CU Games of the Day – September 20th

September 20thCU has a 1-3 record on this date over the past 40 years, with some big time programs taking down the Buffs

  • 1980: LSU 23, Colorado 20 … In Year Two of the Chuck Fairbanks’ era was a closer than expected game in Death Valley …  
  • 1986: Ohio State 13, Colorado 10 … Another close game for the Buffs in another tough venue, the Horseshoe in Columbus … Essay: “Golfing, but listening” …  
  • 2003: No. 10 Florida State 47, Colorado 7 … Another loss, this one not so close. There is the video of Jeremy Bloom’s long touchdown, though … Essay: “D-Minus” … 
  • 2014: Colorado 21, Hawai’i 12 … Buffs finally win one on September 20th. Nelson Spruce sets a school record with 13 catches as Buffs beat the Rainbow Warriors at home … Essay: “No Such Thing as a Bad ‘W’ ” … 

Check out the stories for all four games below …


September 20, 1980 –  at LSU          LSU 23, Colorado 20

Playing at Louisiana State the second week of the season, Colorado faced an LSU team that had been to bowls the previous three seasons, but was still looking to improve.  After consecutive 8-4 seasons, the Tigers had managed a 7-5 record in 1979.  Still, the 1979 Tiger squad had been good enough to embarrass the Buffs in Boulder, 44-0.

LSU came into the 1980 game 1-1 on the new season, having been shut out by Florida State (16-0), and returning the favor against Kansas State (21-0).  With Colorado coming off of a 56-14 whitewash by UCLA, the game appeared to be a mismatch.

As it turned out, though, the game proved more difficult for the home team than expected.

“Death Valley” in Baton Rouge is known as a raucous stadium, especially for night games.  One of the largest non-conference crowds to ever see CU play, 74,999, happily watched the Buffs stumble toward what began as another blow-out.  In the second quarter, the score was:  LSU 20; Colorado 0.  For Buff fans, it was, to quote the word-master Yogi Berra, “Deja vu all over again”.  It was a different day, a different opponent, and a different venue, but the Buffs were heading for the same results.

Then, something strange happened … the Buffs rallied.

Behind quarterback Charlie Davis, the Buffs responded, tying the game 20-20 in the fourth quarter.  Twice thereafter, the Buffs had the ball with an opportunity to take their first lead of the 1980 season.  Unfortunately, Colorado twice turned the ball back over to LSU, with the second miscue proving fatal.  Charlie Davis, on a first down from CU’s own 18-yard line, had his pass intended for tight end Bob Niziolek picked off by LSU linebacker Lawrence Williams.  Williams returned the ball to the Buff six-yard line.  A few plays later, David Johnston kicked a chip shot field goal of 17 yards, and LSU had it’s win, 23-20.

For the Buffs, who out-gained the Tigers in total yardage, 312-280, there was only the moral victory.  The headline in the Colorado Daily on the Monday following the game said it all:  “Buffs gained pride but not win”.

Game Notes –

– The 74,999 attendance was the sixth-highest for a CU road game, with road games at Michigan (91,203) in 1974, at Ohio State (85,538) in 1971, and three road games at Nebraska (1973,1975, and 1977) the only games prior to 1980 with higher attendance.

– The 1980 game represented the last time Colorado and LSU have played, though it was the sixth time overall in the series, and fifth time in nine years. The first time the teams met, in the 1962 Orange Bowl, the Tigers prevailed, 25-7. The teams met four times in the 1970’s, with LSU taking three of four. The only win for the Buffs in the series came on September 11, 1971, when the unranked Colorado Buffaloes shocked the 9th ranked Tigers in Baton Rouge, 31-21. (Colorado jumped into the ranking the following week, never falling lower than 13th as the 10-2 Buffs finished the 1971 season ranked 3rd ). LSU has only traveled to Boulder once, in 1979, with LSU prevailing, 44-0.

– In the first season under new head coach Jerry Stovall, LSU went on to finish with a 7-4 record, 4-2 in SEC play. The Tigers would play in only one bowl game in Stovall’s four seasons in Baton Rouge, posting a 22-21-2 overall record.

September 20, 1986 – at Ohio State          Ohio State 13, Colorado 10

The Colorado Buffaloes played before the second largest road crowd in school history, 88,404 (the Buffs played before 91,203 against Michigan in 1974.  Subsequent games against Michigan at Ann Arbor surpassed both totals), succumbing in the last minute, 13-10.

For the third straight game, the Buffs could not put together a complete team effort.  Against Colorado State in the opener, the defense had played well, only to be betrayed by the offense and six turnovers.  Against Oregon, the offense had shined, only to have the defense fail to come up with the big play.

Against Ohio State, it was the Colorado State game all over again – good defense; no offense.

The Buffs’ defense shut down Ohio State, with the Buckeyes only touchdown “drive” of the game covering all of 14 yards after a William White interception in the second quarter.  Without much effort, and the Buckeyes were hand-delivered a 10-0 halftime lead.

Not only should the Buffs not have given up a cheap score, they should have held the lead at intermission.

Colorado linebacker John Nairn intercepted Ohio State quarterback Jim Karsatos in the second quarter. with the Buffs trailing just 3-0.  Colorado could penetrate no further than the one yard line, though, as fullback Anthony Weatherspoon was stopped short on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line.  Denied a score, the Buffs were back in business after a poor punt, setting up at the Buckeyes’ 28 yard line.  Three plays and seven yards later, Buff kicker Dave DeLine missed a 37-yard field goal.

The Buffs were finally able to get on the board late in the third quarter, as DeLine connected on a 37-yard effort.  (Ironically, DeLine would have three 37-yard field goal attempts on the day.  Unfortunately for Colorado and its fans, DeLine made only one).

Colorado knotted the score at 10-all with 5:21 left in the game on a 19-yard scoring pass from Mark Hatcher to split end Lance Carl. Another close game, on the road, against a quality opponent. The 0-2 Buffs were on the verge of an upset, but needed someone to come through.

Both teams had opportunities to win the game in the closing minutes.

The Buffs failed, however, while the Buckeyes were able to capitalize.  According to Bill McCartney and cornerback David Tate, the Buckeyes were only able to capitalize with a little help from the referees.  A pass from Jim Karsatos fell incomplete on a third-and-11 from the Buffs’ 23 yard line, but Tate was called for pass interference at the Colorado four.  Only 1:37 remained in the game.  “I was trying to strip him of the ball, but I missed him”, Tate explained, “It was a late flag.”  Ohio State then called on kicker Pat O’Morrow to seal the win.  At 19 yards, the kick was shorter than an extra point, but O’Morrow made it interesting, just sneaking the kick between the uprights.

For the second week in a row, the Buffs were witness to an opposing kicker stealing a win from them in the final minute of play.

Colorado was now 0-3, with 10th-ranked Arizona coming to Boulder.  What else could go wrong in 1986?

Golfing, but Listening

I would like to say that the 1986 Ohio State game was special for me, and that I paid particular attention to the game because Ohio State is my wife’s alma mater.  The fact is that when Colorado met Ohio State, I was in my third year of law school at Colorado, Lee was in her third year at Ohio State, and we were still some 6½ years away from meeting.

What I do remember about the 1986 Ohio State game was the fact that we did listen to the game on the radio, and that we were playing golf at the time.

(Authors Note:  For those who have taken note of my horror stories concerning law school and the time it takes away from normal social activities, relating that I was playing golf on a Saturday afternoon in September may seem a bit incongruous.  Truth be told, by time you reach your third year of law school, pressures have eased somewhat.  Students are allowed to take classes covering topics which interest them, and from professors who do not terrify them.  More importantly, students learn to budget their time, having learned what it will take to get the grades they desire.  By my third year, taking a Saturday afternoon off for a round or golf – or for a football game – was permissible.)

I was playing golf with Brad and two others at the Boulder Country Club.  At each tee, we would pull out our portable radio to check on the game.  (The fact that we were listening to an 0-2 team play, on the road, against a top team, should give some indication of our fanaticism.  As was the case with most Colorado games during the 1980’s, the Colorado/Ohio State game was not televised.)

With the Buffs down only 3-0 in the second quarter, we were encouraged.  The interception resulting in a 10-0 deficit just before half, though, put our attention back on our golf game.  Checking in later, with the Buffs back to within a touchdown at 10-3, our interest was peaked.

After the Buffs tied the score late with Hatcher’s pass to Carl, we forgot about golf.  Sure, we still played, but shots were now taken in haste, just so we could return to the portable radio.  During the last minute of the football game, we stopped playing golf altogether and let the group behind us play through.

When the last second kick went through, the Buffs had fallen and so had our spirits.

If we had been given the knowledge prior to the game that the Buffs would hang tough with Ohio State on the road, falling only 13-10, we would have considered it a good effort.  But, coming so close – again – to a big win, only to fall short, again, playing close was of no consolation.

We turned off the radio and finished our round in silence.

September 20, 2003 – at Florida State           No. 10 Florida State 47, Colorado 7

The third-largest crowd in Florida State history, 83,294, witnessed “The Manhandle in the Panhandle”, as Florida State crushed Colorado, 47-7.

Seminole quarterback Chris Rix connected on 30-of-39 passes for a career-best 394 yards and two touchdowns against a tissue paper thin Buff secondary.

The Buffs did manage to stay close for a half. Chris Rix’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Craphonso Thorpe was matched by an 81-yard bomb from Erik Greenberg to Buff speedster Jeremy Bloom. Three Florida State field goals from short range (20, 26, and 27 yards) kept the Buffs within shouting range at halftime, 16-7.

Here is the YouTube video of the Greenberg-to-Bloom touchdown, the only CU highlight of the day (thanks to CU at the Gamer Paul for finding this snippet):

Another field goal and another long touchdown pass from Rix to Thorpe, this time covering 66 yards, padded the lead in the third quarter. Two short touchdown runs sandwiched between a blocked punt for a score gave the Seminoles 21 fourth quarter points and a 47-7 rout. On the day, the Buffs were held to only 275 yards of total offense, with the lone bright spot being the 118 yards rushing posted by sophomore tailback Brian Calhoun.

The Colorado defense, which had been stalwart in the UCLA game only two weeks earlier, surrendered 551 yards of total offense, 458 of that through the air. The Buffs’ offense, meanwhile, struggled. Erik Greenberg, making his first career start, was 14-of-30 for 192 yards, but was sacked four times.

The Colorado special teams also continued to add to the frustration, with two missed field goal attempts in the first half (when the game was still in question) to go with the blocked punt for a touchdown. “We are not ready for prime time,” said Gary Barnett. “That was a (butt) whipping. We played for a half and that was it.”

The Buffs, 2-2 heading into conference play, had to regroup on the heels of two blowout losses. “We have got to find some answers”, said Barnett. “I don’t want to overreact …. but we haven’t gotten better in the last two weeks and that alarms me.”

Jeremy Bloom, one of the few heroes of the FSU debacle, chimed in, “It’s never fun to lose, but when you get blown out in two weeks like we have, it’s embarrassing. That’s embarrassing to our program, embarrassing to our fans, embarrassing to all of us.”

The Buffs at least had a bye week before starting the conference season. While Buff players and fans licked their wounds, there was the consolation that Colorado was not the only team in the division with problems. Kansas State, ranked sixth in the nation, fell to unranked Marshall, 27-20, dropping the Wildcats out of the top ten. Another ranked division foe, Missouri, fell to unheralded Kansas, 35-14. Only Nebraska, at 4-0 with quality wins over Oklahoma State and Penn State to go with two cupcake victories, seemed ready to take control of the Big 12 North.

The schedule makers, after giving the Buffs four tough non-conference opponents, took pity on Colorado. The Buffs opened Big 12 play against Baylor on the road and Kansas at home. Baylor was 2-2, like Colorado, but against easier competition. The Bears had fallen to the likes of Alabama-Birmingham and North Texas (the latter by a score of 52-14). Colorado had defeated Baylor in five straight games, including the last two by shutouts. Given the option of all the opponents to open conference play against, Baylor would ordinarily be the choice.

But 2003 was not an ordinary year.


As I was leaving my hotel in Portland, Oregon, I mentally created a grading system for the outcome of the Colorado-Florida State game. A through F, the grade would be predicated on how well the Buffs, 19-point underdogs for the first time in recent memory, would hold up in Tallahassee.

I was in Portland the weekend Colorado traveled to the state of Florida for the first time since the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl. I was about 3,000 miles from Doak Walker stadium, or about as far away from Tallahassee as the Buffs’ defenders were from the FSU receivers for most of the game. Intellectually, I knew that the Buffs were likely in for a long afternoon – a sophomore quarterback making his first career start, coupled with a porous defense facing a lightening-quick offense. Still, the memories of the 2002 Buffs being dismantled by USC, 40-3, only to bounce back and win on the road against UCLA the following week, were still fresh.

Hope springs eternal.

My grading system was very lenient. An “F” grade would only be awarded if the Buffs were shutout. Colorado had a streak of 175 consecutive games, dating back to 1988, in which the Buffs had scored. The streak was the ninth longest active streak in the country, and I kept track of that increasing number weekly throughout each season.

A “D” grade meant that the Buffs lost, and did not beat the 19-point spread.

A “C” would be awarded if the Buffs lost, but beat the spread.

A “B” would reflect a close game, win or lose.

An “A” would result from a convincing bounce-back win.

The Colorado/Florida State game was not televised in Portland, and the buzz (such as there was in Portland, a city which is largely, if not wholly, indifferent to college football), was about the Oregon game in nearby Eugene, where the 22nd-ranked Ducks were hosting the 3rd-ranked Michigan Wolverines. The Buff game started at 12:30 PST, so I was able to check in with ESPN News on the status of the game before I left to meet up with my son, Adam, and his fiancee, Mindy, for a 1:30 lunch. The score when I left was 7-0, Florida State, late in the first quarter. Not bad, I thought. Colorado hadn’t scored, but the Buffs were not being routed early.

Then the statistics of the game were posted, and one entry made my heart sink:

“Missed FG – CU: Eberhart, 22”.

At first glance, the stats sheet looked promising. Brian Calhoun already had over 80 yards rushing. Great, I thought. But if the Buffs’ running game was being successful, why hadn’t the Buffs’ scored?

“Missed FG – CU: Eberhart, 22”.


I left the hotel disheartened. You did not make mistakes in the red zone against a top ten team on the road. CU needed to score at every opportunity, and to get inside the ten yard line and not come away with a touchdown was costly. No to score at all was lethal.

Even though I would not hear the final score until almost two hours after the game was over, I felt resigned to the outcome as I drove off to meet Adam. Later, hearing the final of 47-7, the lopsided number was somehow easier to swallow as one bitter pill. It was easier than living through each moment of the gut-wrenching agony that had been the Washington State meltdown.

At least the Buffs scored, so their effort did not rate an “F” on my scale. But the result was about as close to a shutout as the Buffs could come.

Make it nine blowout losses in the 54-game Barnett era. One game out of every six.


September 20, 2014 – Boulder           Colorado 21, Hawai’i 12

Colorado jumped out to a 21-6 second quarter lead against visiting Hawai’i, but then almost spoiled a record-setting afternoon by wide receiver Nelson Spruce, hanging on to defeat the Rainbow Warriors, 21-12, before 39,478 sunbaked fans at Folsom Field.

Nelson Spruce had 13 catches on the afternoon, breaking the school-record of 11 (done nine times previously, including three times by Paul Richardson), going for a personal-best 172 yards. Spruce also set a school-record by collecting a touchdown reception in his sixth straight game.

But it was almost all for naught, as the Buffs were shutout in the second half by the Rainbow Warriors. It took an exceptional effort from the Colorado defense – which held an opponent out of the end zone for the first time since 2010 (a 24-3 win over Colorado State) to preserve the win. The Buffs held the Rainbow Warriors to only 286 yards of total offense, the best for the CU defense since holding Utah to 274 yards in the 2011 finale.

The Colorado offense, which opened the Arizona State game with an interception, began the Hawai’i game … with an interception.

Sefo Liufau rolled out on the first play from scrimmage in the game, and, when his primary receiver fell down, tried to force a pass to Nelson Spruce – who was triple covered. The interception and run back gave Hawai’i the ball at the CU 40 yard line for its first drive of the game.

The Colorado defense, though, gave a hint of what was to come throughout the afternoon. Instead of surrendering the ball, the Buff defense gave the ball back to the offense. On a third-and-seven at the CU 21-yard line, cornerback Greg Henderson, sacking Hawai’i quarterback Ikaika Woolsey. Henderson completed the trifecta by not only sacking the quarterback, but also forcing a fumble and recovering it himself.

The ensuing drive for the Buffs stalled after a false start penalty on right tackle Stephane Nembot created a third-and-six which the Buffs could not convert. After forcing a three-and-out from Hawai’i, the Buffs’ next drive was halted at the Hawai’i 40-yard line when Phillip Lindsay was stopped for a one yard gain on fourth-and-two.

On their next possession, the Rainbow Warriors broke the scoring ice. Aided by a 30-yard run by Seven Lakalaka (who finished with 123 yards rushing on the afternoon), Hawai’i made it to the Colorado 17-yard line before settling for a 35-yard field goal by Tyler Hadden.

The Hawai’i 3-0 lead lasted … for all 17 seconds.

That’s how long it took for Buff quarterback Sefo Liufau to find Nelson Spruce for a 71-yard touchdown. Spruce was behind the cornerback, slowed just a touch to keep the corner from having a play on the ball, hauled in the pass, and sprinted the remaining 40 yards for score.

Colorado 7, Hawai’i 3, with 2:46 to play in the first quarter.

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No Such Thing as a Bad “W”

It wasn’t pretty.

In fact, at times it was quite ugly.

Colorado, for the second time in three weeks, allowed a team which won only one game last season to hang around and have a chance to win.

Two weeks ago, the Buffs not only allowed the Minutemen of Massachusetts (1-11 in 2013) to stay in the game, they fell behind 31-20 before rallying for a 41-38 win.

Against Hawai’i (1-11 in 2013), the Buffs methodically rebounded from an early 3-0 deficit to build a 21-6 halftime lead, but needed to rely on its defense for stop after stop to preserve a 21-12 victory.

In building its 21-6 lead at the break against Hawai’i, Colorado had 267 first half yards to 139 yards for the Rainbow Warriors. The Buffs did not collapse after an early mistake (another first drive interception by Sefo Liufau), instead choosing to take control of the game. The sunbaked crowd of 39,478 was warm, but not too hot under the collar, as the Buffs build its 21-6 lead. Another half with similar results would give the Buffs something in the neighborhood of a 42-17 win, a satisfying sendoff to Berkeley and next weekend’s game against Cal.

Instead, the Buffs did that thing that they have done against inferior opponents over the past few seasons (few though they have been) … they played down to the level of its competition.

With a dominant win in the offing, the Buffs posted eight first downs and 138 yards of total offense in the second half.

CU ran a total of 39 plays in the second half, going for 138 yards – a mere 3.5 yards per play. Take away Darragh O’Neill’s 19 yard run on a fake punt – CU’s longest run of the game – and the average per play dips to 3.1 per effort.

Anyone want to take on Oregon with those offensive numbers?

But here’s the thing.

Colorado played to the level of its competition – that has to be conceded.

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