooner Nation” left town with Schnellenberger.

On to Tempe?

The impressive win over Oklahoma, despite the loss of starting quarterback Koy Detmer, only served to make the Buffs look more impressive to the nation.

Colorado’s defeats of three ranked opponents, two in the top ten, kept the Buffs at No. 4 in the polls.   More significantly, Colorado now rated six first place votes among the pollsters.  With a 5-0 overall record, 1-0 in Big Eight play, Colorado controlled its own destiny if it wanted to play for the National Championship.

The Buffs still had a match-up with No. 2 Nebraska, while No. 1 Florida State still had a game against No. 3 Florida.  Though the calendar had only just turned from September to October, the nation’s prognosticators were already predicting a Fiesta Bowl match-up of the winners of Colorado/Nebraska and Florida/Florida State games.

Editorials in the Buffalo Sports News the week after the impressive win over Oklahoma were entitled “Yes Buff fans, you can (finally) say it (National Championship)” and “Bits and Pieces on the road to Tempe”.

Heady stuff for a team predicted to be 8-3 or 9-2.

The remainder of the schedule contained only three ranked teams, including Nebraska at home.  The least dangerous of the three appeared to be Kansas.  The Jayhawks were 4-0 on the season and ranked 24th.  But the Jayhawks’ non-conference victims, Cincinnati, North Texas, TCU, and Houston, were a combined 4-13 on the season.  Colorado owned a ten-game winning streak against the Jayhawks, dating back to 1985.

If the Buffs could handle the likes of Wisconsin and Oklahoma on the road, and stifle Texas A&M and Colorado State at home, the likes of the Jayhawks were not going to derail Colorado’s run to the national title.

Could they?

Game Notes –

– The win was the third straight for Colorado in its series against Oklahoma, and gave the Buffs a 6-0-1 run against the Sooners since 1989. The victory was the third straight for the Buffs in games played in Norman … a place where CU had a 4-19 overall record previously.

– A week after being named the Big Eight Offensive Player-of-the-Week for his backup role against Texas A&M, John Hessler picked up a second consecutive Big Eight Offensive Player-of-the-Week award for his 24-for-34, 348 yard, five-touchdown performance against Oklahoma. Hessler was also named the National Football Foundation and U.S. Postal Service national Player-of-the-Week.

– Prior to Hessler’s five touchdown pass performance, the record for touchdown passes in a game was four (Darian Hagan v. Oklahoma State, 1990; Kordell Stewart v. Colorado State, 1992).

– Rae Carruth’s five reception for 112 yards was his third 100-yard game of the season, and his second with two touchdowns (he also had two touchdown catches in the 1995 season opener against Wisconsin).

– With Hessler throwing so well, the CU rushing game became an afterthought against Oklahoma. The Buffs as a team had 38 rushes for only 65 yards, with Marlon Barnes (16 rushes for 32 yards) the leading rusher.

– As noted, after the loss to Colorado, the former No. 10 team in the nation, Oklahoma, went into free-fall. The Sooners finished the 1995 season with a 5-5-1 record, 2-5 in the final season of Big Eight play. Howard Schnellenberger left Norman after his lone season with Oklahoma, to be replaced by John Blake for the 1996 season.


One Reply to “No. 10 Oklahoma – Hessler’s record-setting debut”

  1. I remember the best line about that game came on coach Ricky’s TV show – “i would say we kicked their asterisk”

    Hessler was lights out in that game.

    I also remember hearing for the very first time – the fans of a football team referred to as a “nation”. When Schnellenberger was first introduced as coach and declared he would bring a championship to the “Sooner Nation”.

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