October 7th – Boulder           Baylor 34, Colorado 31  3OT

Colorado fell to 0-6 under new head coach Dan Hawkins, falling to Baylor in three overtimes, 34-31.

The loss was the tenth in a row for the program, tying the 1963-64 teams for the worst stretch in school history. The Buffs’ hopes of ending the streak came to an end dramatically, as Baylor linebacker Joe Pawelek clinched the win with a leaping interception to bring a close to the third overtime.

The homecoming game, before a crowd of 47,065, was a microcosm of the first half of Colorado’s 2006 season. The Buffs started out well, faltered for much of the rest of the game, then came tantalizingly close to pulling out a win, falling short just as the CU faithful began to have hope of victory.

For a team which had failed to score more than 13 points in a game, and which was ranked 114th (out of 119) in the nation in scoring offense, the Buffs were remarkably successful at the outset of each game.

Of the 11 scoring drives the Buffs had mustered in their 0-5 start, four of them had come on the opening drive of the game (only failing to go 5-for-5 because a short Mason Crosby field goal attempt against Georgia was blocked).

The Buffs held true to form against the Bears, putting together an 11-play, 80-yard drive to open the game. Tailback Mell Holliday scored his first touchdown as a Buff with a 32-yard run to put the Buffs up, 7-0. The Buffs’ lead held up through the quarter as both teams moved the ball without scoring. A Baylor drive deep into Colorado territory was cut short by an interception by Terrence Wheatley, the first of two on the day for the junior cornerback.

Still, the Buffs could not capitalize.

An interception thrown by quarterback Bernard Jackson, the first of three, set up the Bears in Colorado territory. The Colorado defense held Baylor without a first down, but the Bears did post a field goal to pull within four points, 7-3. A second interception of Jackson was followed by a long touchdown drive, with a 17-yard pass from Shawn Bell to Trey Payne giving Baylor a 10-7 halftime lead.

Just as it appeared that the Buffs were in for a long afternoon after a brilliant start, the Bears handed the struggling Buffs a break. Baylor fumbled the second half kickoff, giving Colorado the ball at the Bear 18-yard line. The Buffs were unable to capitalize, though, as three plays netted zero yards, and reliable Mason Crosby missed a 36-yard field goal attempt.

The resilient Buffs, though, were not quite ready to give up, bouncing back twice in the second half. Late in the third quarter, Colorado put together a 66-yard drive, with Crosby successful from 44 yards out to tie the score at 10-all. The Bears, though, countered with a touchdown drive of their own, capped by a 28-yard scoring run by Paul Mosley.

What should have ended the game did not, as Colorado, which had posted a total of one second half touchdown all season, strung together a 12-play, 80-yard drive. Junior tailback Byron Ellis finished off the drive with his first score of the season, a nine-yard run. The 17-17 score carried the teams into overtime.

Baylor had the first possession, scoring on a one yard run by Mosley. Colorado countered in its first overtime possession with a 10-yard scoring pass from Jackson to tight end Riar Geer, marking the first Colorado touchdown pass of the season.

The second overtime gave Colorado the ball first. The Buffs wasted no time, with Hugh Charles scoring on a 25-yard run to give Colorado a 31-24 lead. The Bears also converted, but needed more drama. The Buffs were one play away from victory, with the Bears facing a fourth-and-seven at the CU ten yard line. Quarterback Shawn Bell, though, was able to hit Trent Shelton for a ten yard touchdown to tie the score at 31-all.

The Buffs held the Bears out of the endzone to open the third overtime, but Baylor did connect on a 22-yard field goal to go up, 34-31. A touchdown play away from victory (and with Mason Crosby available to tie the score on fourth down), Bernard Jackson threw his third interception of the day, sealing the Buffs’ fate for yet another week.

“We were just trying to make something happen,” said Jackson of his game-ending interception. “I just threw a bad ball. It hurts and its tough. Especially losing the way we did. I wish we could have pulled it off, but we just have to bounce back and look forward to next week.”

Head coach Dan Hawkins tried to be philosophical. “Ultimately, life comes down to some values and morals,” said Hawkins, loser of six games at the Buff helm after losing only 11 times in five seasons at Boise State. “No matter what happens, we’ve got out pride and our dignity and integrity, and we’re going to continue to do things right.”

With the Buffs’ tenth loss in a row, the 2005-06 streak was already in the record books, standing alongside the 1963-64 teams. How long the streak would continue, though, was a matter of speculation. Texas Tech was the Buffs’ next opponent. The Red Raiders had been ranked earlier in the season, but had been shocked by TCU, 12-3, to fall out of the national spotlight. Texas Tech would come to Boulder with a 4-2 record, 1-1 in conference play after falling to Missouri, 38-21.

To beat the Red Raiders, the Buffs would have to play ball-control offense and defend against the pass.

These traits were not the strong suit of the 2006 Colorado Buffs.

Mid-Season Report Card

The loss to Baylor left the Buffs at 0-6 for only the second time in school history, matching the inglorious start of the 1980 team.

I was a freshman at Colorado in 1980 when the Buffs opened the year 0-7. At the time, I didn’t know that the Buffs had been, or ever would be, any good, so losing was not something I was unaccustomed to when I walked the short distance from Libby Hall to the stadium on gamedays. Our group form the dorm still managed to have fun at the games, amusing ourselves watching the frat boys engage in paper fights, or participating in “passing up” girls who naively walked along the bottom row of the student section (some were not so naive).

A quarter of a century later, having inhaled the sweet aroma of success in previous seasons, the game itself was the draw to Folsom Field, and the infamous record was painful to take.

Unlike the 1980 Buffs, the 2005-06 Buff teams were relatively talented, and – until early November, 2005, at least – relatively successful. The 2006 Buffs were tantalizingly close to several wins, having been just a play away from victory several times. Colorado was just a play away from avoiding the atrocious upset to Montana State until a late fumble put the game away. The Buffs had just been a play away from defeating Colorado State the entire second half. The Georgia game had been the most painful, with the Buffs leading until only 46 seconds remained. Now the Baylor game had put a fresh coat of pain on the losing streak.

How to judge the 2006 Buffs?

It was hard not to like Dan Hawkins personally. You had to believe that he had the right ideas and the right temperament to be successful at Colorado. Still, you had to wonder how long it would take for Hawkins to turn his vision into success on the field.

The calling card for Hawkins had been his offenses. Averaging over 40 points/game at Boise State, his “just score” scheme seemed to be a breath of fresh air for those frustrated by Gary Barnett’s sluggish offenses.

The reality:

– None of the three candidates for quarterback immediately stepped forward in the spring or fall camps, leading the Buff ship without a rudder. Bernard Jackson, replacing first game starter Brian Cox, made strides over the course of the opening six weeks, but the lack of preparation over his first two seasons, when he was bounced around several positions, had the junior making freshman mistakes. Grade: D.

– The offensive line, thought to be a strength, was woefully thin and porous. When Remington Award candidate Mark Fenton went down, the struggling Buff line showed its lack of depth. Grade: D+

– The running back by committee approach had begun to show some promise as the season wore on, but the lack of consistency continued to work against the Buffs. Grade: C-.

– The passing game, known to be a weakness, did not disappoint. The Buffs, heading into the Baylor game, were 113th in passing offense, 115th in passing efficiency. The first touchdown pass of the season came in the first overtime of the Baylor game. Enough said. Grade: F.

While there was some anticipation that the offense would struggle early on, it was equally well anticipated that the defense would carry the Buffs through the first part of the year.

The reality:

– The rush defense had been the most effective unit on the team, with the Buffs ranking in the top 20 in the nation in rushing defense. Still, that same defense gave up 110 yards rushing to a Baylor team which had been averaging a paltry 27.4 yards/game, dead last in the nation. Grade: C-.

– The pass defense was a known liability. The numbers bore this out. Before surrendering 272 yards passing to Baylor, Colorado was already 98th in the nation in pass defense and 99th in pass efficiency defense. This with pass happy Texas Tech coming to Boulder next. Grade: D.

– The special teams were supposed to be a mixed bag. The starting punter was not decided upon until the second game, when freshman Matt DiLallo won the job. Other than a fumble against Missouri which led to a back-breaking touchdown, DiLallo had been solid if unspectacular. Senior kicker Mason Crosby, though, was supposed to be spectacular. Through six games, though, he was a modest 8-of-13, including two misses under 40 yards. The rest of the special team play was atrocious, with the Buffs ranking no higher than 88th in the nation in net punting, punt returns, punt return yardage defense, kickoff returns, or kickoff return yardage defense. This was supposed to be a Hawkins’ specialty. Grade: D-.

Overall, while I still remained in the Hawkins camp midway through the 2006 season, each week brought about new frustrations and renewed fears that the Buffs would be out of the national spotlight for years to come.

Mid-season overall Grade: F.

The bottom line was that, despite the goodwill Hawkins brought to Colorado, there were still no wins in the record book.

Perhaps a quote by senior tailback Mell Holliday best summed up my mood. After the Missouri loss, Holliday was asked how the losing affected him and the team. “It builds character,” said Holliday, “after it’s finished stinking.”

Game Notes …

– The overtime loss gave CU a 3-4 overall record in overtime games, and was the first three-overtime game in Colorado history;

– Colorado rushed for 276 yards, the most on the ground since picking up 331 against Iowa State in 2002. The 276 yards rushing, though, was off-set by posting only 75 yards passing;

– The 31 points were the most by Colorado in 2006 season, and the most since putting up 41 in the Buffs’ most recent win, a 41-12 triumph over Missouri in the eighth game of the 2005 campaign;

– The road win was just the second for Baylor as a member of the Big 12, giving the Bears a 2-39 road record in conference play;

– Senior Nick Holz earned his first career start at wide receiver against Baylor. Holz finished the 2006 season with three catches for 29 yards. The other Buff in the starting lineup for the first time was Maurice Cantrell. The sophomore fullback would go on to post five starts during the 2006 season, but never got to carry the ball (he did have two catches the following week against Texas Tech, going for 38 total yards);

– The win over Colorado gave Baylor a 3-3 record overall, and a 2-0 record in Big 12 play. The win over the Buffs, though, proved to be a high-water mark for the Bears, as Baylor would go on to lose five of its last six games to finish the 2006 season with a 4-8 record.



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