CU Game(s) of the Day – September 13th

NoteTo help us get through our CU football withdrawal, I’ll be posting a “Game of the Day” everyday through to Thanksgiving weekend, with links to some of the best CU games over the past 40 years.

September 13th … Yikes! Colorado has played five games in the past 40 years on September 13th … and lost all five. From my very first game as a CU fan in 1980 (a 56-14 thumping by UCLA) to a loss to Michigan on Brad’s wedding day to a a 38-24 road loss to No. 16 Arizona State in 2014, the Buffs have continuously come up short on September 13th (fortunately, the next September 13th which falls on a Saturday is in 2025 … and the Buffs currently have an open date that weekend) … 

September 13, 1980 – at UCLA         UCLA 56, Colorado 14

For the University of Colorado, the 1980 football season started somewhat late by college football standards, as the Buffs opened in Los Angeles against UCLA on September 13th. UCLA had in its lineup such future NFL stars as defensive back Kenny Easley, tailback Freeman McNiel, and offensive Irv Eatman. The Buffs did have a future NFL star, cornerback Victor Scott, in their lineup, but Scott was a true freshman playing his first game against the Bruins.

The Buffs were to be reminded early and often of the disparity in talent between the teams.

Sadly for the Buffs, the season got underway for the Bruins thirty minutes earlier than it did for Colorado. In the opener for both teams, the Buffs actually outscored the Bruins 14-0 … in the second half.

At the conclusion of the first half, however, the score was: UCLA Bruins 56; Colorado Buffaloes 0.

Junior Charlie Davis made his starting debut at quarterback for the Buffs, rushing for 60 yards on 16 carries, and passing for 143 yards with one touchdown, but Davis’ efforts were far too little, and far too late, to make a difference in the outcome.

The 56 points allowed in one half set a Colorado record for futility, a record which was not matched until Oregon posted the same 56-0 margin against a hapless Colorado team in a game played in Eugene in 2012 (a game which ended with a 70-14 score).

The 1980 season opener was to be, however, just the first of many opportunities for the Colorado sports information office to thumb through the record books.

September 13, 1986 – at Oregon          Oregon 32, Colorado 30

Holding a lead of 30-23 with 3:22 left in the game, the Buffs seemed to be comfortably in control of the game against the Oregon Ducks.  Quarterback Mark Hatcher had just scored his second touchdown of the day on a 55-yard run to put the Buffs back on top, and all the Colorado defense had to do was hold Oregon one last time.

With under a minute to play, the score remained 30-23.

Forty four seconds and nine Oregon points later, though, Colorado was 0-2.

After the Colorado score with just over three minutes to play in the game, Oregon marched quickly down the field, scoring on Derek Loville’s one-yard run.  Oregon Coach Rich Brooks, opting to play for the win rather than the tie, went for a two-point conversion.  The bold move seemingly backfired on the Ducks, though, as quarterback Chris Miller’s pass fell incomplete.

Now, with less than a minute to play and down 30-29, Oregon had no choice but to go for an onside kick.

Everyone of the 26,155 in attendance in Eugene knew it was coming, including the Buffs.  Still, Oregon recovered the onside kick, as Duck kicker Kirk Dennis shot a low, hard kick off of linebacker Don DeLuzio and into the waiting arms of Tim Cooper.

Still, all was not lost.

In fact, the odds still favored a Buffs’ win.  Colorado would post its first win of the 1986 season if could hold Oregon for just a few more seconds.  The Buffs’ defense, though, allowed the Ducks to get within range.  Five plays after recovering the onside kick, Oregon kicker Matt MacLeod to put through a 35-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.

The loss – at best – disheartening. At worst? Devastating.

The Colorado offense had shown it could hold on to the football long enough to score, running the ball 58 times for 368 yards and four touchdowns.  The Buffs had leads of 10-0 and 17-7 in the first half. Mark Hatcher put up two of the Buffs’ scores, garnering Big Eight Offensive Player of the Week honors for his 173 yard rushing on 17 attempts, coupled with a more modest 18 yards passing (completing two-of-five passes).

This time, it was the defense which came up short in its effort.

Oregon was successful by land and air, putting together 153 yards and three touchdowns rushing, to go with 262 yards of passing.  Oregon quarterback Chris Miller had a big day, completing 28-of-42 passes, but it was running back Derek Loville, who had never before carried the football in a college game, who stole the show.  Loville ran for 88 yards on 17 carries, including three touchdown runs.

Colorado cornerback David Tate summed up the attitude of the Buffs’ locker room after the game:  “I thought the game was over.  I thought we had won.  I didn’t even realize what had happened.”

Neither could Coach McCartney, who lamented, “All we had to do was fall on the kick…”.

Words Cannot Describe …

 Colorado fans were in a state of shock.

Buff fans were used to having a losing record, and were used to losing in unusual ways.  But that was the old Colorado team.  The old Colorado team would suffer six turnovers and lose to a lesser opponent.  The old Colorado team would surrender two scores in the final minute to lose.  The new and improved Buffs, fresh off of a seven-win season, were supposed to be the team forcing the opposition to turn the ball over.  The Buffs were supposed to be the team finding ways to win the close games.

The Buffs, though, had seemingly returned to their old, losing ways in only two short weeks.

To make matters worse, Colorado State and Oregon were supposed to be the easier two non-conference games, with games against Ohio State on the road and against top ten Arizona up next.  If the Buffs couldn’t beat the CSU’s and the Oregon’s of the football world, what chance would they have against the football powers?

Prior to the Oregon contest, Colorado head coach Bill McCartney was quoted as saying:  “It would be difficult to go 0-2, and take on the likes of the opponents coming in.  We can ill-afford to stub our toe again.”

After the Oregon heartbreak, McCartney stated, “I’m going to have to die to get better.”


September 13th – at Michigan                     No. 14 Michigan 27,  No. 8 Colorado 3

Hail, No!

During the week leading up to the rubber game of the three-game match between Colorado and Michigan, much was made of the first two games in the series.

The Hail Mary pass from Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook in 1994 received considerable air time, as did the “Fail Mary” pass thrown by quarterback Koy Detmer to end the 1996 Michigan game.  For an intersectional contest being played for only the fourth time (Michigan defeated Colorado 31-0 in 1974), the feeling of a “rivalry” was certainly there.  ESPN had its Gameday crew on hand Saturday morning, and ABC had the dean of college football broadcasting, Keith Jackson, there for the national broadcast.  (The color commentator was legendary Bob Griese, put in the unenviable position of critiquing his son Brian’s first starting performance).

Michigan came into the game with questions of their own.  The last Division 1-A team to kickoff its season, the 1997 team was untested.  The 1992-96 records were inauspicious – four consecutive four-loss seasons.  The quarterback battle between Scott Dreisbach and Brian Griese was not settled in Griese’s favor until the week leading up to the CU game.  Other than cornerback Charles Woodson, a consensus All-American who moonlighted as a kick returner and wide receiver, there were few stars on the Wolverine sideline.

It would be left to the University of Colorado to make Michigan look like world beaters.  In the process, Colorado allowed the Michigan marching band perform a season’s worth of “Hail to the Victors” in one afternoon.

The 27-3 final score fairly sums up the day.

The largest home-opening crowd in Michigan history, 106,474, went home very happy, as the Wolverines dominated all phases of the game.  If not for Jason Lesley’s 52 yard field goal late in the third quarter, the Buffs team-record string of 101 games without being shutout (dating back to a 7-0 loss to Nebraska in 1988) would have come to an end.

This is not to say the Buffs were without hope during the day, however.  Receiving the opening kickoff, Herchell Troutman burst up the middle for eight yards on the Buffs first offensive play.  For those of us buying into the concept of balancing the CU offensive attack by utilizing a two back set, the next step seemed obvious.  Show the Wolverines that Colorado intended to control the line of scrimmage.  Run the ball for the first down, reduce the crowd noise, and set up the passing lanes.

Instead, the Buffs shunned the run.  Two incompletions and a short punt by sophomore Nick Pietsch later, and Michigan was in business on the Buff side of the 50.  The ball would remain on that side of the field for most of the remainder of the first half.

Still, Colorado was still in the game until the waning moments of the first half, with the score at 7-0, Michigan.

Michigan managed to partially block a Nick Pietsch punt with 15 seconds remaining before halftime, taking over at midfield.  Inexplicably, the Buffs left two-way man Charles Woodson all alone in the Buff secondary.  Griese connected with Woodson on a 29-yard gain, allowing Michigan kicker Kraig Baker to put through a 37 yard field goal as the first half expired.

10-0 at half, but any momentum the Buffs might have carried with them to the locker room (after all, the Buffs had trailed CSU by seven a week earlier, and had come out like gangbusters to start the second half) with a 0-7 deficit had dissipated.

To start the second half, instead of repeating the heroics of the CSU game by returning an interception for a touchdown, the Buffs allowed Michigan to put together an 11-play, 89 yard drive for a 17-0 lead.  The remainder of the game was a demonstration of the effectiveness of the Michigan running game, combined with the inability of either quarterback John Hessler or quarterback Adam Bledsoe (seeing his first collegiate action) to produce a sustained drive.

The aftermath of the Buffs’ debacle in Michigan was a fall from 8th to 15th in the Associated Press poll.  It could have been worse.   Colorado’s fall in the polls was lessened by upsets of 11th-ranked Texas (66-3 by previously 0-2 UCLA -at Austin), 12th-ranked Notre Dame (17-28 to Purdue), and 13th-ranked Miami (12-23 to Arizona State).

Here is the YouTube video of the game, courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul:

Down and Out?

The end of the world?  Perhaps not.

The cover of the following week’s Sporting News, which had tabbed CU as the preseason number one team in the nation, proclaimed:  “ONE DOWN … but not out”.  In their College Football Report, TSN reporters Tom Dienhart and Mike Huguenin outlined a “prescription” for what would “cure” the Buffs over the course the remainder of the 1997 season:  1.  “Run, Buffaloes, run” commenting on the promised, but as yet undelivered, improved running game; 2.  “Compose yourself, John” noting that it was mandatory for quarterback John Hessler to regain his composure.  Hessler’s four interception performance against the Wolverines of helped contribute to the Buffs smallest yardage output (224 total yards) since 1992; and 3.  “Hold that line” referring to the necessity of the offensive line taking control of the line of scrimmage in upcoming contests.

There was consensus on what needed to be done.  Now the Buffs had a bye week to figure out how to accomplish what needed to be done.

Mixed Emotions

Saturday, September 13, 1997, had been circled on my calendar for many months, but not just for the Michigan game.

That Saturday also was the wedding day for my best friend, Brad Geiger.  Brad married Shawna some four hours after the Michigan debacle had come to a close.  The wedding party gathered in Shawn’s hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the nuptials, with the 10:00 a.m. kickoff a part of the official itinerary.  A crowd of Buff faithful, once numbering around 40, dwindled to three by the end.  If Colorado was to suffer its worst non-conference defeat since 1984 (a 54-10 thrashing at the hands of Notre Dame), it was perhaps for the best that it took place on an otherwise glorious day.  Our sadness was quickly replaced by joy for the newlyweds.

Brad and Shawna, though, had a honeymoon to look forward to.  The rest of us had a bye week.

The rest of us had two weeks to wonder whether the Michigan game was an aberration, or a precursor of bad days to come.

– Michigan would go on to an undefeated season in 1997, sharing the national championship with Nebraska. Defensive back Charles Woodson would go on to become the first defensive player to ever win the Heisman trophy.

September 13, 2003 – Boulder           Washington State 47, No. 17 Colorado 26

Washington State scored early and often, cruising to a 47-26 thrashing of Colorado before 48,146 disbelieving Buff fans.

The Cougars scored 20 first quarter points, then posted 24 more in the third quarter to squelch any hopes of a Colorado comeback. In mauling the Buffs, Washington State became the first opposing team to post over 45 points in Boulder in twenty years.

The carnage started early.

Quarterback Matt Kegel hit Sammy Moore on a 74-yard bomb to put Washington State up 7-0 less than five minutes into the game. A three-yard touchdown pass from Joel Klatt to Joe Klopfenstein brought the Buffs to within 7-6 (the extra point attempt was blocked), but two long plays padded the Cougars’ lead. A 77-yard touchdown pass, coupled with a 41-yard interception return for a score gave Washington State a 20-6 lead after one quarter.

The second quarter witnessed the Buffs make a small comeback.

Sophomore quarterback Erik Greenberg, substituting for an injured Joel Klatt, connected with Derek McCoy from 46 yards out, bringing the Buffs to within seven at 20-13, but the Buffs were not to score again until the score was up to 44-13. The Cougars ran the second half kickoff back for a touchdown, and, aided by Colorado turnovers, put up two more touchdowns before the second half was five minutes old. Two consolation touchdowns by the Buffs (once again by Klopfenstein and McCoy) made the final only a tad more respectable.

The Buffs were close in statistics, being out-gained only by a margin of 463-445. But … Colorado turned the ball over five times, gave up two touchdown passes of over 70 yards, and had an interception and a kickoff returned for scores. Joel Klatt’s shoulder injury played a role, but the Buffs were clearly outplayed in every facet of the game.

“We gave up a lot of big plays, a lot of stupid plays,” said Gary Barnett. “You can’t do that against teams like this and expect to win.” Barnett went on to blame the loss, at least in part, on the Buffs’ youth. “Fifty of the seventy players who travel are freshmen or sophomores,” Barnett explained, “and winning those first two games gives you a false sense of who you are.”

Who the Buffs were in 2003 were a 2-1 team left with only a week to regroup before taking on another worthy opponent.

The Buffs, not surprisingly, fell out of the rankings after the lopsided loss to Washington State. Yet there was chance for redemption. Florida State was undefeated, ranked 10th in the nation after a close 14-13 win over Georgia Tech. The first-ever meeting between the two schools was to take place in Tallahassee, and a win in hostile territory would propel the Buffs back into the national spotlight. A loss, on the other hand, would give the Buffs a 2-2 non-conference mark heading into Big 12 play, where three of the five Big 12 North opponents (Kansas State No. 6, Nebraska No. 15, Missouri No.23) were ranked.

The Buffs, though, would play Florida State on the road without starting quarterback Joel Klatt (shoulder), and starting tailback Bobby Purify (ankle).

Not exactly a recipe for success against a top ten team.

Blown Out – Again

Movie goers who attend horror films do so because they like to be scared. Traffic jams occur around the most minor of roadside accidents because we can’t help but look. It is just our way, whether it is human nature, or our rebellion against it, that drives us to make ourselves feel uncomfortable.

For Buff fans, the roll call of numbers was painful, but refused to be ignored:

1999: 41-14; 31-10.

2000: 44-21.

2001: 41-7; 38-16.

2002: 40-3; 29-7.

2003: 47-26.

The blowout losses suffered by Gary Barnett’s Buffs stand out on his Colorado resume like a sore that will not heal. Buff fans kept hoping it would somehow go away, but somehow we kept picking at it, knowing that calling attention to it will just make it last all the longer.

Washington State 47, Colorado 26.

For the eighth time in Gary Barnett’s 53-game tenure as CU’s head coach, the Buffs were beaten by more than three touchdowns. Even in the Buffs’ 2001 Big 12 championship run, Colorado was mauled twice, first being blasted by Texas, 41-7 in the regular season, then succumbing 38-16 to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.

The 2003 Buffs were supposed to be young on offense, solid on defense. Joel Klatt was a question mark, as was the offensive line. The defense, however, was supposed to hold down the fort until the offense could gel. The opening two wins gave everyone a false sense of security. The Colorado offense had shown surprising effectiveness through the air in the victory over CSU, while the defense made strides in the close win over UCLA. Washington State was no better than the Rams or the Bruins, so a win at home, with both units in sync for the first time, seemed a realistic goal.

Then came the meltdown against the Cougars.

Everything went wrong. The defense could not stop a drive. The offense, even before Joel Klatt went out with an injured shoulder, was marginal, then down-shifted into completely ineffective. The special teams, which had been a pleasant surprise in the Buffs’ first two games, with freshmen manning both kicking positions, showed its youth and inexperience.

“We just had a total breakdown,” lamented Barnett after the game. “Games like this are possible, especially when you have a young team.”

Okay, so the 2003 Buffs were young, but had two seniors starting in the secondary which was being torched by every team the Buffs faced. Barnett’s quote also begged the question: When were the Buffs ever going to be old and mature? The pattern of Barnett’s teams indicated that CU would lose again in ‘03 by more than three touchdowns. Who would do the honors? Florida State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Nebraska all loomed ahead on the schedule.

The irony in reviewing the CU record under Barnett was that in only one of his first four seasons did the Buffs fail to lose twice by lopsided margins. That would be 2000, when Colorado would fall to its worst record in 16 years, 3-8, but did manage to stay competitive in all but one of its losses.

So were those the options? Suffer no more humiliating defeats in 2003, but finish with a losing record, or rally to have a winning season, but with the knowledge that there was at least one more blowout loss in the offing.

Waking up on Sunday morning with the hangover of the complete breakdown against Washington State, it was tough to ask CU fans to contemplate another horror film like that which had been endured against the Cougars. If offered a winning season and a chance at a third straight Big 12 North title as a trade off for another blowout loss, though, most Buff fans would have the same response:

Bring on Florida State!

September 13, 2014 – Boulder           No. 16 Arizona State 38, Colorado 24

Colorado out-gained No. 16 Arizona State, 545 yards to 426 yards, but three turnovers doomed the Buffs to a 38-24 loss to the Sun Devils in Boulder.

Sefo Liufau went 31-for-46 for 278 yards and three touchdowns, but also had two interceptions. Christian Powell, thanks to two long runs, became the first Buff to rush for over 100 yards in 2014, with 11 carries good enough for 118 yards. Nelson Spruce had a pair of touchdowns for his third consecutive game, collecting seven catches for 97 yards.

After being out-gained by the Sun Devils, 222-22 in the first quarter, the Buffs had 523 yards of total offense to 205 for the Sun Devils in the final three quarters, but were never able to get closer than two touchdowns in the second half.

Colorado came out for its 2014 home opener wearing solid gray helmets labeled “Black Storm” by the CU equipment crew.

In the first quarter, the Buffs could have used a real storm instead.

The weather was not an issue, but CU’s inability to be competitive against Arizona State – at least early on – was at issue. The Buffs took the opening kickoff and did the one thing you cannot do against a team averaging 51 points per game against you … go three-and-out. Taking over at their 31-yard line after the Darragh O’Neill punt, Arizona State went 69 yards eight plays to take the lead.

The small consolation for the CU defense? In 16 previous scoring drives to open the season, the Sun Devils took less than three minutes in each drive to score.

The first scoring drive against Colorado … took 3:07.

Colorado got its fans into the game for the first time on the ensuing kickoff, when Phillip Lindsay returned the ball 46 yards. The enthusiasm lasted all of one play, however. On first down, freshman wide receiver Shay Fields beat his man deep, but quarterback Sefo Liufau put to much air under the ball, allowing safety Jordan Simone to catch up an intercept the ball, giving the Sun Devils the ball back (after a 29-yard return) at the ASU 35-yard line.

Three plays later, it was 14-0.

After a pass interference penalty put the ball at midfield, a completion went for 12 yards put the ball at the CU 38 yard line. There, quarterback Taylor Kelly hit freshman running back Kalen Ballage (a Colorado native who spurned his home state school on Signing Day) on a screen pass. Ballage did most of the work, covering 38 yards to make it a 14-0 game with 8:39 still to play in the first quarter.

Continue reading game story here

“We can play at this level”

It was just the usual pre-game talk.

“We’re going out there to win. We’re not going out there to measure how close we can lose by”, said quarterback Sefo Liufau in the days leading up to the game against No. 16 Arizona State. “You should never go in with that mindset. We’re going out there to win. We’re going out to win every Pac-12 game”.

“I think if we handle our business on offense and defense, we’ll still be in it”, chimed in wide receiver Nelson Spruce. “We’ll be in it for four quarters. If we can finish like we did last week, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Bold talk for a pair of players who were on the field for the debacle which was the 54-13 blasting by the Sun Devils a year ago in Tempe, a game in which the Buffs were down 25-0 after one quarter; 47-6 at halftime. Brash words from a team which had been 11 points down in the third quarter just seven days earlier to a Massachusetts team with two wins in three seasons as a member of the FBS.

But then again, what would you expect them to say? It would have been real news if a CU player came out and said, “We’re out-manned, out-talented, and out-coached. We’re just hoping to get through this game, and this season, without a major injury”.

The Sun Devils were prohibitive favorites to again dominate. Many of the Buff faithful, despite the 8:00 p.m. kickoff, still had plans on getting home with plenty of time for a decent night’s sleep.

But something happened on the way to the rout … Colorado played well, even very well at times. Until Sefo Liufau threw an interception inside Sun Devil territory with just under five minutes to play, the game was still in doubt. While many of the 38,547 who came for the game left in the third quarter, these Buffs battled to the end before falling, 38-24, to the No. 16 team in the country.

How much improved were the Buffs from a year ago?

Last fall, Arizona State ran up 532 yards of total offense, to only 268 for Colorado.

In 2014, the Buffs actually had the advantage in total yards, 545 to 426.

In almost every phase of the game, the Buffs showed promise.

Continue reading story here


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