September 6th – Boulder        No. 24 Colorado 16, UCLA 14

A crowd of 48,534 helped the home team christen the newly renovated Folsom Field stadium with a hard-fought 16-14 win over UCLA.

Quarterback Joel Klatt provided the Buff faithful with a late fourth quarter drive for the second consecutive week, leading Colorado to a 2-0 record for the first time in five years. On this occasion, Klatt hit sophomore tight end Joe Klopfenstein on a six-yard touchdown pass with 2:15 to play, capping the 63-yard game-winning drive.

After posting – and surrendering – over 500 yards of total offense the week before in the CSU game, the Colorado/UCLA game proved to be a defensive struggle.

The Buffs started out on top with a score late in the first quarter, on a one-yard Bobby Purify run, capping an 11-play, 98-yard drive. The Bruins needed only a one play drive to cover 42 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter, tying the game on a Drew Olson to Craig Bragg pass. The Buffs regained the lead in the last minute of the half, as freshman placekicker Mason Crosby made his first career field goal from 40 yards out to give the Buffs a 10-7 halftime edge.

With neither team generating much offense, a 13-yard touchdown pass from Drew Olson to Mercedes Lewis in the final minute of the third quarter, giving UCLA a 14-10 lead, loomed large. But these were the 2003 Buffs, and a Colorado comeback was now an expectation, not a hope.

Colorado took possession at its own 37-yard line with five minutes remaining. Joel Klatt crafted an 11-play, 63-yard drive, culminating in the six-yard pass from Klatt to Klopfenstein. The extra point was blocked, leaving the score at 16-14 with 2:15 to play, but after UCLA generated zero yards on four passes on its next possession, the Buffs were able to seal a second consecutive heart-stopping win.

“I’d guess we’d better get used to it”, said Gary Barnett of the Buffs’ last-minute wins. “Two weeks in a row, it doesn’t look like it will change much.” The final result was the same for Colorado, but arrived at in different manners. Against Colorado State, Klatt torched the Ram defense for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. Against UCLA, Klatt was held to 157 yards and one score. Conversely, the Buff defense, porous against the Rams, made necessary stops, holding the Bruins to just 243 yards of total offense.

“We had just enough to win,” said Barnett. “We had to scratch and claw and find a way to win the game”.

The Buffs would need more of the same if they hoped to play well against a top ten team in Florida State in two weeks. Up next, though, was Washington State. The Cougars, the defending Pac-10 champions, were 1-1 on the young season, having shut out Idaho, 25-0, before losing on the road to 19th-ranked Notre Dame in overtime.

With the victory, Colorado moved up to No. 17 in the rankings, trailing (in the Big 12), No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 6 Texas, No. 7 Kansas State (55-14 winners over McNeese State), while jumping over 18th-rated Nebraska (31-7 winners over Utah State).

Even with a loss on the road to a top ten team in Florida State, the Buffs looked to be well positioned to make a serious run at a third straight division title if they could get past Washington State and head into conference play with a 3-1 record.

Then the wheels of the Buffs’ bandwagon fell off. 

Welcome Home

UCLA coach Karl Dorrell made his head coaching debut against a team – Colorado – he had once worked for as an assistant. With assistant coaches usually coming with a long resume of teams, this was not unusual occurrence in college football. Dorrell had been an assistant coach at CU five years over two stints (1992-‘93; 1995-’97), but had been gone for five years. Most recently, he had been an assistant coach for the Denver Broncos. Obtaining the head coaching job at his alma mater was a step up. There was no reason not to cheer (other than in his first game) for the former Buff assistant.

The mood in some quarters, though, was not as polite towards two of Dorrell’s assistants. Joining Dorrell in Los Angeles (along with long-time CU speed-strength and conditioning coach, E.J. “Doc” Kreis) were former Colorado assistant coaches (and former Buff players), Jon Embree and Eric Bieniemy. For Embree and Bieniemy, who had long and strong ties to the Buff program, the move to UCLA was seen by some as a betrayal.

“People wanted to see me as a traitor,” said Bieniemy, who said his main motivation for the move was to help his wife, Mia, and his two children get closer to the rest of his family. “My oldest son has cerebral palsy,” Bieniemy explained. “When I’m gone, she’s at home and he’s eight and my youngest son is four. It can make life pretty tough on your wife, and you just want to put her in the best situation possible.”

For Embree, a ten year assistant at Colorado, the change in address was a career move, but also a chance to coach with his former colleague. “I wasn’t surprised by Embree”, said CU secondary coach Vance Joseph, himself a former CU player. “Sometimes change makes you a better coach. You get lulled to sleep.”

For his part, Embree said it wouldn’t be easy coming back to Boulder. “I have no bad feelings about anything at CU,” said the former Buff tight end. “I loved it there, but this was a great opportunity. Once the game is over with, I’ll be a Buffalo fan for the next ten weeks.”

For me personally, it was tough having Bieniemy and Embree leave. Not only for the present tense – the Buffs had won two straight division titles, and both Embree and Bieniemy were known as good recruiters and coaches – but for the history. My memories of Embree go back to his days as a player. Holder of many of Colorado’s tight end records (at least until Daniel Graham came along), Embree was one of those local kids who came to play for Colorado when there was no logical reason to do so. Recruited out of Cherry Creek High School in Denver by Bill McCartney, Embree played from 1983-86. My most vivid memory, though, is of him before the 1986 Nebraska game. The video of the 20-10 upset over the 3rd-ranked Cornhuskers shows the locker room before the game. There, calmly eating an orange while music plays as the introduction to the video, is Jon Embree. Doesn’t sound like much, but Jon Embree, who was the picture of calm and focused determination, helped lay the foundation for future CU success, and is immortalized in that video.

With Bieniemy, my memory also focuses on one game. Bieniemy is the Buffs’ all-time leading rusher, so he had many great games, and was often the hero, but my recollection is of a game where he almost was the goat. It was the 1990 Nebraska game, in Lincoln. Through three quarters, the Buffs were stymied, thanks in no small part to Bieniemy’s three fumbles. Trailing 12-0, the 9th-ranked Buffs posted 27 fourth quarter points – on four Bieniemy touchdown runs – to stun the 2nd-ranked Cornhuskers, 27-12. The Buffs’ win catapulted Colorado into the national spotlight, going on from there to win a share of the National Championship.

Fond memories (both involving wins over Nebraska – imagine that) of two former assistants off the field, and standouts on the field. With no future games on the slate against the Bruins, the bad taste of having two former assistants line up against the Buffs, eight months after coaching for the black-and-gold, soon dissipated. With the comfort of a CU win, I was able to feel magnanimous towards UCLA and its coaching staff.

Best wishes for future success, that is.


Game Notes

– The 40-yard kick by Mason Crosby was the fifth best by a true freshman kicker. Later in the season, Crosby would go on to connect from 41 and 44 yards.

– Opening with two wins, by a combined nine points, marked the first time CU had opened 2-0 with combined wins of less than ten points since starting the 1953 campaign with a 21-20 win at Washington and a 20-14 home win over Arizona.

– During UCLA’s go-ahead drive, the Bruins connected for 38 yards on a third-and-30. It marked the first time since 1993 (51 attempts) that an opponent had converted on a third-and-20 or longer.

– On UCLA’s last possession, the Buffs held the Bruins to four incomplete passes. The defensive stand came at a cost, however, as defensive tackle Marques Harris broke his leg during the series, and was lost for the season.

– When Colorado switched to the wishbone offense after the 1984 season, Embree saw his team-leading 51 catches in 1984 fall to only nine catches in 1985 (though his nine catches still led the team!).

– Bieniemy’s name continued to show up more than a dozen times in the Colorado record book, even after over a decade had passed since he had played (and stand-outs like Rashaan Salaam and Chris Brown had played their years in Boulder). Amongst his records which had continued to endure: Most career yards, 3,940; most career 100-yard games, 21; and most career touchdowns, 41.



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