November 11th – Boulder          No. 9 Colorado 21, Missouri 0

In one of its latest Homecoming dates in school history, Colorado played its final home game of 1995 against a struggling 2-7 Missouri squad which was winless in Big Eight play.  A crowd of 50,645 endured some wind gusts of up to 60 mph, but generally enjoyed balmy November temperature readings of over 50-degrees, leaving Folsom Field satisfied with a methodical 21-0 win for the home team.

Quarterback John Hessler, who against Oklahoma State had broken the school record for touchdown passes in a season (the old mark being 12, jointly held by Steve Vogel, Darian Hagan, and Kordell Stewart), added touchdown passes No. 17 and No. 18 for the year, also chipped in a 36-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.  The much-maligned Buff defense chose to strut its stuff against an overmatched Tiger offense, posting its first shutout since a 28-0 win over Oklahoma State in 1992.

After a scoreless first quarter, Hessler hit tight end Matt Lepsis for a one-yard score midway through the second period. Midway through the third quarter, Hessler gave the Buffs some breathing room with a 26-yard touchdown pass to James Kidd. The final score of the day came on Hessler’s 36-yard run, culminating a ten-play, 96-yard drive to remove any doubts about a Missouri comeback.

“You all can’t say any more bad things about our defense,” joked junior linebacker Matt Russell to reporters after the game.  “We finally eliminated some mistakes.  We’d always been playing hard, but when we eliminated our mistakes it turned out to be great for us.”  With the assistance of the wind, Colorado held Missouri to just 230 yards of total offense, a paltry 38 coming through the air.

The Buffs had sent their seven seniors out with a final home game win.

Included in the group was guard Heath Irwin, who had started 40 straight games as the anchor of the Buff offensive line, field goal kicker Neil Voskeritchian, who had connected on 20-of-29 field goal attempts in 1994 and 1995, and the oft-injured Daryl Price, whose knee injuries had limited much of his leadership abilities to the locker room.  “We all stuck through the thick and thin,” noted senior cornerback T.J. Cunningham, who had begun his Colorado career as a wide receiver.  “And there has been a lot of thick and thin since 1991.”

While Folsom Field would lay dormant until September, 1996, there was still much to be done in 1995.  Much of what was hoped for the season lay in the final regular season game, against 7th-ranked, 9-1 Kansas State, on the road in Manhattan.

Pivotal Game Eleven

The 21-0 win seemingly had righted the Colorado ship.  The Buffs were now 8-2, maintaining their No. 9 ranking.  Kansas, which had rocked the Buffs and the football world in rising to a No. 6 ranking, had since been spanked by Kansas State, 41-7, and Nebraska, 41-3, to fall to No. 15 nationally.

Nebraska was 10-0 and ranked No. 1.  Between the Buffs and a fourth consecutive second place Big Eight Conference finish were the Wildcats of Kansas State.  If the Buffs could defeat Kansas State, the two Kansas schools (assuming a Kansas win over Oklahoma State – which they did, 22-17) and Colorado would all finish 9-2 with identical 5-2 Conference records.  Colorado would then have a claim to the second place bowl slot, being at the Cotton Bowl on January 1st.

A loss, meanwhile, would mean the Buffs would finish with a 4-3 Big Eight record.  More importantly, Colorado would finish fourth in the Conference for the first time since 1988, and could expect no more than an Alamo or Aloha Bowl bid.

But the Kansas State game went deeper than that.

An 8-3 record, even with the 4-3 Conference mark, was not a bad effort with this young Buff team.  The perception, however, would be that the Buffs had fallen off of the national stage, and that Rick Neuheisel had been the wrong choice for Colorado’s new head coach.  Such a perception could hurt national recruiting, along with the parallel drop off in national respect from the pollsters.

One did not have to look far to see the fickle nature of the business.

At 8-2, Colorado was one of only two teams ranked in the top ten nationally which had two losses (perennially over-rated Notre Dame being the other).  An argument could be made that this was due, in part, to Colorado’s success over the past five seasons.  “Traditionally” good teams were afforded a higher status nationally than teams like 8-2 but 15th-ranked Kansas, which had not become accustomed to national attention.  A fourth place finish by the Buffs could well result in a much reduced pre-season ranking in 1996, making it that much tougher to re-claim national prominence.

Indeed, there was much more at stake for the Buffs in Manhattan than a Cotton Bowl bid.

The near-future of Colorado football program, and its new young head coach, hung in the balance.

Game Notes –

– The victory over Missouri gave CU eight or more wins in a season for the eighth consecutive year. The win over the Tigers was also the 11th straight for the Buffs in the series. Missouri still led the all-time series, 33-24-3 … but it had been 33-13-3.  The shutout was the fifth for the Buffs in the series, including a 6-0 win over the Tigers in 1992.

– Boulder is noted for its Chinook winds, but the Missouri game was actually marked the first time since 1967 in which the winds of Boulder really affected the game. Gusts reached over 70 mph, with consistent breezes of over 30 mph throughout the game.

– Largely due to the winds, there were a season-low 19 possessions by both teams, and the game took only 2:51 to play … CU’s shortest game of the season.

– The Missouri Tigers in 1995 were coached by Larry Smith, who had taken USC to three Rose Bowls in the late 1980’s. In his second season in Columbia, the Tigers posted a 3-8 record. Smith went on to coach seven years at Missouri, going 33-46-1 overall. Missouri would go to two bowl games under Smith, the 1997 Holiday Bowl and the 1998 Bowl.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *