CU Games of the Day – September 29th

September 29th … CU has an 2-2 record on this date over the past 40 years, with some very personal Brad stories (Brad is my foil on the CU at the Game podcast, and my best friend for almost 40 years) … 1984: Brad has to hold me back as I want to climb over the railing after CU calls a time out after an incompletion late in the first half against a ranked UCLA team … 1990: Brad and I have the best seats in the house to witness Deon Figures’ game-saving interception in the end zone in the final minute to beat Washington … 2007: Check out the picture of Brad and I after the unlikely 27-24 upset of No. 3 Oklahoma (with video of the game winning kick) … 2012: A thumping by UCLA in a forgettable game in a forgettable (1-11) season …

  • 1984: No. 17 UCLA 33, Colorado 16 … Buffs hang with the No. 17 Bruins for much of the game, but mistakes doom chances at an upset … Essay No. 1: “Student Athletes” – If CU wasn’t competitive in the Big Eight due to high academic standards, why was a CU safety calling time out on an incomplete pass? … Essay No. 2:Coach Whitehair – Getting Reacquainted with Coach Bill” – The aforementioned time out call almost sent me over the railing to discuss strategy with the head coach …
  • 1990: No. 20 Colorado 20, No. 12 Washington 14 … A Deon Figures interception in the end zone in the final minute preserves home win … Essay: “Best Seats in the House” – We were stuck in the north end zone for the game, which turned out to be just the right spot to be in the final minute
  • 2007: Colorado 27, No. 3 Oklahoma 24 … An improbable comeback becomes the signature win of the Dan Hawkins era … Essay: They think they can win” – Words from my future brother-in-law as the Buffs turn the impossible into reality …
  • 2012: UCLA 42, Colorado 14 … Just another blow out loss in the 1-11 lost season which was 2012 … Essay: “Grasping at Straws” … Trying to find positives for a team on a fast train to nowhere …

Check out the stories for all four games below …

September 29, 1984 – Boulder           No. 17 UCLA 33, Colorado 16

Colorado came into the UCLA game 0-3. Two close calls, against Michigan State and Oregon, had been followed by a rout at the hands of Notre Dame. The hope and optimism which had greated the 1984 campaign, on the heels of a 4-7 record in 1983, had been dimmed. Now, the Buffs had to face their first ranked team of the season, 17th-ranked UCLA.

The UCLA Bruins, though, came to Boulder licking wounds of their own.

Unimpressive wins over San Diego State (18-15) and Long Beach State (23-17) had been followed by a 42-3 rout at the hands of the No. 1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. That the Bruins were even ranked after such a sluggish start was likely a testament as much to the dominance of Nebraska as it was to the talents of the Pac-10 Bruins. Still, there may have been another reason. UCLA had started the 1983 campaign 0-3-1 before winning seven of their last eight games (behind quarterback Rick Neuheisel), including a rout of Big Ten champion Illinois in the Rose Bowl. This being the recent history, the ranking could have been based on the assumption of another late season rise.

The Buffs no longer were considered as having “potential”.

After three games, the Buffs offense had generated only 191 rushing yards total and had thrown five interceptions. The defense was surrendering an average of over 35 points per game and had zero interceptions. The kicking game, though, was not to be outdone. Colorado had zero field goals in four attempts, all four misses by kicker Larry Eckel in the Michigan State game. Eckel also had chipped in – pun intended – the missed extra point against Oregon. Senior punter Allen Braun had already punted 20 times in the Buffs first three contests. Perhaps tired from all of the exertion, Braun was averaging only 33.1 yards per punt.

Perhaps the Buffs best chance at an upset against UCLA faded before the game ever started. It snowed the day before the game, and the forecast was for more of the same on game day. The hope would be that the southern Californians would not like the snow, and not play as well.

No such luck.

While colder than the Bruins’ players were used to (44 degrees at kickoff), it was sunny and decent football weather in Boulder. Joe Romig was honored in pre-game ceremonies for his election to the College Football Hall of Fame. Many in the crowd of 38,925 thought that the Buffs would need Romig (’59-’61) and a few of his buddies for Colorado to give the Bruins a game.

As it turned out, the Buffs did more than give a fair accounting of themselves, but, for the third game in four attempts, Colorado left the field muttering about what should have been.

The game did not start out well for the Buffs.

UCLA took the opening kickoff and promptly marched down the field, with running back Gaston Green doing the honors from four yards out to cap a ten-play, 80-yard drive. With 10:28 still to go in the first stanza, Colorado was down 7-0. This game had all the appearances of a rout.

Still, the upset minded Buffs would not go quietly. Late in the first quarter, the Buffs drove to the UCLA four yard line. A score would have tied the game, and would have given renewed hope to the faithful.

Colorado did not tie the score, however.

Not only did the Buffs not score a touchdown, the 32-yard field goal attempt was botched when holder Derek Marshall could not handle Reid Long’s poor snap. It was to be just the first of several lost opportunities for the Buffs on the day. To-wit (CU law school education at work):

Blown Opportunity #2 – down 10-0 in the second quarter, Colorado had a first down on the Bruins’ 12-yard line. Apparently too close to the opponents’ goal line, the offense went in reverse. Three plays lost three yards, and the Buffs settled for their first field goal of the season, a 32-yarder by sophomore Dave DeLine;

Blown Opportunity #3 – down 13-3 with time running out in the half, the Buffs had a first down at the UCLA seven-yard line with 17 seconds to play. Two pass interference penalties put the ball at the one yard line with 10 seconds left. Out of time outs, McCartney opted for a field goal, and the score, which could have been an uplifting 13-10, was 13-6 at half-time (more on this sequence of plays below);

Blown Opportunity #4 – down 13-6 to start the second half, Colorado received the kickoff. Still within a touchdown, the Buffs had the ball and the momentum. Steve Vogel quickly deflated the crowd and its misplaced optimism, throwing an interception on the second play from scrimmage, setting up a Bruin score. The score was now 16-6, less than two minutes into the second half;

Blown Opportunity #5 – midway through the third quarter, the Buffs caught a break. A fumbled punt gave the ball to Colorado at the UCLA 18-yard line. Instead of moving closer to the Bruin goal, the Buffs again went in reverse. Three plays lost eight yards, and the Buffs settled for a third DeLine field goal, this time from 43 yards. 16-9.

The Buffs would not score again until the score was 33-9. The final of 33-16 came on Jon Embree’s first touchdown catch of the season, a 29-yard play with 5:39 left in the game.

Bill McCartney on the game: “I felt like we just ‘mistaked’ ourselves right out of the ballgame. One mistake after another. It was a case of squandered opportunities”.

The Buffs were now 0-4, matching only the 1964 and 1980 squads for season-opening futility.

“Student Athletes

Much was made during my years at the University of Colorado of the high academic standards and the many achievements of CU’s alumni. The local paper, the Boulder Daily Camera, did not miss an opportunity to laud the academic heroics of the hometown school. Even the Colorado Daily, the student newspaper affectionatley referred to by the student body as the “Boulder Pravda”, would take note of the astronauts and Nobel Prize winners who hailed from Boulder.

In order to maintain the established pattern of excellence (so the story went), the admission standards for Colorado needed to be kept high. This, as we were to discover, was not just to inflate our egos or to help magnify the value of our degrees.

It was also used to help explain away the failure of the Buffs on the football field.

Most of us in Boulder, as in most other campuses across the country, joked that the term “student-athlete” was as much a contradiction in terms as “military intelligence”. (Underwater basket weaving was said to be a favorite of many a student on an athletic scholarship). Yet when the failings of the Colorado teams on the field were questioned, the response from the coaches and administration often included the justification that Colorado had the highest academic standards in the Big Eight. Ergo, came the reply, the Buffs could not recruit and keep some of the athletes that other institutions, most notably Nebraska and Oklahoma, could recruit. The other schools had the fast but – presumably – moronic and immoral players; Colorado was left to compete with the slow yet hard-working academics.

Our failure to compete, therefore, was more due to an unbalanced playing field than to inept recruiting or coaching.

This theory/rationale was not unique to Boulder. Schools such as Stanford in the Pac-10, Northwestern in the Big 10, Vanderbilt in the SEC, Duke in the ACC, and Rice in the SWC had similar stories to tell. Chants during the game of: “That’s all right. That’s okay. You’ll all work for us someday”, were the only consolation for many students in the stands.

Well into my fifth losing season in five years, I was well versed in the mantra:

It was just not our destiny to win. We had to be content with academic, not athletic, superiority.

This justification made sense when recruiting was analyzed. Consider yourself an athlete with your pick of Big Eight campuses (campi to the academics from Boulder in our reading audience). Boulder, Colorado, from almost any objective measurement, is a beautiful city. At the base of the Rocky Mountains, the city has spectacular views, and a campus of open space and beauty. Boulder itself, with its liberal leanings, has a cosmopolitan feel without being metropolitan. The benefits of a major city, when needed, are only an hour’s drive away in Denver. With all due respect to the cities of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Norman, Oklahoma, and in fact all of the cities of the Big Eight/12, none compared favorably with Boulder. This being the case, there had to be another reason why athletes would volunteer to spend five years at Oklahoma or Nebraska and not in Boulder. It had to be the stringent academic requirements.

With this background, with five years of losing under my belt, with five years of having our only consolation prize being cheers such as “Better to live and lose in Boulder than win and be from Nebraska”, and “Better dead than red”, it was perhaps not surprising that I lost my cool and was ready to storm the field just before half-time of the UCLA game.

Coach Whitehair

One final note before I retell Brad Geiger’s favorite story.

On gameday, Brad Geiger, with whom I have attended the most Buffs games I have been to over the past thirty-plus years, drops his attorney façade and becomes a fan’s fan. This is not to say that Brad paints his face or goes bare-chested when the temperature dips below freezing. Rather, all you need to know about Brad is that he rarely leaves the stadium with his voice in tact.

Brad yells at the opposing players. Brad yells at the opposing coaches. Cheerleaders and mascots? No immunity. Fans for the opposing team are also fair game. (An example: well before the players broke out into fights on the field against Miami in 1993, Brad was in fine form. Brad was so vociferous that some Hurricane fans who had been seated near us felt compelled to leave our area – and this was before the opening kickoff!)

No one is immune from Brad’s verbal blasts. If the situation warrants, Brad will even go after Colorado players and coaches. Still, for all of Brad rants at those groups listed above, there is nothing as fun as watching Brad when he feels an official has blown a call.

I, in comparison, am mild mannered at the game (mind you, I said “in comparison”). I like to think of myself of being a coach in the stands: always looking to the next play instead of the last; knowing the stats; predicting the plays. More of a Tom Landry than a Jimmy Johnson. Stoic, contemplative, focused. For most of the better part of three decades as a Colorado fan, I have maintained this status. Brad is the fanatic; I am the fan.

But there was that one play against UCLA ……

Getting Reacquainted with Coach Bill

Other than a brief encounter in the fall of 1982 (See: Nebraska, 1982), I have not had the occasion to meet former Colorado head coach Bill McCartney. Just before the half of the UCLA game, though, I had to be restrained from climbing down onto the field to renew our acquaintance.

I was so livid over what had occurred on the field that I decided I needed to discuss the matter personally with Bill. Fortunately for me, I had friends in the stands who held me back before security personnel were necessary.

The scene: less than two minutes to go before half. 17th-ranked UCLA on the ropes against winless and pitiful (again) Colorado, leading only 13-3. The Bruins had just been pinned back deep in their own territory. Holding UCLA to a ten point lead at half seemed a certainty, which was not bad considering the 38-0 deficit the Buffs had faced at half the week before against Notre Dame. Better still, there was the very real possibility that the Buffs, if they could hold the Bruins and force a punt, could pull even closer.

First down. UCLA runs into the middle of the Buff defensive line for short yardage. Timeout, Colorado. In the stands, we in the Senior Section were going nuts.

Second down. A repeat of first down. Short yardage. Time-out, Colorado. It was clear that UCLA was hoping to just run out the clock, but the Buffs had different ideas.

Third down. If the Buffs could hold here, we would get the ball back with plenty of time to score.

In an attempt to cross up the Buffs and succeed in securing a first down which would run out the half, the Bruins decided to pass on third down. Such a maneuver, if unsuccessful, would play right into our hands.

A pass in this instance is risky for an offense. The quarterback could be sacked, pushing the offense further back towards its own goalline. Or, the pass could be intercepted, guaranteeing good field position for the opposition. Finally, the pass could fall incomplete. Normally, an incomplete pass is not a tragedy, but in a situation where the offense wants to keep the clock moving, throwing an incomplete pass, which automatically stops the clock, serves to help the defense by saving a timeout.

Bruin quarterback Matt Stevens, subbing for the injured Steve Bono, dropped back and threw the ball about twenty yards downfield, right in front of the Colorado bench and our vantage point in the Senior Section. The receiver dived – INCOMPLETE! The Buffs defense had held and forced a punt! There was still over a minute on the first half clock. Still time to score!

The euphoria of the moment lasted just that – a moment. Just as we let out our first yells of approval, a Buff safety ran up to the official to call timeout.

TIME-OUT?!?

Every ten year old in midget football knows that when there is an incomplete pass, the clock stops automatically. Yet here was the STUDENT ATHLETE from prestigious University of Colorado running up to an official after an incomplete pass and calling a timeout. The official dutifully complied, and the Buffs had squandered their last timeout of the first half.

I was absolutely incredulous. This was the last straw. For five years, I had endured losing teams. Colorado had yet to win more than four games in any of my years in Boulder. My sole consolation in dealing with friends back home (Montana State University would go on to win the Division 1-AA National Championship in 1984) was that Colorado could not win because we had all of those slow, hard-working academics on our side. The other teams had the athletes; we had the brains.

But it was a sham.

Only a STUDENT ATHLETE would be moronic enough to call timeout after an incomplete pass.

I could not be consoled. It did not help matters when the Colorado offense was able to drive down the UCLA one yard line, first-and-goal, but had to settle for a field goal with ten seconds left because the offense did not have a timeout. The half-time score was 13-6 instead of 13-10, and the team was booed off the field by the 38,000+ Buff fans in attendance.

I had had enough.

No more than thirty feet from where Coach Bill patrolled the sidelines, I let loose with a verbal tirade not heard from my mouth before or since. It was a farce! I cried. If our athletes were at least as inane those on the opposite sideline, why couldn’t WE win a few games? If our athletes were in fact no smarter than their foes, why couldn’t they at least be as fast? Once again, the Buffs had the opportunity to stay with a ranked opponent, but had managed only to demonstrate how inept the program had become.

WHEN WOULD IT EVER END?

In all fairness, the player, who shall remain unidentified, was caught up in the moment. The Buffs had called time to stop the clock the previous two plays, and the coaches had undoubtedly reminded the players to call timeout again after third down. The safety was acting on reflex, and surely knew the stupidity of his actions immediately after the play. For some reason, though, that play brought out all of the frustration I had been experiencing for the first five seasons following Colorado football.

I snapped.

At that time, it was my fervent desire to climb down onto the field to discuss the concept of “STUDENT ATHLETE” with Coach McCartney during halftime. It was as “fanatical” as I have ever been at a football game.

Ever since that day, I have been unable to criticize Brad’s histrionics on gameday. Whenever I make an attempt to chastise Brad for his verbal assaults at a game, he will remind me of a particular afternoon in 1984 when the Bruins of UCLA were in Boulder.

September 29, 1990 – Boulder           No. 20 Colorado 20, No.12 Washington 14

In a battle between two ranked teams in search of national recognition, Colorado held off a late Washington drive to defeat the Huskies in Boulder, 20-14. A defensive first half gave way to a flurry of scoring in the third quarter, with the game ending with the Colorado defense backed up against its goalline. Sophomore cornerback Deon Figures intercepted a Mark Brunell pass in the endzone with only :59 left to play to preserve the Colorado win.

The first drive of the contest was all Washington, as the Huskies took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in 15 plays to post a 7-0 lead. The Washington drive consumed 8:35 of the first quarter, keeping the football away from the explosive Buff offense until only 6:25 remained in the opening stanza. The Washington score made Colorado opponents in 1990 a perfect five-for-five – in each game the Buffs’ opponent scored first.

All Colorado could muster in the first half on offense was a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter by Jim Harper. Fortunately for the Buffs, the Colorado defense stymied the Husky offense the remainder of the half, limiting Washington to only 21 yards after the impressive opening drive.

The halftime score was 7-3, Washington.

The second half proved to be a different game, as the Colorado offense netted 204 yards of offense in the third quarter alone (more than both teams had mustered in the first half combined). The Buffs turned an 80-yard drive in eight plays into a go-ahead touchdown, with Darian Hagan scoring from 15 yards out to give the Buffs their first lead of the day at 10-7. Any hopes Buff fans had that the Washington offense would continue to be stymied, though, were quickly quashed, after Washington answered with a 10-play, 65-yard drive of its own. A 40-yard pass from Mark Brunell to Mario Bailey ate up much of the yardage. 14-10, Washington.

Colorado took the lead for good on its next possession, going 80 yards in just six plays. A 35-yard pass from Hagan to Mike Pritchard set up a three-yard Hagan run and a 17-14 Colorado lead. Jim Harper’s second field goal of the afternoon, this time from 32 yards out with 13:05 to play, gave Colorado a 20-14 lead. Harper’s score though, came with a bit of trickery. In punt formation in Buff territory – and with only a 17-14 lead – punter Tom Rouen passed to reserve linebacker Paul Rose for a 24-yard gain and a drive-sustaining first down. “I thought it was great,” said Rouen. “I always wanted to throw the football, and I finally got the opportunity.”

No more points would be scored by either squad, but the Colorado faithful could not rest until the final minute. “I just remember thinking it wasn’t over, said Colorado offensive lineman Ariel Solomon. “You just knew something was going to happen.” After Darian Hagan suffered a shoulder sprain early in the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Charles Johnson directed a drive deep into Washington territory, but the drive ended with a fumble.

Two Washington drives were thwarted by Colorado interceptions inside the Buff 20-yard line. The second by Figures was the most dramatic, as it sealed the Colorado win with under a minute to play and Washington zeroing in on the Colorado goalline. (More on Washington’s final drive below).

“That was an outstanding football team we beat,” said Bill McCartney. “I’m real proud of our guys.”

With the victory, Colorado had escaped the non-conference portion of its schedule with a 3-1-1 record. Not the result the Buffs and their fans had envisioned coming off of an 11-1 campaign, but not a disaster, either. “Coach Mac had a board on the wall with every game on the season on it,” said Solomon. “After that slow start, he broke the season down for us. He told us we had to take it game by game. He said our dreams and aspirations weren’t over. He told us to take his word for it – they weren’t over.”

The tough early season schedule was taken into consideration as the Buffs moved up to 12th in the next poll. No other school in the top 17 except for Tennessee (3-0-2 after tying Auburn) were ranked as high with two blemishes on its record. The Big Eight schedule, in comparison to the non-conference slate, seemed mediocre. Before facing Oklahoma in four weeks, Colorado would face Missouri (4-7 in 1989, 2-2 for the 1990 campaign); Iowa State (6-5, 2-2); and Kansas (4-7, 1-3). With a few convincing wins over the bottom half of the Big Eight, Colorado would be primed to resume its place in the top ten in the polls, and would be back amongst the nation’s elite.

The two early season blemishes on Colorado’s record seemed to be the blackest mark on their national pedigree as the Buffs took the field in Columbia, Missouri, to face the Tigers.

The Buffs would leave the field a few hours later embroiled in a national controversy.

Best Seats in the House
 
 In 1990, our tickets were not the best. Not even close.

For the Colorado/Washington game, we were in the north end zone of Folsom Field. For those too young to remember, in the pre Dal Ward upgrade days, there were wooden bleachers in the north bleachers, and they were falling apart. The boards upon which we were to rest our feet were weakened to the point where we were afraid to stand on them. These were seats normally set aside for visiting fans. If enough tickets were returned by the visitors, though, they were available for “financially challenged” alumni.

Guess which category Brad and I fell into in 1990?

The entire afternoon was tense. Watching Washington methodically march down the field to take a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive was disheartening at best. With the Buffs up late in the game, the Huskies set off on a similar drive. As the fourth quarter clock dwindled, Washington kept the ball on the ground, punishing the tired Colorado defense. A Washington touchdown to win the game seemed inevitable, and it would take place right in front of us in the north stands.

Then the improbable happened.

Washington started throwing the ball.

First-and-goal at the Colorado seven-yard line. Plenty of time on the game clock. Two or three runs to victory. Instead, Washington threw the ball. First down – incomplete. Second down – Alfred Williams batted down a Mark Brunell pass. Third down – Deon Figures knocked down a pass in the endzone.

Fourth down. No sense in a field goal attempt. Washington, down six, needed a touchdown.

The play was right before us. Yes, all of the fans with good seats could see what was happening, but this play was right in front of us in the north endzone. Deon Figures made the game-saving interception with just :59 left in the game, and he did it right in front of some delirious fans in the north endzone. Brad and I were ecstatic, but we had to keep our jumping up and down to a minimum for fear of breaking through our wooden seats.

Lousy seats?

Nah.

As it turned out, we had the best seats in the house.

September 29, 2007 – Boulder        Colorado 27, No. 3 Oklahoma 24

Kevin Eberhart connected on his second game-winning field goal of the month, hitting from 45 yards out with no time remaining to give Colorado a 27-24 upset win over No. 3 Oklahoma.

A homecoming crowd of 50,031 witnessed the Buffs rally from 17 points down (the fourth largest comeback in CU history) to pull off the upset. Oklahoma, which had been averaging 61.5 points and 562 yards per game, was held to just 24 points and 230 yards by a Colorado defense which more than held its own throughout the sun-filled afternoon.

For much of the game, it appeared that the Buffs would play just well enough to lose to the talented Sooners.

In the first quarter, Oklahoma, which had no more than two three-and-outs in any of its first four games of the season, was held to two three-and-outs to open the game. The Colorado offense was only moderately more successful, gaining a first down on each of its first two drives before punting.

On Colorado’s third possession, a Cody Hawkins’ pass was tipped and subsequently intercepted by Sooner safety D.J. Wolfe. Wolfe returned the interception to the CU 11-yard line, and three plays later Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Juaquin Iglesias to give the Sooners a 7-0 lead with 1:40 left in the first quarter.

After the teams traded punts to open the second quarter, Colorado put together a 69-yard drive to tie the score. The eight play drive included a 20-yard pass from Hawkins to Hugh Charles on a third-and-one at the CU forty yard line, and was culminated by a 25-yard scoring run by Charles.

Before the cheers from the Homecoming crowd had completely left Folsom Field, however, the Sooners were back out in front. Oklahoma needed only three plays to cover 80 yards to retake the lead. Halfback Allen Patrick scored on a 34 yard run to give the Sooners a 14-7 lead less than a minute after the Buffs had tied the score.

Just before the half, the Colorado defense made a stand which at the time just seemed to be a consolation for the 22-point underdogs, but would prove to be a game-saving stand. The Buff offense punted after three plays following the Sooner touchdown, and the Sooners proceeded to put together their only sustained drive of the game. Covering 72 yards in 11 plays, Oklahoma marched from their own 16 to the Buff 17-yard line with just over a minute before halftime.

A touchdown would have put Oklahoma up 21-7 at the half – with the second half kickoff going to the Sooners. Instead, the Buffs’ defense held, forcing a 28-yard field goal.

Down 17-7 at the half, the Buffs were holding their own against the third ranked team in the nation. Colorado had six first downs; Oklahoma had eight. Total yards were almost even, and the Buffs on offense were holding the ball at least long enough in each possession to keep the vaunted Sooners’ offense off the field. But for the Hawkins’ interception giving the Sooners a short field for their first touchdown, the game would have been even closer.

Dreams of a quick Buff comeback, though, were quickly dashed early in the third quarter.

After forcing a Sooner punt to start the second half, the Buffs took over on their own 33 yard line. On third-and-en, Cody Hawkins’ pass was again tipped, and was again intercepted by OU safety D.J. Wolfe. This time, Wolfe returned the pick to the Buff 17-yard line. After taking three plays to score after the first interception, the Sooners were even more efficient on their second opportunity. Oklahoma needed only one play to capitalize of the turnover, with Allen Patrick running the ball in to give Oklahoma a 24-7 lead with 12:23 still left in the third quarter.

The Sooner faithful, a solid block of red in the northwest corner of Folsom Field (with plenty of red sprinkled throughout the rest of the stadium), felt they could finally relax. The rout was on, and, after the Buffs punted the ball back to the Sooners after only five plays on Colorado’s next possession, it was time to sit back and listen to numerous renditions of “Boomer Sooner” from the Oklahoma pep band which had made the trip from Norman.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the rout.

Someone forgot to inform the Colorado players.

The Buff defense held the Sooners on OU’s next possession, and the Colorado offense then put together a 10-play, 50-yard drive. The scoring drive was culminated by a 41-yard field goal by Kevin Eberhart, his first successful kick of over 40 yards on the season, pulling the Buffs to within 24-10.

Things began to get interesting two plays later, as Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford missed an open receiver streaking down the middle of the CU defense. The errant pass was picked off by Buff safety Ryan Walters, and the Buffs were back in business at their own 38-yard line late in the third quarter.

The Colorado rushing game, which to that point in the game had been held to under 50 yards total, began to click. Byron Ellis and Hugh Charles began picking off chunks of yardage: Ellis for five yards; Charles for 10 and a first down; Ellis for 12 yards and a first down; Charles for 23 yards and yet another first down. The quarter ended with Colorado facing a third-and-goal at the Oklahoma four yard line.

An incomplete pass attempt from Hawkins to Dusty Sprague left the Buffs with a fourth-and-goal. Forgoing a field goal which would have pulled the Buffs to within 24-13, head coach Dan Hawkins decided to go for the touchdown. His faith in his offense was rewarded a few seconds later when Cody Hawkins hit tight end Tyson DeVree for a four yard touchdown.

24-17, with 14:50 still to play.

The third-ranked Sooners were now in a dogfight.

The Oklahoma offense went nowhere on its next possession, though, with the drive halted by a Jordon Dizon sack of quarterback Sam Bradford to force a punt. The Buffs took over at their own 36-yard line after an interference penalty on the punt return attempt. Nine plays later, the Buffs had driven all the way to the Sooner 19-yard line, with the drive including another fourth down conversion, this time with Cody Hawkins hitting Patrick Williams for a nine yard gain on fourth-and-four at the Sooner 36-yard line.

At the 19, the Buffs faced a fourth-and-two with 6:37 remaining. This time, Hawkins opted for the field goal attempt, but Eberhart’s 37 yard attempt hooked to the left in the swirling winds.

Rather than take advantage of the reprieve, the Sooners instead gave the Buffs new life. On the first play after the missed kick, OU quarterback Sam Bradford was intercepted by CU safety Daniel Dykes, giving the Buffs the ball a the Sooner 43-yard line. Three plays later, though, the Buffs were back on their side of midfield, and had to punt the ball back to Oklahoma.

Once again, though, the Sooners could not hold onto the ball. Matt DiLallo’s punt was muffed by Reggie Smith, with the ball recovered by long snapper Justin Drescher at the Oklahoma 16 yard line. The Buffs had a golden opportunity with 4:44 remaining. Three plays later, the game was tied. Hawkins hit Dusty Sprague from 15 yards out, tying the score at 24-24 with 4:05 to play.

At this juncture, it was anyone’s game.

The Sooners, though, could not take advantage of their opportunity to salvage the win against their inferior opponent. Oklahoma went three-and-out, with the possession ended when a Bradford pass to Joe Finley was emphatically broken up by Buff safety Terrence Wheatley. The ensuing punt was returned 31 yards by senior Chase McBride, giving the Buffs the ball at midfield to start their game winning drive.

A sixteen yard pass from Hawkins to freshman wide receiver Kendrick Celestine, making his first career start, gave the Buffs all the yards they needed. Three runs set up the Buffs at the Oklahoma 27 yard line, and Eberhart’s 45-yarder sailed through the uprights as time expired, giving Colorado an unlikely 27-24 win over Oklahoma.

“All week I told them we were going to win this game,” said Dan Hawkins after the game. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years and you know when your team is ready. You know when they are poised. I was really pleased when it looked like things were getting away from us and our guys just kept coming.”

For his part, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops was complimentary. “They just really outplayed us. We got up 24-7 and then they outplayed us in a big time way the rest of the game. They outplayed us and out-coached us in the second half.”

The game statistics bore out the fact that the win was not a fluke. Colorado had more first downs than Oklahoma (19-12), more rushing yards (161-118), and more passing yards (220-112). The Buffs held the ball for almost 39 minutes, including 21 minutes in the second half. The Sooners, who had been converting third down attempts at a 52% clip for the season, were held to just one conversion in nine attempts against the Buffs. Overall, the 230-yard offensive output by Oklahoma was a full 332 yards below their season average.

What to make of the Buffs, now 3-2 (1-0 in Big 12 play)?

“We’re on the verge,” said linebacker Jordon Dizon. “We’re on the edge of being a great team. We just need a little confidence in ourselves.”

Safety Ryan Walters was already looking ahead: “We can’t get too caught up in the win. We have to go back to work. We have more to accomplish this season.”

Up next was Baylor on the road. The Bears were also 3-2 on the season, but their wins were over Rice, Texas State, and Buffalo – not exactly the upper echelon of college football. When faced with decent competition, Baylor fell hard, losing 27-0 to TCU, and 34-10 to Texas A&M to open Big 12 play.

Still, the Bears represented a road game, and the Buffs had yet to win a road game under Dan Hawkins.

Then again, before Saturday, the Buffs had yet to beat a ranked team under Dan Hawkins, and had lost 14 games in a row overall to ranked opposition before beating the Sooners.

One bad streak out of the way; another one to be faced the following weekend in Waco.

Here is a link to the YouTube video of the game …

—–

Signature Win

The Buffs had heard it before: “close loss”, “moral victory”, “good effort”.

That is what losing teams hear on their way to a 2-10 season.

Yes, CU had led  No. 9 Georgia throughout their game in Athens in 2006, but had fallen 14-13 on a last minute touchdown. There was the three overtime loss to Baylor; the “good efforts” against several quality opponents, including against Nebraska in Lincoln.

Still, the losses were losses. What the program required to be placed back on the national stage was a signature win. A win over a nationally recognized power to show that the Dan Hawkins hire was not just a long term experiment; a win to show that the best that the Buffs could hope for was more than just a return to mediocrity.

In the postgame celebration, quarterback Cody Hawkins was asked if the win over the 3rd-ranked Sooners represented a “signature win”. “A lot of people have been talking about getting a signature win,” said Hawkins, “and I don’t know if this is it yet, (but) it’s a huge win for the program.”

Trust me, Cody, this was a “signature win”.

The Buffs were the lead story on ESPN for most of Saturday, at least until the top ten became a minefield (five of the top ten in the country lost that weekend). Commentators discussed how Colorado controlled the ball, played solid defense, and took advantage of opportunities. The Buffs had done the same in wins over Colorado State and Miami (Ohio), but no one had noticed.

This win, everyone noticed.

Whether the Buffs could build on the win, of course, remained to be seen. Baylor was seen back in August as a “must win” game on the schedule for Colorado to get to six wins and a bowl. Nothing had changed. Colorado was half way to the magic number of six, but were no guarantees the upset win over Oklahoma would  spill over to next weekend. A loss to Baylor on the road, and the program will drift back into the shadows of college football’s national landscape.

Still, at least for a few days, Buff fans could dare to dream big. Oklahoma had as much talent, if not more, as any team on the Colorado schedule. A win over the Sooners puts every other game on the calendar in play. A breakthrough season, and not just a six win season, was a tempting thought.

With three of the next four games on the road, though, there was no reason to put me in the group drinking the “rematch with Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game” kool-aid. I was still looking for six wins.

Win number four next weekend would be a big step forward towards that goal.

Here is a link to the YouTube video of the game.

“They think they can win!”

These were the words were uttered by Evan towards the end of the third quarter.

Evan was my freshly minted brother-in-law (the Oklahoma game marked his and my sister’s seven-week anniversary), who was in town for a conference, and was my guest for the Oklahoma game. Evan uttered these words as the CU ground game, a non-force in the contest to that point, began to churn out yards in the drive that would bring the Buffs to within 24-17 early in the fourth quarter.

To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t even considered the thought about winning until that point.

Brad, who was also in town for the game, asked me before kickoff: “How do we win this game?”, and I had no answer. “I don’t think it’s possible,” I replied. “The numbers just don’t add up.”

And they didn’t.

Considering the Sooners had yet to score less than 51 points in a game to this point, and considering that against BCS competition (v. Arizona State and Florida State), the Colorado rushing offense had generated something like five yards total in those two games, there was serious reason to be concerned that the Buffs’ much discussed consecutive scoring streak of 226 games would be in jeopardy on Saturday.

A 42-7 rout would actually be considered something of an accomplishment.

This was still my mentality late in the third quarter. The Buffs were down 24-10, and 14 of the Sooner points had been on gift drives of 11 and 17 yards. I was lamenting the thought of Oklahoma wearing down the Buffs late, getting cosmetic scores to impress the pollsters (remember that this is the same Bob Stoops who, in 2006, rather than taking a knee with less than a minute remaining against the Buffs in Norman, continued to run his offense, scoring late to stretch the score from 17-3 to 24-3). Those gift touchdowns, I feared, would only serve to make an otherwise solid Buff effort look like just another big win by the Sooners.

Yet the Buffs were not done.

After Evan noted that the Buffs, instead of eschewing the running game, were continuing to pound the ball, the rushing game began to produce results. Seven of the nine plays in the 62-yard drive to pull the Buffs within a touchdown were running plays. Fifteen of the Buffs 23 plays in the fourth quarter were runs.

Meanwhile, the Buffs’ defense continued to gain momentum. ‘We got them rattled; you could see it in their eyes,” said CU’s all-conference cornerback Terrence Wheatley. “When I saw that, I told our guys, ‘Let’s go. We’ve got them right where we want them.’”

The result was a huge CU win that no one predicted, and that I didn’t see coming.

Enjoying the surprise win over No. 3 Oklahoma
Enjoying the surprise win over No. 3 Oklahoma

So, where does this victory rank in the CU annals?

The 20-10 win over Nebraska in 1986 immediately came to mind. I didn’t think the comparison, however, was valid. Yes, the 1986 win was by a 2-4 team over an undefeated and 3rd-ranked Nebraska squad, and it was a program-altering win. Still, when Colorado defeated Nebraska in 1986, the Buffs were coming off the first winning season (7-5 in 1985) in seven years. There was a culture of losing in Boulder. Granted, the 2-10 record from the 2006 season was one of the worst in CU history, but the Buffs had not had back-to-back losing seasons in over 20 years. We were less than two seasons removed from winning the fourth Big 12 North title in five years. The road back to national recognition did not seem to be as steep as it was in 1986 (and indeed the Buffs were “back amongst the others” receiving top 25 votes in the polls the week after the Oklahoma win).

The Buffs were now 1-0 in the new era.

All we could hope for was to be 2-0 after the game against Baylor.

One view of the final play … 

September 29, 2012 – Boulder          UCLA 42, Colorado 14

UCLA, behind a balanced offense which went for over 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing, slowly … but surely … pulled away from Colorado, posting a 42-14 victory in Boulder. Red-shirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more, as the Bruins won for the first time in Boulder since 1984.

In a game in which Colorado needed to control the clock, the game started out poorly for the Buff offense. A three-and-out by gave UCLA the ball at the Bruin 41 yard line. The UCLA offense had little difficulty at first, but two penalties nullified big gains, keeping the Bruins at bay. Then, at the CU 33-yard line, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was sacked by Buff defensive tackle Kirk Poston, fumbling the ball back to the Buffs in the process.

A nine-yard pass to Tony Jones and a 15-yard run by Christian Powell set the Buffs up at the UCLA 22-yard line. Aspirations of an upset were quelled quickly, though, as on an end around Gerald Thomas fumbled. The Buffs recovered the ball, but only after a loss of 11 yards, and the drive was over.

UCLA was not to be denied in its second drive. Converting on second-and-one three times, the Bruins never faced a third down in putting together a nine-play, 88-yard drive. Quarterback Brett Hundley did the honors from 12 yards out, and, with 4:54 to go in the first quarter, UCLA was ahead to stay, 7-0.

Two three-and-outs by the Buffs, sandwiched around a three-and-out by the Bruins, finished out the first quarter with the Buffs only down a score … a small victory for a team which had trailed UCLA 21-0 after the first quarter in Los Angeles the week before.

The second quarter opened with the Bruins piecing a ten-play, 88-yard drive, capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass from Hundley to Darius Bell. The Parent’s Weekend crowd shifted restlessly as the “been there, done that” look to the game crept into the Buff Nation consciousness.

Then, hope arrived.

Continue reading story here

Grasping at Straws …

At a time when the University of Colorado football program is looking squarely into the eyes of a seventh consecutive losing season, a depth never before reached in the 123-year history of the program, it’s hard to stay focused on what Buff fans believe (hope?) to be better days ahead. A 42-14 home loss to UCLA leaves the Buffs at 1-4 on the season, with a gauntlet of better teams lying in wait to take their turn at upgrading their school record books.

Is there any reason for hope for this season? Or, in fact, for the foreseeable future?

Two days before the Colorado/UCLA game, the first annual “Parade of Buffs” took place. Numerous Buff heroes from years past were introduced. The band played, the cheer team cheered, and current Buff teams were introduced and applauded. It was a glorified pep rally, designed to help pump up the players and fans for the first Pac-12 conference home game of the season.

Foremer head coach Bill McCartney was on hand, again giving his stump speech about how it took three long years of suffering before he and his coaching staff were able to turn the Buffs around. Coach Mac again reminded us that he only won seven games in his first three seasons, but was nonetheless awarded a contract extension. After a pitiful 1-10 season in 1984, we all remember, the Buffs never again had a losing season under McCartney, with the Buffs twice playing for the national championship just a few short years after McCartney’s slow start.

It happened before, the mantra goes … so it can happen again (with or without a shift to the wishbone?).

Continue reading Game Essay here

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