November 1st – Boulder                    Missouri 41, Colorado 31

Unable to capitalize upon the success of the previous two weeks, the Buffs came home and laid an egg against Missouri, losing 41-31.

Colorado lost in all phases of the game, and were never able to place itself in a position to win the game in the second half.  The Tigers came to Boulder 5-3, 3-2 in the Big 12.  Missouri was riding high coming to town,  having made national news the week before in defeating previously unbeaten Oklahoma State, 51-50, in double overtime.  Still, it was the Colorado Buffaloes who were two touchdown favorites.

Two statistics from the game tell the story.  The first was time of possession:  Missouri, 42:20; Colorado, 17:40.  The Buffs’ possession time was the second lowest in the 108 year history of the program (the lowest being 14:15 in a 27-14 loss to the same Missouri team in 1968).  For their part, the offense held their own, scoring five touchdowns on nine possessions for the game.  The Buffs simply could not stop the Tigers’ offensive attack.

The second statistic, rushing yardage, mirrored the time of possession.  The Tigers amassed 353 yards on a gaudy 69 rushing attempts.  Four different Missouri runners posted totals of 50 yards or more as the Tigers put together five scoring drives on nine plays or longer, including a marathon 16-play drive which consumed over half of the second quarter.

The game started well for Colorado, with John Hessler leading the Buffs on a five-play, 71-yard drive for a score. Hessler hit Marcus Stiggers on a 37-yard touchdown. Stiggers, though, was called for unsportsmanlike conduct by jumping into the stands (a la the Lambeau Leap). Jeremy Aldrich missed the 35-yard extra point, leaving the Buffs with a 6-0 lead.

Missouri marched 80 yards in 14 plays to answer the Buffs and take a 7-6 lead. The CU offense, though, was up to the task, with John Hessler completing a 52-yard drive (up man Tom Ashworth, a freshman tight end, returned the Tiger kickoff 26 yards to set up the CU offense) with a one yard run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving Colorado with a 12-7 lead late in the first quarter.

By the time the Buffs scored again, it was 27-12, Missouri, as the Tigers ran off 20 unanswered points. The last best chance for the Buffs to steal back the momentum came when Marcus Washington took an interception back 71 yards for a touchdown late in the first half, only to have the play called back on an illegal substiution penalty.

The Colorado offense played well in the second half, with two rushing touchdowns by sophomore running back Dwayne Cherrington of seven and one yards followed by another Hessler-to-Stiggers connection, this time from 22 yards out. It was not enough, though, to stop the Missouri offense, which scored on seven of eight possessions, gaining 517 yards of total offense along the way.

Colorado ends streak of 58 straight games without a loss to an unranked conference opponent

The Missouri game was one the Buffs needed desperately in order to enhance any postseason hopes.  Instead, Colorado had fallen, and to an unranked team.  Significant?  The loss to an unranked team was virtually unheard of for the Buffs.  It was the first such loss for CU in the Rick Neuheisel era (previously 16-0).  Want more stats?  Since 1989, the Buffs had been 48-1-2 against unranked opponents (the loss to Stanford in 1991, the ties with Oklahoma, 1992; and Kansas State, 1993).  To find the last time Colorado had lost to an unranked conference opponent, you had to go back to the last game of the awful 1-10 1984 campaign, when the Buffs lost to Kansas State 38-6.  The 1985-97 span was a remarkable 56-0-2 run for the Buffs.

A multitude of streaks were coming to an end for Colorado in 1997. The end of the twelve game winning streak against Missouri was just the least of the Buffs’ problems. Now at risk for the 4-4 Buffs were CU’s nine season streak of bowl invitations, and 12-season streak of winning records.

The biggest question now, though, had to be: What was wrong with the Buffs? Coach Rick Neuheisel had no answers: “We just, for whatever reason, are not playing very well right now”, said the head coach. “We’ve got to address it and find a way to play better next week.”

When asked about the Buffs’ fading bowl chances for 1997, all Neuheisel could add was, “We’re hoping to get into a position where we qualify for one.”

Game Notes –

– Missouri’s 517 yards of total offense were the most since Iowa State had all of 373 in the 1993 season finale.

– Colorado ran only 45 plays on the afternoon, the lowest total for the Buff offense in 15 seasons.

– Junior linebacker Hannibal Navies had 28 tackles against Missouri, matching Ryan Sutter’s effort for the most tackles by a Buff in 1997. Navies also had a CU season-high 19 solo tackles.

– John Hessler completed 10-of-15 passes for all of 154 yards. He also finished as the Buffs’ leading rusher, with eight carries for 44 yards.

– Marcus Stiggers’ two touchdown catches represented half of his 1997 total.

– Wide receiver Robert Toler completed his one and only pass of the 1997, a 25-yard completion to Darrin Chiaverini on a halfback option.

– Missouri finished the regular season with a 7-4 record, earning a bid to the Holiday Bowl. Missouri lost to Colorado State, though, 35-24, to finish the 1997 season with a 7-5 record.

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