Six plays decide a Season

They look so innocuous on the stats sheet, I almost overlooked them in the game summary. I knew that those six plays decided the outcome of the A&M game, and perhaps much more, but they don’t jump off the page.

The situation: Second quarter. Colorado 7, Texas A&M 3.

The Aggies have just posted their first score of the game, and the Buffs are taking over at their own 24 yard line with 5:43 to play in the first half. The Colorado offense has shown signs of life, and the Colorado defense has just held the Aggies to a long field goal. This game, unlike the Missouri game, is still very much in doubt. The Buffs, at 4-4, must win this game to keep the promise of the 3-0 start to the 2008 season from slipping away.

First down. CU 24 yard line. Tyler Hansen; rush for two yards to the CU 26.

How many times have we seen this stat this season? “First down; rush for two yards”? You can take out Hansen’s name and insert that of Rodney Stewart, Demetrius Sumler,or Darrell Scott if you like, but there has been a frustrating consistency to the inconsistency of the Colorado offense all season. It certainly seems that the Colorado offense has been playing with “second-and-eight” on the scoreboard all year.

Second down and eight. CU 26 yard line. Rodney Stewart; rush for 11 yards to the CU 37. 15-yard penalty for a horse collar tackle assessed against A&M. Ball on the Aggie 48-yard line.

Perhaps the last gasp for the Buffs’ 2008 campaign ended on this play. It was a great run by Stewart. Clogged up on the right hand side of the CU line, it appeared that Stewart was going to be stopped for a short gain. Instead, Speedy bounced outside, taking off for the CU sideline, caught from behind by a horse collar tackle which cost the Aggies 15 yards.

As the play took place on the Colorado sideline, those of us in the stands did not notice that Stewart had been injured. It was a hard tackle, to be sure, but one that until this season would have been perfectly legal. When we saw Stewart sitting up as he was being hauled off in a cart a few minutes later, we assumed (hoped?) that heat exhaustion had taken a toll on the freshman running back, and that he would be back for the second half.

No such luck. The solitary bright light for the Colorado offense in 2008 has been extinguished. Stewart’s 666 rushing yards will go down as the third best for a freshman, behind Lamont Warren’s 830 (1991) and O.C. Oliver’s 668 (1986).

First down. A&M 48 yard line. Darrell Scott; rush for 42 yards to the A&M six yard line.

Is it too early to say that this was a “vintage” Darrell Scott run? Against Eastern Washington (oddly enough, the only other CU game not to be televised), Scott had a 22-yard run in which he leapt over an Eagle defender in the secondary. Breaking into the Aggie secondary on this play, Scott did his thing again, jumping over and through two A&M defenders on his way to the longest play from scrimmage for CU this season.

First-and-goal. A&M six yard line. Demetrius Sumler; rush for four yards to the A&M two yard line.

Demetrius Sumler has been an overlooked element to the CU offense. Usually in on passing downs to assist in blocking (unfortunately, the Buffs’ opponents are all too aware that if Sumler is in the game, the Buffs are likely to pass), Sumler has been the only real between-the-tackles option for CU. On this play, Sumler sets the Buffs up nicely with a four yard gain. Second-and-goal from the two yard line. Just over three minutes to play in the half, with the Buffs already up 7-3, a momentum shifting touchdown is in the offing for the offensively challenged Buffs.

Second-and-goal. A&M two yard line. Scotty McKnight; rush for loss of three yards to the A&M five yard line.

From over 100 yards away (our seats were in the opposite endzone from where the Buffs were marching), we tried to make our voices heard. “Run it up the middle again!”; “DO NOT run backwards!” was our cry.

No good. CU ran a sweep with a wide receiver, losing three yards. Instead of ramming the ball straight ahead for one (or even two) play(s), the Buffs got cute, and a rushing touchdown was removed as an option for third down. “What made us think that play was exactly what we saw on film and again what they did,” said Dan Hawkins of the ill-fated sweep. “I don’t know if there was a mis-communication there at the point of attack, but we just can’t cut the defensive end loose, and that’s a situation where we should have two guys on that guy.”

From a sure touchdown, the Buffs now faced the uncertainty of a third down from the five.

Third-and-goal. A&M five yard line. Cody Hawkins intercepted by Jordan Pugh. Touchback.

Hawkins had a player open running along the back of the end-zone (Geer?), but did not get enough air under the ball. The floater was picked off by Aggie safety Jordan Pugh, and the Buff drive was snuffed out.

Would a touchdown have brought a CU victory? It’s impossible to say. What is clear about that drive is that it is a microcosm of the Colorado 2008 season. The promise of Stewart and Scott are there, but only in short bursts. Injuries have all but ground the Buff offense to a halt, and now the Buffs’ leading rusher has been sidelined. The CU offensive line cannot be counted on to punch the ball in from two yards out, so the Buffs resorted to trickery which backfired. And Cody continues to make freshman mistakes well into his sophomore season.

Can the Buffs’ rebound? I don’t think so. I believe that CU will be able to handle an Iowa State team which has been, if anything, a bigger disappointment than the Buffs. A lopsided loss to Oklahoma State seems all but a certainty, leaving CU with a make or break game against a Nebraska team which may also be fighting for a bowl bid. The way the ball has bounced so far in 2008, I don’t like our chances. A 5-7 season seems to be in the offing.

It will be a long, cold winter in Boulder.

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