“Everyone Chipped In, Everyone Did Their Job”

What does September 21st mean to you?

  • For many, it represents the traditional first day of fall (although in 2019, the autumnal equinox – when there are 12 hours of sunlight and darkness at the equator – actually falls on Monday, September 23rd);
  • For the history Buff, September 21st can represent the day Benedict Arnold betrayed his new country by giving plans to West Point to the British (1780); the day J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was published (1937), or the day when Sandra Day O’Conner became the first woman to be approved by the U.S. Senate to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court (1981);
  • Still others can use September 21st to celebrate the birthdays of the likes of H.G. Wells (1866); Bill Murray (1950); or Faith Hill (1967).

For the Buff Nation, however, September 21st has had other connotations.

For it was back on September 21, 2002, when the Buffs took on the UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, that a marker for the CU football program was set in place. On that date, the Buffs, behind running back Chris Brown (who had 26 carries for 188 yards and three touchdowns), defeated the Bruins, 31-17.

At the time, the UCLA game merely represented a good bounce back effort for the Buffs, who had been trounced at home by USC the week before, 40-3. It was a good win, on the road over a ranked team, propelling the Buffs toward a 9-5 final record, and a No. 20 spot in the final polls.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that the game against UCLA also marked a milestone. For it was on that day, September 21, 2002 … that the Buffs last defeated a ranked team on the road.

Coming off of a Big 12 championship year in 2001, and going on to win the Big 12 North in 2002, the win over UCLA hardly seemed like a memorable event. In 2001, the Buffs defeated a ranked Kansas State team on the road and a neutral site win over a ranked Colorado State team in Denver.

And yet …

From a 27-11 loss to No. 2 Oklahoma a few weeks after the UCLA game in 2002, to a 27-13 loss in Seattle to No. 15 Washington last October, the Buffs played 29 games on the road against ranked teams … and lost every one.

That ignoble stretch put the Buffs in sorry company. The stretch of losses was longer than any other Power Five conference team in the country, longer than programs noted for futility in football like that of Kansas, Indiana, and Vanderbilt.

But now the CU football program can turn the page from that sorry statistic, and can point to September 21, 2019, as a marker of a different kind:

  • Mel Tucker became just the second coach in CU history to defeat ranked teams in his first two opportunities (In 1995, Rick Neuheisel won his first three games against ranked opponents … but did so with a team which had finished 11-1 the previous year;)
  • The Buffs won in Tempe against ASU for the first time in six tries. CU has had its opportunities (in 2007, the Buffs opened – as they did in 2019 – with a 14-0 lead, but wilted in the heat on their way to a 33-14 defeat; in 2017, the Buffs led 27-17 at the end of three quarters, but surrendered 24 fourth quarter points to the Sun Devils in a 41-30 defeat);
  • Mel Tucker not only won in his first true road game, he posted his second win over a ranked team in as many attempts. His predecessor, Mike MacIntyre also had two wins over ranked teams … in 22 attempts. MacIntyre not only never won on the road against a ranked team, he lost his first 12 games against ranked foes before defeating Washington State and Utah in consecutive weeks in November, 2016 … and then finishing out his tenure with eight more consecutive losses to ranked opponents.

In order to accomplish what had eluded the program for exactly 17 years, the Buffs needed a full team effort. Colorado came into the contest with two players who were considered to be first-round NFL Draft picks – wide receiver Laviska Shenault and defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson – and lost both to injury in the first quarter of the game against Arizona State.

Quarterbacks tend to get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses. Steven Montez, who had a sub-par game in an overtime loss to Air Force the week before, was stellar in his performance against the Sun Devils, completing 23-of-30 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions and no sacks.

“I think my teammates around me made my job a lot easier tonight,” Montez said. ” No sacks. That has nothing to do with me, it has everything to do with our offensive linemen up front. They played a great game and so I’m super proud of them. They played phenomenal, and some of the catches that were also made today — the receivers just make things happen. And that’s also not me. So I can’t take the credit for this game. I’m just so proud of our team as a whole and our offense as a whole. It was just an overall team win. Everybody chipped in, everybody did their job, everybody executed. And that’s why we got positive results.”

Wide receiver Tony Brown had a career night. The senior posted his first career 100-yard game, collecting nine passes for 150 yards. His three-touchdown reception night tied a school record, a feat only four other CU receivers have accomplished (Richard Johnson v. Kansas, 1982; Rae Carruth v. Iowa State, 1996; Nelson Spruce v. Cal, 2014; and Shay Fields v. Oregon State, 2016).

“Tony Brown just keeps making plays,” Tucker said. “He’s been making plays in fall camp. Every time his number is called he comes through in the clutch. That’s the story of our team, guys stepping up when their number is called to get the job done.”

The defense, while surrendering 31 points for the third time in four games (all victories, with the Buffs giving up 30 in the loss to Air Force), bent but didn’t break. Derrion Rakestraw, substituting for the injured Aaron Maddox at safety, had nine tackles and a crucial fourth quarter interception when the Sun Devils were driving in a 31-31 game.

The defense also rose up in the final two minutes with the game on the line. After the Buffs had taken a 34-31 lead with a 44-yard field goal with 2:03 remaining, the Sun Devils had plenty of time to mount a game-tying, if not game-winning, drive. ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels, who had 345 yards passing on the night coming into the drive, finished his final drive with … 345 yards. Two incompletions, a sack by Terrence Lang, and another incompletion after another big rush by the Buff defensive line ended ASU’s final threat before it even had the chance to start.

“Our guys looked fresh, I thought we could have gone another quarter or half or whatever was needed,” said Tucker. “I wanted the game to go down to the wire, and I wanted us to be able to win the game at the end. I told them that. That’s what I wanted to see. I wanted to prove that we could beat a good football team on the road in a tight ball game and that we could get the job done.”

The players got the job done, but excellent coaching and time management helped make it possible. Two half ending drives for field goals ultimately made the difference:

  • With 5:14 remaining in the first half, and the score tied at 21-21, the Buffs took over at their 29, and pieced together a 12-play, 63-yard drive which culminated in a James Stefanou 25-yard field goal with 28 seconds left, giving the Buffs a 24-21 halftime lead;
  • With 6:50 remaining in the game, and the score tied at 31-31, the Buffs took over at their 16, and put together an 11-play, 57-yard drive which culminated in a James Stefanou 44-yard field goal with 2:08 to play in the game, giving the Buffs a 34-31 advantage they would not surrender.

Time will tell if the 34-31 win over Arizona State will be the start of something special in the Mel Tucker era at Colorado, or just another blip on the radar, like Dan Hawkins’ 27-24 win over No. 3 Oklahoma in 2007.

For the moment, however, the win left the Buffs with a 3-1 record in 2019, two wins over ranked teams in as many tries under Mel Tucker … and a reason to once again enjoy the unofficial first day of fall.

September 21st no longer represents the date in 2002 when the Buffs last beat a ranked team on the road, beginning an odyssey of futility which lasted 17 years.

September 21st now represents a big win over a ranked team on the road and, perhaps, the start of something special …


8 Replies to ““Everyone Chipped in, Everyone Did Their Job””

  1. We will win a couple of more games we ‘shouldn’t’ and probably drop a game/two we ‘should’ win, because our D is so thin and our O line too inconsistent. However it’s clear to EVERYONE that Coach Tuck has a clear plan and identity that we are building/adopting. The future is bright and we should see results in the recruiting class, as players w/a ‘clue’ will want to have a Coach like Tuck.

  2. I like our chances this week tooooooooooooooo………………..and next week and all the weeks thereafter. No garden hat, sneak out of town, no apology fav of earache coach here anymore.

    Mein Gott thank God for Similasan

    Buffalo Up

    Note: The Buffs wear designer suits on their road game trips.
    Note 2: HCMT wears shorts to coach a game in. Holy Moly

  3. Great commentary, Stuart – and another great win for our Buffs. I still hesitate to get too excited about this squad [burned a few too many times], but I keep hearing & seeing the right things from the players and the coaching staff.
    I’m actually keeping a closer eye on our Pac-12 opponents – more than simply trying to size up the team we play next. The sports media keep dwelling on whether or not the conference is getting the respect it’s due. “The Pac” hasn’t displayed the same power it did in the past, yet that may be starting to change. I find I’m actually rooting for the other teams as they beat teams like BYU and Ole Miss – AND I’m even a little worried that internecine victories over ranked Ute, Wazzou and – yes, Sun Devil – teams will hurt the Pac-12’s standing. But it still feels good . . . Go BUFFS!

  4. What was up with all the extra curricular activities after a tackle? Did I see LaViska get kneed in the ribs by his tackler after his only catch? And why wasn’t the ASU player kicked out of the game after the clipping penalty on Mustafa, no reason at all to go after his legs.

  5. To Stuart,
    Great article. You outdid yourself on research.
    So proud of our Buffs. The did not wilt in their trial by fire. It was a brutal, hard hitting affair. And when it was over, Colorado stood tall and walked off as victors over a higher ranked team. Again!

    Golden Buffs.com

  6. That was really great – another sign that maybe the Curse of the Scandal has finally broken. I’m hesitant to write those words for fear that I might jinx it and it might continue on for another decade. Things have changed because of Rick George and it’s hard to understate his contribution. I see his hand on almost everything up there.

    Montez has been the most variable QB ever at CU. When “good Montez” shows up, the Buffs can be competitive with everyone in the pac12, but you never know if you’re going to get “good Montez” or “bad Montez”. It was really nice to see “good Montez” last night.

    1. No. It’s over. Mel Tucker is for real. To bounce back like this after a week like last week is impressive. On the road at A State and to close the game out in the fourth quarter is awesome. I think we make a bowl game this year, but even if we don’t, we will be a better team at the end of this year than we are now. We will be a better team next year. This coaching staff, this team just has a different mentality. They are winners and by following the process the Buffs will be scary good again in a couple of years, but this is the start.

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