October 20th – Boulder           No. 15 Kansas 19, Colorado 14

15th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks moved their record to 7-0 (3-0 in Big 12 play), holding on to defeat Colorado, 19-14. Sophomore quarterback Todd Reesing led the Jayhawks in both passing and rushing, almost single-handedly defeating the Buffs for the second year in a row. The win was the first for the Jayhawks in Boulder since 1995, and kept the Jayhawks undefeated on the season, one of only five teams in Division 1-A still able to make that claim.

Kansas, playing its first game of the season outside of the Sunflower State, came into the game against Colorado averaging over 50 points per game. At the half, though, the score was only 3-0, Kansas. The Buffs had the first scoring opportunity of the game, moving deep into Jayhawk territory on their second possession. A fumble by running back Hugh Charles at the Kansas 13-yard line, however, ended the drive.

Early in the second quarter, Kansas took the lead on a 48-yard field goal by Scott Webb, capping a 58-yard drive highlighted by a 53-yard run by quarterback Todd Reesing on a third-and-four from the Jayhawks’ 17-yard line.

Colorado had several opportunities to tie the game or take the lead in the second quarter. Senior kicker Kevin Eberhart missed on a 45-yard attempt which would have tied the score midway through the quarter. Then, after the Buffs recovered a fumble at midfield with under two minutes to play before halftime, it appeared that Colorado would have one more chance to tie the game or take the lead. A Cody Hawkins’ pass, though, was intercepted and returned back to the Kansas 45-yard line, where the ball was promptly fumbled back to the Buffs. Rather than trying another long field goal, the Buffs opted for a Hail Mary, which fell quietly to the Folsom Field end zone turf to end the half.

Both teams scored on their opening drives of the second half. Colorado took the second half kickoff and marched 80 yards in ten plays. The drive was aided by a fourth down delay of game penalty against the Jayhawks (for interfering with the long snapper) which kept the drive alive.

The touchdown was scored on a trick play, as quarterback Cody Hawkins simulated a fumble on the snap, allowing tight end Tyson DeVree to slip past the Jayhawk secondary. Hawkins hit the wide open DeVree for a 27-yard score and a 7-3 Colorado lead. The lead was short-lived, however, as Kansas needed only five plays to cover 58 yards to go up 10-7. A two yard run by by Jake Sharp gave the Jayhawks an advantage they would not relinquish.

The game seemed to get away from the Buffs over the next fifteen minutes.

After a second Cody Hawkins’ interception, the Jayhawks upped the lead to 13-7 on a 35-yard field goal by Scott Webb. On their next possession, Kansas took control. The Jayhawks put together a 15-play, 94-yard drive to up their advantage. Highlighted by four third-down conversions, the Jayhawks held onto the ball for over seven minutes on the drive, culminated on a four yard pass from Reesing to tight end Derek Fine. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but that mattered little to the Kansas faithful, as they had a 19-7 lead with ten minutes to play.

On CU’s second possession after the Jayhawk score, the Buffs put together their second 80-yard drive of the game. This one also took ten plays, and when Hawkins hit running back Byron Ellis from five yards out, the score was suddenly 19-14, with 3:42 still left to play.

A three-and-out by the Jayhawks only added to the enthusiasm of the 51,940 on hand. Colorado, however, was unable to generate a first down on its next possession. A fourth down pass, and the game, fell through the arms of freshman wide receiver Josh Smith on fourth-and-13.

“It’s not about being close,” said Dan Hawkins after the game. “I like our guys’ effort and heart and all of that. They’ve shown that time and time again, and I don’t question that at all. But just like all of us every single day in our jobs, you’re just trying to get that much closer to perfection and chase it.”

How close the Buffs came was notable in the game statistics.

Kansas came to Boulder third in the nation in scoring, averaging over 50 points per game, but left town with only 19. The Buffs actually had more first downs than the Jayhawks (19-17), and more total yards (353-333). Colorado ran more plays (78-62), and had the better of it in time of possession. Still, Kansas had the edge in the only stat which mattered – 19-14.

“If you look at this game, it comes down to making plays,” said senior linebacker Jordon Dizon, who during the week was selected as one of the ten semi-finalists for the Butkus Award, given out to the nation’s top linebacker. “We weren’t out-coached, we we’re out-played, but they just made more plays than we did at the end of it. We just have to find a spark and make some plays.”

Time was now short for the Buffs to figure out how to make those plays. With the loss, Colorado slipped to 4-4 (2-2). Up next was Texas Tech, which had been ranked 22nd before getting spanked by No. 15 Missouri, 41-10 (Kansas and Missouri had been tied in the poll that week). Prior to the loss to the Tigers, the Red Raiders had been second in the nation in scoring (just ahead of Kansas), and first in the nation in total offense.

The Buffs had shown marked improvement in their defensive effort between the Kansas State and Kansas games. Similar improvement would be necessary if the Buffs were to escape Lubbock with a win – something no other Buff team had ever accomplished.

Land of Opportunity

On Jeopardy! a few days before the Colorado/Kansas game, there was a question about which state was now calling itself the “Land of Opportunity”. My guess was New Mexico. I knew that New Mexico had long called itself the “Land of Enchantment”, and I reasoned that “Land of Opportunity” was just as obscure, so why not New Mexico? The correct answer, though, turned out to be Arkansas [side note: Arkansas? The “Land of Opportunity”? Really? Sounds like fodder for a Dennis Miller rant – but I digress].

For the Colorado Buffs, Folsom Field on October 20th was the “Land of Opportunity”. The Buffs just chose not to take advantage.

It could be said that losing by five points to the 15th-ranked team in the nation is nothing to be ashamed of. It could be said that holding a team over 30 points below its scoring average (just as the Buffs had done with Oklahoma), is something to hold out as a sign of progress for a program which had seen regular blowouts in the end of the Barnett era.

“I was probably three plays from walking in here with a big cheesy grin on my face and acting like it’s the last day of school,” said quarterback Cody Hawkins in his post-game press conference.

But c’mon. This is Kansas we’re talking about. Kansas!

The lost opportunities were many:

– Hugh Charles fumbling deep inside Kansas territory on the Buffs’ second possession;

– The missed Kevin Eberhart field goal, which would have tied the game in the second quarter;

– The inability to hold Todd Reesing in the pocket. The game was scoreless, and the momentum clearly up for grabs, when Reesing turned a scramble on a third-and-four into a 53-yard run, setting up the first Jayhawk score. A similar, though shorter third down scramble, kept alive what turned out to be the game-winning, 15-play drive in the third quarter;

– The two Cody Hawkins’ interceptions, one of which kept the Buffs out of field goal range just before halftime, the other of which set up the second Kansas field goal;

– The face mask penalty on the kickoff after the Buffs had taken a 7-3 lead. The penalty gave the ball to Kansas near midfield, and five plays later, the Buffs were behind to stay (though it must be said that the Buffs did cut down considerably on the penalties. After being penalized over ten times against both Baylor and Kansas State, the Buffs had only four penalties for 35 yards against Kansas);

– The dropped passes, particularly two by senior wide receiver Dusty Sprague, both of which would have kept drives alive by converting third downs; and

– The inability to finish the game when given the opportunity by the Jayhawks. The game had an Oklahoma feel to it when the Jayhawks mangled their chance to get out of Boulder without giving the ball back to the Buffs after CU scored to cut the lead to 19-14. Instead, Kansas went backward, and even threw in an incomplete pass to help out the Buffs’ cause. Still, when given the chance to pull off the upset at the end, the Buffs’ went minus-three yards in four plays to end the game.

What now for the 4-4 Buffs?

Given the option back in August of having a 4-4,2-2 team two-thirds of the way through the 2007 season, most Buff fans would have leapt at the chance (including me). After all, this was a 2-10 team in 2006, and a .500 record was about as much as we were hoping for. Still, after going 4-2 through the first half of the season, expectations were raised. Now, instead of harboring delusions of a Big 12 North title and “comeback of the year” awards, Colorado was faced with an uphill climb to a bowl game. The next two weeks would be tough. A mad Texas Tech team, on the road, then back home to face the Missouri team which made the Red Raiders angry in the first place.

CU had never won in Lubbock, and the Red Raiders could score points in bunches. Even with the 41-10 rout by Missouri, Texas Tech was still averaging 45.0 points per game. Would the CU defense be able to hold a third team this season 30 points under its average? Would the CU offense, averaging only 17 points over the previous two weeks, be able to post a 30-point game? Would the Buffs ever win the turnover battle?

The final third of the season could play out with the Buffs needing wins on the road against Iowa State, and at home against Nebraska, just to become bowl-eligible. Even six wins, though, didn’t guarantee a spot (a 6-6 Kansas team had sat home a year earlier). The Big 12 has eight guaranteed bowl spots, but as many as ten conference schools were in position to have six or more wins by season’s end. Seven wins guarantee a bowl, but that meant the Buffs needed to finish 3-1.

The Buffs had the opportunity to go 3-1, or even 4-0, and take the guess work out of going bowling. It would take an upset or two to get there, though.

Just such an opportunity slipped through the Buffs’ fingers against Kansas. There weren’t too many such chances left to be had.

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Pregame Preview

Numbers which will help you prepare for dealing with this weekend’s game against the undefeated and 15th-ranked Jayhawks:

1) Kansas comes to Boulder ranked 7th in the nation with a gaudy average offensive output of 515.8 total yards/game. When Oklahoma came to Boulder three weeks ago, the Sooners were ranked third in the nation in total offense, with 562.2 yards/game. Total yards for OU in Boulder: 230.

2) Kansaas comes to Boulder ranked 2nd in the nation in scoring, averaging 50.3 points per game. Oklahoma came to Boulder ranked 1st in the nation in scoring, averaging 61.5 points per game. Total points for OU in Boulder: 24.

3) Kansas comes to Boulder ranked 4th in the nation in total defense, giving up only 240.0/yards per game. Oklahoma came to Boulder ranked 5th in total defense, giving up only 234.2 yards per game. Total yards for CU v. Oklahoma: 381.

4) Kansas comes to Boulder ranked 2nd in the nation in scoring defense, giving up only 9.5 points per game. Oklahoma came to Boulder ranked 8th in scoring defense, giving up only 11.8 points per game. Total points for CU v. Oklahoma: 27.

5) …. And this is the most important: Strength of schedule (opponents’ combined record): CU, 23-14, 16th most difficult schedule in the nation. KU, 10-14, 100th most difficult schedule in the nation. I may be disappointed/angered/depressed come Saturday night, but I just can’t believe that Kansas is that good!

On paper, Kansas looks just as formidable as Oklahoma did three weeks ago, and we all know how that turned out. So the question really becomes: Which Buff team will show up? The one which played an almost perfect game on defense against the Sooners (remember that 14 of OU’s 24 points came on drives of less than 20 yards after turnovers), and took advantage of opportunities on offense and special teams? Or will it be the team which turned the ball over four times on offense, was sloppy on defense, and out-played on special teams against Kansas State? One statistic which scares me: the Buffs are a minus-eight in turnovers on the season, the Jayhawks are a plus-nine. If those trends continue, it could be a long afternoon in Boulder.

One last thought: Any willing to take bets at the beginning of the year that the Buffs would be facing a “murderer’s row” of Kansas, Texas Tech, and Missouri (all currently ranked), trying to get a win or two before facing the “easy” end of schedule games against Iowa State and Nebraska? What a meltdown in Lincoln! Everyone expects the Cornhuskers to fold up and lose most of the rest of their games. Look instead for Texas A&M to get all it can handle this weekend in Lincoln. I’m not convinced yet that the last home game of the season is a “gimme” (though I would love to be able to think that in a few more weeks!!!!).

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