Black Friday (Again)

Once upon a time … Thanksgiving weekend for the University of Colorado did not mean a rivalry game. For the past quarter century, with a few exceptions, the Buffs have either squared off against Nebraska or Utah on Thanksgiving weekend.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

When the Big 12 was launched in 1996, the storied Nebraska/Oklahoma rivalry game had to be revisited. The Cornhuskers and Sooners, who had given us the No. 1 v. No. 2 “Game of the Century” in 1971, had to go their separate ways to separate divisions, with their traditional year-end game no longer possible with Nebraska and Oklahoma no longer guaranteed a regular season game.

(Side Note: this weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Nebraska’s 35-31 epic “Game of the Century” victory over Oklahoma. The Cornhuskers went on to finish No. 1 in the polls; Oklahoma No. 2. Forgotten by much of the nation – and not known by some younger CU fans – was that the No. 3 team that year was Colorado. The Buffs finished 10-2, with losses only to Nebraska and Oklahoma. The 1971 season remains the only year in college football history in which three teams from the same conference finished 1, 2, and 3 in the final polls).

With Nebraska/Oklahoma Thanksgiving games no longer an annual option, schedules had to be adjusted. Fortunately for the Buff Nation, Colorado was in its golden age, and the Buffs were anointed as the Cornhuskers’ new Thanksgiving rival.

Can you remember CU’s opponents for their end-of-season “rivalry” games before 1996?

Well, between 1979 and 1990, CU’s “big” game to end the season was played against … Kansas State.

From 1991 to 1995, CU ended the regular season against … Iowa State.

While the nation was gearing up every Thanksgiving for Ohio State/Michigan, Alabama/Auburn and Nebraska/Oklahoma, the Buffs were “traditionally” toiling away in obscurity against the Wildcats and Cyclones (Everyone remembers the video of Rashaan Salaam’s fourth quarter 65-yard touchdown run in the final game of the 1994 season, putting him over 2,000 yards and all but guaranteeing the Heisman. Remember the opponent? Yup. Iowa State).

The creation of the Big 12 in 1996 gave Colorado a chance to play in the national spotlight on Thanksgiving weekend, but the Buffs haven’t exactly taken advantage.

From 1996-2000, the Buffs played the Cornhuskers tough, but lost every game. Colorado lost those five games by a grand total of 15 points (17-12; 27-24; 16-14; 33-30 (OT); and 34-32), finding new, creative and painful ways to lose those games.

The 62-36 win in 2001 salved some of the wounds, but the final decade of the Big 12 wasn’t overly kind to the Buffs. Even with the 62-36 win, Colorado went 4-6 against Nebraska in the 2000s, losing the final three games of the series.

Moving to the Pac-12, the natural fit for the year-end rivalry game was Utah. The remaining schools in the Pac-10/12 all had their natural year-end rivals, so the Utes became CU’s new Thanksgiving weekend rival.

You probably already knew this, but the Buffs haven’t been tearing it up on Thanksgiving weekend since joining the Pac-12. The Buffs beat the Utes in 2011 and 2016, but have lost every other game (the year-end 2020 game against Utah was played on December 12th, but you get the idea).

So, in the quarter century of having a featured Thanksgiving weekend rivalry game, Colorado posted a record of … 6-19.

Which brings us to the 2021 regular season finale.

The Buffs were 24-point underdogs, and all signs pointed to a year-end disaster. Colorado was awful on offense, and Utah had a strong defense. Utah was on a roll, coming in as Pac-12 South champions after a 38-7 rout of Oregon, while the Buffs limped in with a 4-7 record, needing four turnovers to overcome a lousy Washington team and their own offense to pull out a 20-17 win in the home finale.

No chance the Buffs, averaging less than 20 points per game, would be able to defeat a team which had won seven of its last eight games, and was averaging 35 points per game.

What would it take for CU to have a chance against Utah?

Well, an interception on the game’s first possession would be a good start.

Okay, show of hands … How many of you, when safety Mark Perry intercepted Cameron Rising’s pass, were actually disappointed when Perry was tackled at the Utah 15-yard line? Sure, it was a 40-yard return, but, if the Buffs were going to have a shot at an upset, it had to be a 55-yard return.

We just knew that the CU offense, which couldn’t convert a turnover at the Washington seven yard line into a touchdown last weekend, wouldn’t be able to turn a gift at the 15-yard line into a touchdown. Sure enough, three offensive plays netted zero yards. Cole Becker did convert a 33-yard field goal, giving CU a 3-0 lead, but the Buff Nation understood an opportunity had been lost.

The Buffs did tease us for much of the rest of the game, giving us just enough hope to keep us interested. Colorado actually held the lead for a full quarter – something none of us expected. A long drive by the Utes after CU’s field goal came up empty when Terrence Lang blocked a field goal attempt, leaving it a 3-0 game after a full quarter of play.

After the Buffs’ longest drive of the game – 10 plays for 50 yards – ended in a missed 48-yard Becker field goal attempt, the Utes took control. Two quick drives, with neither taking over three minutes of game clock (sandwiched between a three-and-out for minus-eight yards by the Buff offense), made it a 14-3 game early in the second quarter.

But, then something happened on the way to the rout … CU started playing better.

After another three-and-out by the Buffs (netting one yard), the Utes drove for a rout-inducing touchdown. Facing a fourth-and-two at the CU 24, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham eschewed the field goal attempt, going for a first down. Senior linebacker Carson Wells stopped Utah quarterback Cameron Rising short of the sticks, giving CU new life. The Buff offense actually put together a drive, culminating in a 56-yard field goal by Becker on the final play of the first half.

On the first play of the second half, the Buffs made it ten points in two plays, with Nikko Reed – subbing for an injured Brenden Rice – returned the second half kickoff for 100 yards – making it a 14-13 game.

Could the Buffs actually pull of the upset?

Well, no. Utah quickly restored order, with touchdown drives on their next two drives – with two more scores again taking less than three minutes of game clock apiece. The rout was on … again.

But, as it turned out, it stayed a 28-13 game for the final 21 minutes. Some of it was due to the CU offense hanging on to the ball for a drive or two; some of it was Utah hubris (another fourth down attempt instead of trying a field goal; a punt late instead of trying a field goal).

At the end of the day, the Buffs lost, 28-13. It was the eighth loss of the season, with CU going from 4-2 in Karl Dorrell’s first season to 4-8 in his second. Changes will have to be made in the coaching staff and roster if the Buffs are expecting to improve the offense – which posted its lowest per game total yard average since 1964.

Utah, meanwhile, the team which rose above its station to join the Pac-12, has now won the South Division three of the past four seasons. The Utes are now 9-2 against Colorado, and has taken over the overall series lead, 33-32-3.

It’s another Thanksgiving weekend game lost for the CU program. The Buffs are now 6-21 in year-end rivalry games since leaving the Big Eight. They may currently be able to look down upon Arizona in the South division standings, but have to squint to see the Utes up on top.

Next year, the Buffs will again take on the Utes in the 2022 regular season finale.

Another chance for a Good Friday … Instead of another Black Friday.

Hopefully, there will be a significant upgrade to the roster – and to the coaching staff – over the next nine months to help make that happen.

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10 Replies to “Black Friday (Again)”

  1. Thanks Stuart for a good season of football articles. I didn’t know about the Buffs #3 ranking back in the day. I’m a little younger and grew up down the interstate from Ann Arbor, and so didn’t realize there was football outside of Michigan and Ohio at the time.
    As most I’m hopeful for positive staff changes. I’m at a loss whether just a new OC is the answer, but gotta start there.
    I’ve also noticed how other Pac12 teams have made out better with transfers filling key roles. The Buffs need to improve on that.
    Anyhow I’ll be watching and reading.

  2. Man. If Lewis wasn’t literally the worst QB in CU history, this season might have been different.

    Noyer at the helm this year wins us three or four more games and we’re all happy.

    Lot of blame for Chev sure, but honestly… Wtf is he supposed to do with a QB that refuses to throw the ball, can’t step up into the pocket, can’t read defenses, can’t throw hot routes, etc…

    But hey, occasionally Lewis has some beautiful throws, when he bothers to try to throw. It’s absolutely infuriating. And every play I watch I think to myself “is there actually a play chev could call that would be better than what he just did, given the QB and offensive line?”

    And often the answer is “no. Probably not.”

    1. Lewis set the freshman record for most consecutive passes without an interception, breaking a 21-year old record.
      CU set a school record for fewest turnovers in a season (7; previous record 11), and set a school-record for turnover-free games (7; previous record 4).
      CU set a school record for red zone proficiency (93.9%; old record 90.6%).
      Not saying that if Lewis had thrown more often – completing more; intercepted more – it would haven’t improved CU’s chances.
      But “literally the worst QB in CU history”? … I can give you at least five in the past 20 years …

      1. That started an entire season?

        Bernard Jackson… Maybe? But he was a better runner. Webb? But at least he threw the ball? Eh. Maybe I’ll give you Webb.

        I’ll happily take Noyer and Montez and Sefo and Cody and Ochs and Klatt and Hansen any day.

        I guess I’m missing a few very forgettable dudes that did not do a great job at the helm, but none of those teams finished within the bottom five in every statistical offensive category except turnovers. There were some bad offenses but not “worst in the nation” offenses?

        Maybe my memory of those mid to late 2000s post college (for me) years is a bit clouded though.

        1. Nice qualifier. Your original comment was “literally the worst QB in CU history”.
          My reply was that we have seen many worse.

    2. Being a QB is like being the president. You get blamed for things you cant control. I didnt look at the box score of the last game but up until then Lewis completed 60% of the passes he was allowed to throw. Never was allowed to get in a rhythm. Most games there were less than 20 passing attempts a lot of which were timed after the utter failure of the running game when the D knew it was coming. The D line was able to T off on our woeful O line and the WRs were amply covered on Chev’s pathetic route designs. I saw few 3 step drops for quick slants and few play action fakes. If Langsdorf had any input at all on this morass he needs to go too.
      If chev isnt dispatched with haste and I was in Lewis’s shoes I would be gone to the portal.

      1. You indirectly bring up a good point… And that’s that the single person on the staff that needs to get fired first is Langsdorf.

        There are no slants because Lewis takes three seconds to throw. Any route. At all. Three seconds.

  3. Karl’s post game comments are interesting.

    In a lot of ways, they sound very much like his comments after every game.

    Any bets for the over/under on days before any changes are announced?

    If Chev is retained, people will blow a gasket. If he’s let go, who Karl hires will be illuminating.

    Go Buffs- find a QB

  4. Thanks for pointing out the very few bright sides Stuart. Sigh
    Then I went to ESPN where the head line was wondering if Okie St. and Missagain could end their seemingly never ending losing streak, referring of course to their season ending rivalry games.
    Both those teams are 10 and 1 and we are supposed to feel sorry for them?
    Not going to feel sorry for the huskers either (a given of course) whose record was a game worse than ours even though they lost all 9 of theirs by a touchdown or less. Hopefully that will be just enough to keep them to continue throwing money at Frost who doesnt seem like much of a motivator.
    This was another lost season in one that had the entire conference for the taking otherwise. OK maybe Utah aside. I have always defended the PAC 12 as being every bit as tough as any other conference top to bottom because of the cannibalization but this year the Jekyll and Hyde act was taken to an extreme. I consider the Buff’s only quality win, such as it was, was OSU and earache’s buddy Lingering to who earache must have sold a mortgage while he was at San Jose St. The Washington win was diluted considerably yesterday.
    If the guy who said he was going for 30 points a game and didnt do a damn thing towards it is still around for next year I may not be.
    A new OC will be the sugar in the koolaide before the beginning of next season

  5. Thanks Stuart, good stuff…appreciate another season with CUATG.
    At least Utah is a solid program, I have a lot of resepect for them and truly want KD and the Buffs to grow and make this a more competitive annual post T-day event. If this were to stay our rivalry game and we do our part I’d be a happy camper. Sitting down yesterday to watch the game was something I looked forward to all week.
    Here we go-
    Need new OC, a good one can get the O purring/competitive week in and week out
    OL – ? Not sure, transfer portal, do we need more talent or the right scheme/coaching ?
    Didn’t see anything that was “player friendly” on O
    The energy that BLew and BRice showed when their chemistry was clicking was very exciting.
    Do the right thing (for the program) KD and get this program going

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