October 26th – Boulder           No. 8 Colorado 28, Texas 24

The Texas Longhorns, who in 1995 closed out the final season of the Southwest Conference with a 10-2-1 record, including a 7-0 record in conference play, bottomed out in 1996 on the last Saturday in October in Boulder, Colorado.

After succumbing to the Buffs, 28-24 in Boulder, Texas fell to 3-4 on the 1996 season. No one knew at the time that the next loss for the Longhorns would not come until New Year’s Day in the Fiesta Bowl.

Early in the game against the Buffs, Texas appeared to be anything but a 3-3 team.

An interception thrown by Colorado quarterback Koy Detmer led to a Texas field goal early in the first quarter. A few minutes later, a 66-yard punt return quickly resulted in a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback James Brown to receiver Wane McGarity. With the Buffs already down 10-0, Detmer threw another interception, returned by Longhorn cornerback Bryant Westbrook to the Buffs’ 20-yard line.

Things looked bleak indeed for the 5-1 Buffs.

Steve Rosga to the rescue … again.

Just as he had against Oklahoma State, the Buffs’ free safety picked off an opponent’s pass to the CU end zone. There was no 105-yard runback for a touchdown this time, but the interception did save the day for Colorado.

A 54-yard touchdown connection between Detmer and Rae Carruth early in the second quarter pulled the Buffs to within 10-7. Only five plays later, though, Texas was back up on top by ten, courtesy of a 50-yard bomb from Jones to Michael Adams.

The Buffs responded with a Lendon Henry run from four yards out to pull within 17-14 at halftime. The drive, taking six plays and covering 45 yards, was highlighted by a 28-yard pass from Detmer to Chris Anderson on a fourth-and-two to keep the drive alive.

Down only three after the disastrous opening few minutes, a 17-14 deficit at half would normally not seem that bad. Unfortunately for the Buffs, though, quarterback Koy Detmer was crunched on the Buffs’ final drive before halftime, giving him a second-degree concussion.

As in 1995, quarterback John Hessler would be called upon to rescue the Buffs in a big game.

The junior from Brighton responded. The Buffs took their first lead of the game late in the third quarter on a trick play … which didn’t work. Running back Herchell Troutman took a handoff from Hessler at the Texas 13-yard line, and was supposed to throw the ball back to the quarterback. The Longhorns, though, sniffed out the play, and had Hessler covered. Troutman improvised, breaking several tackles on his way to a 13-yard touchdown run.

Colorado 21, Texas 17.

Texas reclaimed the lead after a 76 yard drive in 12 plays, setting the stage for Hessler to perform another comeback.

Hessler led the Buffs on a 16-play, 90-yard drive consuming 7:18 of the fourth quarter clock, with Hessler himself doing the honors on a one-yard dive behind consensus All-American guard Chris Naeole. In the final 3:16 of the game, Texas had two more opportunities, but Rosga second interception of the day thwarted one drive, and a desperation heave on the game’s final play fell harmlessly to the Folsom Field turf.

Final score: Colorado 28, Texas 24.

Talk after the game was all about Rosga, who in addition to his two interceptions, had 11 tackles and a fumble recovery on the way to being named the Big 12’s defensive player-of-the-week. Rick Neuheisel: “I think he was magnificent. I’ve always thought Steve Rosga was an underrated player …. when I look at the films I’ll be amazed again at his performance.”

Poll Watching

With the win over Texas, CU jumped to No. 7 in the Associated Press poll (Alabama’s loss to Tennessee didn’t hurt). Up two spots in the last two weeks, it was easy to adopt the mantra: “One spot a week will result in a National Championship”. In front of Colorado were only four undefeated teams: Florida; Ohio State; Florida State; and Arizona State (Wyoming was also undefeated, but had risen only as far as No. 17 in the polls). Only two one-loss teams were in front of Colorado, Nebraska and Tennessee, but the Buffs still had a shot at Nebraska. Florida and Florida State still had to play one another, and Ohio State still had to face No. 9 Michigan.

The math still worked for Colorado to position itself as not only the first Big 12 champion, but also a competitor for the national title.

But how good were the 1996 Buffs?

Coloraod was 6-1 overall, and three of four of the Buffs’ previous opponents had been ranked in preseason (Texas A & M had been ranked No. 13; Kansas, No. 24; and Texas, No. 8). Still, all three had fallen from favor by the time Colorado played them, so the victories had lost some luster. Colorado was now 6-0 in 1996 against unranked teams; 0-1 against the only ranked team – Michigan – it had faced. And now the Buffs’ starting quarterback, Koy Detmer, had been knocked out of a game with a concussion.

The jury was still out on the highly-rated Colorado Buffaloes.

Game Notes –

– With Koy Detmer injured, the Buffs relied more on the running game. The Buffs ran a season-high 50 times against the Longhorns, with Herchell Troutman going for 98 yards on 24 carries, and Lendon Henry posting 85 yards on 18 carries.

– For Steve Rosga, being named the Big 12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week was becoming a common occurrence, being named to the honor for the second time in three weeks (also against Oklahoma State).

– Senior guard Chris Naeole, who led John Hessler into the endzone for the game-winning touchdown, would go on to be a consensus first-team All-American in 1996. Naeole, along with teammate Matt Russell, would also go on to be one of 12 semi-finalists for the Lombardi Award, given out annually to the nation’s best lineman (offense or defense).

– The victory over the Longhorns gave Colorado its first lead in the series. Texas had won the first four meetings between the two schools (1940-75), but Colorado’s win was its fifth straight (1989-96), giving CU a 5-4 edge overall.

– After falling to Colorado, Texas had a losing overall record, 3-4, and was 2-2 in the Big 12. The Longhorns, though, rebounded, winning their remaining  four games to finish 6-2 and first in the Big 12 South. Texas went on to upset Nebraska, 37-27, in the first-ever Big 12 championship game.


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