October 1st – Boulder        Washington State 31, Colorado 27

Washington State wide receiver Marquess Wilson sped past two Colorado defenders and hauled in a 63-yard touchdown pass from Cougar quarterback Marshall Lobbestael with 1:10 left to lead Washington State to a stunning 31-27 comeback win over Colorado in Boulder.

The Buffs (1-4, 0-1) were primed for their first win in their Pac-12 debut season before surrendering two touchdowns in the final 2 1/2 minutes. Lobbestael threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Cougars (3-1, 1-0) to just their second road win in four years under coach Paul Wulff.

The game began as if the Colorado secondary, which was playing with two former offensive players (including senior running back Brian Lockridge, who was converted to a defensive back for the first time in his career five days before the game) would be in for a long day. In Washington State’s first possession, three of the Cougars’ first four plays went for over ten yards, as Lobbestael quickly led the Cougars into Colorado territory. There the drive stalled, however, with the Cougars facing a fourth-and-three at the Colorado 34-yard line.

Rather than go for a long field goal, Washington State went for a first down. Rushed, Lobbestael threw late across the middle, and was intercepted by junior safety Ray Polk, who returned the pick 52 yards to the Washington State 20-yard line.

The Colorado offense, though, was only able to generate eight yards in three plays in its first possession of the afternoon. The 29-yard field goal attempt by freshman kicker Will Oliver, who had made his first six attempts of the season, was then blocked, leaving the game scoreless.

Washington State did not turn the ball over in its second possession, marching smartly down the field. Converting four third down opportunities along the way, the Cougars pieced together a 15-play, 81-yard drive, culminated in a two-yard touchdown run by Carl Winston. Washington State 7, Colorado 0.

The Colorado offense also posted points in its second possession, but had to settle for a field goal. Highlighted by a 19-yard pass from senior quarterback Tyler Hansen to sophomore wide receiver Paul Richardson, the Buffs made it as far as the Washington State 31-yard line before setting up for a 48-yard field goal attempt by Oliver. This time, the kick was true, and the Buffs were on the board late in the first quarter. Washington State 7, Colorado 3.

On Washington State’s next possession, the Cougar offense again successfully penetrated Buff territory, but, as had been the case in the opening possession of the game, was stopped on fourth down. This time, running back Carl Winston was stopped for a loss of three yards on a fourth-and-one, with linebacker Doug Rippy blowing up the play, and defensive lineman Will Pericak making the tackle.

Buoyed by the defensive stand, the Colorado offense drove 56 yards in just six plays to give the Buffs their first lead of the game. Two personal foul penalties on the Cougars covered over half of the territory, with Hansen hitting Richardson for a nine yard touchdown with 9:16 to play before halftime. Colorado 10, Washington State 7.

After the Buff defense forced the only punt by either team in the first half, Colorado took over at its five yard line. Three first downs brought the ball to near midfield, and the 51,928 sun-baked fans had images of Colorado taking only its second double digit lead of the season.

Instead, Tyler Hansen threw his first interception since the opener against Hawai’i, setting up the Cougars (after a 29-yard return by Deone Bucannon) at the Colorado 38-yard line. This time, the Buffs helped out the opposition with a penalty, roughing the passer on a second-and-17 play. Given new life, Washington State penetrated the Colorado redzone, but, with time running out in the first half, settled for a 28-yard field goal by Andrew Ferney with 21 seconds to play before the half. Colorado 10, Washington State 10.

A squib kick by the Cougars on the ensuing kickoff, designed to prevent a long return just before the half, failed, as Colorado fullback Evan Harrington scooped up the kick and returned it 19 yards out to the Colorado 48-yard line. Tyler Hansen then hit tight end Ryan Deehan for a 21-yard gain on the next play, and, with five seconds left before the break, Will Oliver hit a 48-yard field goal to give the Buffs a lift.

Halftime score: Colorado 13, Washington State 10.

For the Buffs, the second half began almost as well as the first half had opened poorly. Taking the second half kickoff, the Buffs marched 79-yards in nine plays, highlighted by a 14-yard pass from Hansen to senior wide receiver Logan Gray and a well-executed screen pass from Hansen to Rodney Stewart which went for 34 yards to the Washington State eight yard line. On second-and-goal at the four, Hansen hit senior wide receiver Toney Clemons on the same play which had worked for Hansen and Richardson in the first half, a lob to the corner. Colorado 20, Washington State 10.

The Colorado defense, presented with a two-score lead, promptly surrendered it. In its first possession of the second half, the Washington State offense covered 80 yards in ten plays, with Lobbestael hitting Jared Byers foran 11-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter. Colorado 20, Washington State 17.

After Colorado was forced into its first punt of the game, and Washington State its second, the Buffs started the fourth quarter with the ball at their own 25-yard line. Two three-and-outs (the only two of the game) followed, and the Buffs were back in business at their 22. This time, the Colorado offense responded, with what could have been (should have been?) a back-breaking drive. Running 6:07 off of the fourth quarter clock, the Buffs covered 78 yards in 11 plays, highlighted by a 52-yard run by Rodney Stewart. The senior running back,who had his first 100-yard game of the season (26 rushes for 132 yards) was rewarded with his first touchdown of the season, a one-yard run with 5:04 to play. Colorado 27, Washington State 17.

Rather than fold, however, the Cougars rallied. Aided by a facemask penalty, Washington State needed only 2:29 of game clock to make the Buff fans nervous. Covering 77 yards in just seven plays, Lobbestael hit Isiah Barton for a 19-yard score with 2:30 still left to play. Colorado 27, Washington State 24.

All Colorado had to do to preserve the victory was generate one first down while forcing Washington State to burn its time outs. The Cougars did all they could to help, committing a personal foul on the kickoff, then giving Colorado a first down on a pass interference call on second-and-nine at the Colorado 34.

On first-and-ten at midfield, Rodney Stewart ran for five yards. Time out, Washington State, its second. 2:12 remained. On second-and-five, Stewart was captured for a one yard loss. Time out, Washington State, its final time out. 2:03 remained to play.

Then, the play of the game … It was third-and-six at the Cougar 46-yard line. The Cougars were out of time outs. A first down would end the game, giving Colorado a much needed victory. A play short of a first down, as long as it stayed in bounds, would give the ball back to the Cougars, but with less than a minute to play in the game. Instead of going for the safe play, a run, the Buffs went for broke. A Tyler Hansen pass to Paul Richardson, however, fell incomplete, and the Cougars had new life.

A 37-yard punt by freshman Darragh O’Neill pinned the Cougars back on their nine yard line. 1:50 remained. Plenty of time left for the Washington State offense to drive into field goal position, and force Colorado into a second overtime against a Pac-12 opponent in as many games.

But it never came to that.

After keeping the nation’s leading receiver, Marquess Wilson, in check for most of the game (five catches for 58 yards to that point), the Colorado secondary inexplicably allowed Wilson to get behind two Buff defenders. Lobbestael hit a wide open Wilson near the Colorado 30, with the sophomore wide receiver doing the rest to drive a stake through the hearts of the Buff Nation. Washington State 31, Colorado 27.

Still, 1:10 remained to be played. Rodney Stewart returned the ensuing kick 34 yards to the Buff 38-yard line to give Colorado new life. On the next play, Tyler Hansen hit Paul Richardson for a 23 yard gain to the Washington State 39 yard line, but Richardson fumbled the ball on the play. Instead of the Buffs being inside the Washington State 40 with just under a minute left, the Cougars recovered. The game – along with the Buffs’ chances at a decent first season under new head coach Jon Embree – were over.

Final score: Washington State 31, Colorado 27.

“I don’t know what it is,” said a clearly frustrated Jon Embree after the game. “I have no idea (why the Buffs can’t finish). We are up ten points with three minutes left, and we can’t make a play on either side of the ball. I don’t know what it is. We are practicing situations until we are blue in the face – just for these situations. We failed to execute on either side of the ball. No excuses.”

While blaming injuries would have been an expected tactic for a coach falling to 1-4 in his first season, Embree would have none of it. “It is what we got, so we have to find a way to play it and win. It is who we have, we can’t change that. Injuries are a part of the game, so that is what we have to work with.”

Embree was also asked about what he told his team after the game. “I asked them, ‘When is it going to be enough? When is enough, enough? You put in all the work, you do all this stuff that you have done from spring ball to training camp … for this? This is what we did the work for? So when is it enough? When are they going to get tired of losing? When are they going to get tired of finding a way to lose, because you know what, this staff, we’ve been here for five weeks and I’m tired of it. So if you’ve been here for five years, you’ve got to be tired of it, too.’ ”

On the day, the Colorado defense, which had been first in the Pac-12 in pass defense, surrendered 376 yards through the air. In all, Washington State posted 455 yards of total offense to 336 for the Buffs. Almost amazingly, Colorado had three former offensive players (running backs Ray Polk and Brian Lockridge, along with former wide receiver Jason Espinoza) on the field at the same time in the defensive secondary. “I think they held their own,” said Polk, who switched positions two years ago, of Lockridge and Espinoza, who switched since the season began. “I knew going into it that they were going to do a good job. I knew that some balls would be completed, others would be batted down. I think they did a great job.”

For his part, quarterback Tyler Hansen was again decent, if not dominant. Hansen hit on 15-of-23 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns, and his one interception came after a string of 131 straight passes without a pick (the second longest such stretch in school history). At the same time, Hansen passed on several opportunities to take off with the ball, and several times locked in on one receiver when others were clearly open. “I’m frustrated and disappointed,” said Hansen. “We constantly find ways to lose the game … We had opportunities to take the game, and we can’t make the one play; can’t get the first down. It’s disappointing.”

Senior running back Rodney Stewart had his first 100-yard game of the season, with 132 yards on 26 carries. The arrival of freshman running back Tony Jones, expected this week, failed to materialize, with the Jones earning only three carries (for 21 yards).

With the opportunity to post a league victory at home now behind them, Colorado, without a road victory since 2007, was forced to turn the page to find a top ten team on the calendar. Stanford, fresh from a 45-19 dismantling of UCLA, represented not only a road game, but a road game against a team ranked in the top five in the nation, and riding a nation’s best 12-game winning streak.

“We don’t have a choice,” said senior safety Anthony Perkins of the trip to Palo Alto. “We have to come back strong. After a game like this, there can only be one place to go, and we have to make sure we go up.”

Game Notes –

– With the loss, Colorado fell to 78-38-2 in conference openers, and 5-3 all-time in “new” conference openers.

– Wide receiver Jason Espinoza saw his first collegiate action on defense against Washington State. Espinoza not only played, he earned his first career start.

– Also earning their first career starts against the Cougars were red-shirt freshman tight end Kyle Slavin and freshman linebacker Juda Parker.

– Freshman kicker Will Oliver had his streak of six field goals to start a career (second best in CU history, behind the seven of Jeremy Flores) broken, but Oliver bounced back to kick two 48-yarders, making him 8-of-9 on the season, with four of those kicks from beyond 40 yards (long of 52).

– Senior running back Rodney Stewart continued to set records. His 132 yards rushing gave him 3,156 for his career, moving him into second place (passing Rashaan Salaam), while passing Eric Bieniemy for the record for rushing attempts (718, to Bieniemy’s 699). Stewart’s 34 yards receiving gave him 736 for his career, setting a new standard for running backs (passing Herchell Troutman, who had 725  between 1994 and 1997).

– Senior quarterback Tyler Hansen became just the 7th Colorado quarterback to pass for more than 4,000 yards in his career (4,147). His streak of 131 passes without an interception is the second longest in Colorado history, behind only the 139 straight passes without an interception thrown by Joel Klatt in 2005.

Injury Update

– For the first time in the 2011 season, Colorado reported no new injuries after the game …


9 Replies to “Washington State 31, Colorado 27”

  1. Go Buffs. I believe JB is the right guy and he too will have to mature with this job and situation. Buffs wont be favored in a game this year and I see at least one upset still. Don’t cave, as this team has been very entertaining to watch. Like watching a young child to walk it promises breath taking moments.

  2. I agree it is disheartening, but, as Stewart said back in the summer, we have to perservere through this first season. I think we all knew deep down rebuilding was not going to be an over night thing. Every summer (for the past 5-6 seasons) we get ourselves all worked up over the thought of how the season may play out, so we as fans really create this let down for ourselves. I am extremely pleased with the play from our freshmen that Coach Embree recruited this past spring, and if that is any indication of our future then I think we have quite a bit to be optimistic about.

    Keep your chins up Buffs!

    1. Nothing wrong with injecting a little honesty to the team. This is NCAA football, not middle school. The previous coach was too wishy-washy, and you’re seeing how the results of that have seeped in- no ability to compete/finish, stupid penalties, mental errors, etc. At some point, it has to come down on the players and what they have between the ears. I honestly don’t think this team, from a talent standpoint, is outmanned by anyone on their schedule besides Stanford and Oregon. Obviously, depth is an issue, but they need to believe they can win. Right now, all they do is find ways to lose.

  3. Hi Stuart,

    Is there a limit on the number of recruits CU can bring in for next year? With 28 seniors leaving, could Embree release 22 non performers and bring in 50 new players?

    Most of the remaining games will be blow-outs. My suggestion is to play each second half with the players who will be here next year. Give them reps and experience. We don’t want a team in 2012 that has a QB who has never played in a college game.

    1. Chuck,
      The Buffs can only offer 25 scholarships per year. There are some ways around that, including over-signing of players figuring some won’t qualify (this has been done in the SEC for years, but is now being curtailed).

      The other ways of signing more than 25 is to have some players graduate in December and enroll early (thus counting against the previous year’s total), or gray-shirt, meaning that the high school player pays his own way for school the fall after he graduates, and then enrolls the following January, counting against the following year’s class.

      I would look for the Buffs to sign from 27-29 this cycle, with a few early enrollees, and perhaps one or two grayshirts (usually offensive linemen, who can always use an extra year in the weight room).

  4. Even rookie coaches in Pop Warner would not through a pass, let alone one farther than ten years with less than 50% chance of completion, on third down, with no time outs for the other side, less than two minutes to go, and the weakest of a number of weak links being our secondary – against a good throwing team. Why Embree/Bienemy didn’t protect the secondary by forcing a running play – successful or not – and another 40 seconds or so off the clock before punting is beyond any comprehension. Dumb, dumb, dumb, irrational, playcall. Perhaps the “D” grade from Sports Illustrated for this hire was generous. Honey, this honeymoon is ovah!

  5. Stuart, thanks for your stellar work as usual. Simply awesome!

    Watching this game, and especially the last play, I was overcome by the realization of just how far this program has fallen and how long the climb back to respectability, let alone success, will take. Our team has seemingly lost the will to win. The game was lost not by the last play, although that was the final dagger, but by the continuation of issues we have seen all season (if not for years). Failure to execute on offense, shoddy tackling on defense especially on 3rd down, untimely stupid penalties and costly turnovers.

    Coach is absolutely right, only the players themselves can decide when “enough is enough”. I know they can do it and wish them well going forward. We’ll be watching from sec 571. Go buffs! Shoulder to shoulder!

  6. Is it too late to return my CU/UW tickets? Thank God I’m sitting in the CU section where the humiliation will be shared with like-minded fans.

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