September 21st – at UCLA           Colorado 31, No. 20 UCLA 17

Chris Brown went for 188 yards on 26 carries, scoring three touchdowns as Colorado defeated UCLA in Pasadena, 31-17.

Bouncing back after a humiliating defeat at the hands of USC, the Buffs took out their frustrations on the Trojans’ cross-town rivals, posting 471 yards of total offense.

“This is us,” said Chris Brown, who scored on runs of 19, 7, and eight yards. Indeed, a team that had been held to just four first downs a week earlier put up 27 first downs against UCLA, compiling 325 yards on the ground. Quarterback Robert Hodge, making his second start in place of Craig Ochs, was not spectacular but did not hurt the Buffs, connecting on 11-of-22 passes for 117 yards and no turnovers.

It took some time to wear down the Bruins, though. In the first quarter, the Buffs had only 27 yards of total offense. On the first play of the second quarter, UCLA scored on a trick play to take a 7-0 lead. Rather than succumb, the Buffs bounced right back, taking only four plays to score, with Brown doing the honors from 19 yards out. A Pat Brougham 29-yard field just before halftime gave the Buffs a 10-7 edge at the break.

In the second half, the Buffs’ offensive line dominated, and the Buffs slowly built a lead. Another Brougham field goal and another Brown touchdown run (capped by a Hodge-to-McCoy two-point conversion) gave Colorado a 21-7 lead. Brougham and Brown would put up two more scores in the fourth quarter to give Colorado an insurmountable 31-10 edge with nine minutes to go in the game.

“We got insulted last week,” said Gary Barnett, “both on and off the field. Our guys challenged each other. That was the Colorado Buffalo team I’m used to seeing and being around.” For Barnett, it was his first win over a Pac-10 opponent in six tries, and the first Buff win over UCLA ever.

Chris Brown now had 510 yards rushing on the season, including two games over 185 yards. “The difference this week was our line,” said Brown, who had six touchdowns in the Buffs’ first four games. “We could tell they were wearing down by the end of the third quarter.”

The Buffs now had a bye week before commencing the Big 12 schedule. In August, basking in the glow of a conference championship and a pre-season top ten ranking, Colorado did not envisioned finishing their non-conference slate at 2-2 and unranked. But after the USC debacle, 2-2 had to feel a great deal better than 1-2. Now the Buffs would face another crossroads. The first conference opponent was Kansas State, 4-0 after handing a 27-20 loss to the same USC team which had manhandled the Buffs. The Wildcats came into Boulder at 4-0, ranked 13th in the nation.

A win, with unranked Kansas and Baylor to follow, and the Buffs would have momentum heading into late October and November showdowns with Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Nebraska. A loss, and the Buffs would start looking at the schedule for ways to win enough games to become bowl-eligible.

At least the Buffs had an off-week to heal and prepare for Kansas State. A week to recuperate and focus on nothing but the Wildcats.

Then Craig Ochs dropped a bomb.

Not So Solid Ochs

On the Monday after the UCLA game, quarterback Craig Ochs announced that he would not play football again in 2002. Sidelined since suffering a concussion in the second quarter of the San Diego State game, the announcement was not a complete surprise. Ochs had suffered three prior concussions, and even though he announced that all of the tests he had recently taken had come back normal, concussions were not to be taken lightly.

The remainder of the prepared statement issued by Ochs, though, was a shock. Not only was Ochs not coming back for 2002, he insinuated that was not coming back to Colorado at all. Ochs stated that he would apply for a medical redshirt, withdraw as a student at Colorado, and “re-evaluate my options for returning to play football next season.”

Gary Barnett attempted to put the right spin on Ochs’ announcement. “We totally respect Craig and his family’s decision, it was a family decision all the way. We just want the best for Craig no matter what,” said Barnett, conceding, “I was very surprised.”

Ochs was not done. Just two days after announcing his decision to sit out the remainder of the 2002 season, Ochs declared his intention to transfer to the University of Montana. The Grizzlies were defending Division 1-AA national champions and the No. 1-ranked team in early 2002. By transferring, so the speculating went, Ochs would have the opportunity to play for a more pass-oriented team, and would not have to sit out a year before playing since Montana was a 1-AA school.

How would this bombshell effect the remaining Buffs? Ochs was one of four team captains (and the only junior so elected). Speculation immediately centered on the quarterback’s relationship with Barnett and his offensive coordinator, Shawn Watson. If one of the co-captains was so disgruntled about the team (play-calling, emphasis of the offense, not being allowed to start vs. Texas and Oregon in 2001 after returning from injury, etc.) that he would rather leave the program than stay as the starting quarterback, then how deep was the problem? Was Barnett so out of touch with his team that he couldn’t see this coming? Or was this just one bad apple whose leaving would actually improve team unity?

There was no time to dwell on what had happened. Kansas State was coming to town for Homecoming. It was a must win game if Colorado was to participate in the race for the Big 12 title.

And the Buffs’ fans were still left to wonder which Buff squad would run out onto Folsom Field – the one who had laid an egg there against USC, or the one which had rallied for a dominating win over UCLA.

Game Notes –

– The game was played in 99-degree heat, the warmest game ever for a Colorado team. The previous high was a game against Kansas State in 1963, when the temperature in Manhattan reached 94 degrees. The warmest temperature recorded for a game in Boulder came in 2000, when the thermometer hit 91 degrees in a game against Washington.

– The three field goals were a career-high for senior place-kicker Pat Brougham.

– One of the key plays of the game came in the third quarter, just after the Buffs had scored on a 39-yard field goal to take a 13-7 lead. On UCLA’s next drive, senior linebacker Kory Mossoni picked off a Corey Paus pass. Three plays later, the Buffs were ahead, 20-7. A trick play – Hodge pitched the ball to junior wide receiver Barry Kunkel, who then threw it back to Hodge for a 29-yard gain – set up a seven yard touchdown run by Chris Brown.

– The win was the first for Colorado in five tries against UCLA. The previous four games were all played in the dark days between 1980-1984. While Colorado had been 0-2 against UCLA in games played in Los Angeles, the Buffs victory gave CU a 1-0 record in the Rose Bowl (the first two games between the two teams in Los Angeles having been played in the Coliseum).

– The Buffs outrushed the Bruins 99-1 in the fourth quarter, and 190-29 in the second half.

– The Colorado defense held the Bruins to only 62 yards rushing, with 11 players registering between four and six tackles.

Bye Week Notes

– Colorado had a bye week between the UCLA game and the start of the Big 12 season, a game against Kansas State. While the Buffs were trying to focus on the Wildcats, a tectonic shift in the Big 12 North division was taking place. Nebraska, which had been humbled by Penn State, 40-7, the same day the Buffs were losing to USC, fell to Iowa State the following week in Ames, 36-14. Not only was the loss the first by the Cornhuskers to Iowa State in ten years (and only the second in 24 years), the loss dropped Nebraska out of the polls for the first time since 1981, a run of 348 weeks. How great was the record? The second longest streak of all-time was Florida State’s run of 212 weeks (1989 – 2001) …. (The Buffs’ longest tenure in the polls was 143 weeks (1989-97), the 10th-longest streak ever).

– The Nebraska loss also gave the Cornhusker fans their first two-loss September since 1957, and only the 12th back-to-back losses since 1962 (but second such string in seven games).

Leave a Reply

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