September 16th – Boulder          No. 22 Arizona State 21, Colorado 3

The Colorado offense continued to struggle, posting only a 29-yard field goal in a 21-3 loss to No. 22 Arizona State. The Buffs posted a “season-high” 219 yards of total offense (after posting 216 vs. Montana State and 146 against CSU), but could not make use of four Arizona State turnovers as the Sun Devils slowly pulled away.

In the first-ever game played between the two schools from neighboring states, the Buffs had an opportunity to take advantage of early mistakes by Arizona State. The Sun Devils fumbled the ball away on the third play of the game, with the Buffs taking over at the ASU 17-yard line. The CU offense, though, managed only five yards of offense before Mason Crosby was called upon for a 29-yard field goal. Just over two minutes into the game, Colorado had a 3-0 lead.

On Arizona State’s next possession, the Sun Devils drove to the Colorado two-yard line, but ASU quarterback fumbled on the next play. The ball hit the end zone pylon on its way out of bounds.

Touchback. CU’s ball at the 20-yard line after the turnover.

Perhaps it would be the Buffs’ night after all.

Instead, ASU’s second turnover in as many possessions would prove to be the highlight for the Buffs.

The Sun Devils went ahead for good on their next possession. Arizona State put together a ten-play, 71-yard drive, capped by an eight yard scoring run by Ryan Torain. A few minutes later, after a 48-yard punt return, ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter hit Chris McGaha for an 18-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

The Buffs responded with their best drive of the game, making it as far as the Sun Devils’ two yard line before quarterback Bernard Jackson fumbled the ball away. Thereafter, neither team scored on the next 15 possessions, with Arizona State getting a second Rudy Carpenter touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining in the game.

The Colorado defense, for the most part, held its own, keeping Arizona State at 14 points for the first 58 minutes, and limiting the Sun Devils to 136 yards of total offense in the second half. The Colorado offense, however, continued to struggle, failing to score in the second half for the third straight game.

Those numbers did not bode well for a team facing its first true road game of the season … against the No. 9 team in the nation, Georgia.

The last link to 1989

I’ve often stated that if I could have the job of anyone else in the country, I would take Dave Plati’s. Dave is official title is that of Associate Athletic Director / Sports Information for the University of Colorado. His real job title, though, is that of No. 1 Buff fan – and he gets to tell his stories from the inside.

Dave’s specialty is quirky statistics, and those are my favorites. Want to know Colorado’s all-time record against 22nd-ranked teams? Or Colorado’s all-time record on September 16th? Just check out this week’s handout. I savored his weekly press releases, and awaited the August release of the annual media guide the way an eight year old anticipates Christmas (at least I did until 2005, when the morons at the NCAA arbitrarily determined that all media guides could not exceed a specified length, severely restraining Dave’s creativity).

In more recent years, though, the review of the weekly releases became more of a strain.

Dave, understandably, liked to paint Colorado football in the most positive light. For CU, that meant counting the years 1989 to present, while largely disregarding previous years. This was not an uncommon technique (e.g., Kansas State’s press release would reference the Wildcats’ success under head coach Bill Snyder, citing the years 1990 to present, quietly ignoring his 1-10 inaugural season as head coach in 1989).

Over the years, though, the Buffs back slide into mediocrity meant that many of the statistics Dave was promoting were based largely on past accomplishments.

One statistic Dave promoted on the first page of each week’s press release was “In the Polls“. Colorado was ranked in every single poll from the 1989 preseason until midway through the 1997 campaign. Even long after the Buffs ceased to be a fixture in the national spotlight, the press release would state that Colorado had been in “x” number of polls out of the last “y” weeks, being “z” percent of the total number of polls. As the “z” number continued to dwindle, the “In the Polls” statistic seemed more and more like a reach.

In the 2006 season, it was unceremoniously removed from page one of the release.

Other records quietly slipped in the background as well.

In the 1997 media guide, Colorado was touted as having the best road record of any team in the nation (1989-96). By 2006, though, Colorado had fallen to 8th in this category.

In 1997, the Buffs had the third-best record in the nation against conference opponents over the previous nine seasons. By the start of 2006, the Buffs were down to 9th.

At the start of the 1997 season, Colorado had the 4th-most former players still playing in the NFL, best in the Big 12. At the start of 2006, Colorado was ranked 17th in that category, tied for 3rd-best total in the conference.

The record Dave seemed proudest of, though, was the “Top College Football Records (1989 – present)”. Colorado’s standing in this statistic, the ultimate yardstick of a successful program, always received prominent play in the media guide and weekly releases. Between 1989-96, Colorado had the fourth best record in football, 78-15-4, an .825 winning percentage. By the start of the 2006 campaign, though, Colorado had fallen to 12th in that category. The Buffs, through 2005, had a record of 140-64-4, a .683 winning percentage.

While being the 12th-best team in the nation over a 17-year span is nothing to be ashamed of, the real numbers were these:

1989-96 – eight seasons – combined record of 78-15-4 (.825)

1997-05 – nine seasons – combined record of 62-49-0 (.558)

The emperor had no clothes.

Colorado suffered its first losing season in 11 years in 1997 (5-6), going on to have losing seasons every third year, 2000 (3-8), and 2003 (5-7). With the Buffs 0-3 to start the 2006 campaign, Colorado seemed to be well on their way fourth losing record in the past ten years.

The sole holdout for Dave, amongst all the statistics which had been mired in mediocrity for the past decade, was the “Scoring Streak“. The Buffs were last shutout by an opponent on November 12, 1988, a 7-0 loss to Nebraska. The streak, which had reached 210 games by the start of 2006, was the sixth longest current streak, and 13th-longest in NCAA history.

Not that the Buffs hadn’t made it interesting a few times. Sixteen times during the streak, Colorado had been held to fewer than 10 points. On five occasions, the Buffs managed only a field goal, including three times in 2005 alone. Against Miami, Mason Crosby’s 58-yard field goal in the fourth quarter were the Buffs’ only points in a 23-3 rout.

Against Nebraska, Crosby’s 33-yarder were CU’s only points in a 30-3 disaster. Then, against Texas the following week, the Buffs hit bottom. In a 70-3 debacle, Crosby’s 25-yard effort was the Buffs only score (and those points came off of a turnover – CU actually lost three yards on the “drive”).

When head coach Dan Hawkins brought his “just score” offense to Colorado, I thought my days of worrying about the streak were at an end. After all, at Boise, Hawkins’ teams routinely averaged over 40 points/game. As the 2006 campaign began, there were only five other teams with current streaks longer than the Buffs, but the program was on schedule to pass Arizona (at 214) and Hawaii (219) during the 2006 season to move into no worse than 11th place all-time.

Through three games of the Hawkins’ era, Colorado had raised its scoring streak total to 213 games, but 214 was to be a major challenge.

The Buffs had managed all of 23 points on the season, scoring a grand total of zero points in the second half. And these games were against much less formidable competition than that which was now before the Buffs. The Georgia Bulldogs were ranked 9th in the nation, and were undefeated at 3-0. To make matters much worse, Georgia had shut out its last two opponents, South Carolina (and Steve Spurrier’s offense) and Alabama-Birmingham. Thus the Bulldogs, playing at home, not only had incentive to defeat the Buffs, but to shut them out.

As I prepared to leave for Athens to take it all that was SEC football, I couldn’t help but think about Dan Hawkins and his “just score” offense. I had no real delusions about a win, all I wanted was for the Buffs to do just that … “just score”.

In the midst of a season to forget, the Buffs and their fans needed to have at least one link to the past to remain in tact.

Game Notes –

– The game against Arizona State, while a first for the schools from neighboring states, was nonetheless a reunion for the two head coaches. The Sun Devils were coached by Dirk Koetter, who had hired Dan Hawkins at Boise State, and was the coach that Hawkins replaced when Koetter was hired by ASU.

– The night game (5:00 p.m. kickoff) was televised nationally by TBS. The loss ended a six-game home winning streak in night games.

– Two receivers earned their first career starts in the Arizona State game. Red-shirt freshman wide receiver Stephone Robinson and junior tight end Tyson DeVree both started against the Sun Devils, with only DeVree (one catch for six yards) posting a catch in the ASU game.

– For the third straight game, the Colorado offense scored on its opening drive, with a field goal (MSU), touchdown (CSU) and a field goal (ASU). Those 13 points, however, represented the majority of the Buffs’ points in those first three games, with CU scoring seven points (MSU), three points (CSU) and zero points (ASU) the remainder of those games.

– The 0-3 start marked just the 11th such start in 117 years of football at Colorado.

– The seventh straight loss overall marked the first such drought for the program since the 1980 team opened with an 0-7 record.

– Running back Hugh Charles was one of the few offensive highlights for the Buffs, going for 109 yards on 20 carries. The 20 rushing attempts proved to be the most for any CU back in 2006.


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