The Call From the Governor

It almost never happens in real life, but it happens so often in the movies as to almost be cliché.

The innocent man has had his final meal, and has made his final walk. Out there somewhere, our heroes are fighting the system, desperately to gain a reprieve. Sometimes its a last minute stay of execution from the Supreme Court, but, often as not, it’s a call from the Governor’s office.

The unjustly accused is strapped to the gurney, the sinister warden looking grim and determined. The witnesses behind the glass are finally shown the adjudged killer, with the curtains slowly slid back out of place, exposing the antiseptic room of authorized killing.

The clock on the wall creeps towards midnight (why is it always midnight?), while a priest mumbles prayers in the corner.

Then, at the last minute, the phone – almost always red – rings, and the accused is given a reprieve.

Welcome to Colorado football, 2022.

After opening the season with five straight blowout losses and the dismissal of the head coach, there was little reason for the casual college football fan to pay much attention to Colorado. The Buffs had one of the worst offenses in the nation, together with one of the worst defenses. The gap between No. 65 CU and the next worst Power Five team was so wide that there was little chance at the Buffs recovering to No. 64 during the 2022 season. The Buffs found themselves ranked 131 out of 131 FBS teams in many rankings, behind even the likes of Group of Five bottom feeders like UMass, Charlotte, CSU and Akron.

In fact, the only reason for college football fans to pay attention to Colorado football was to answer one question:

Would the Buffs go 0-12?

The University of Colorado football program came into the 2022 campaign having fielded teams every year since 1890. In 132 seasons of football, CU had finished a season winless only once, and that was in the opening season of 1890. In that year, CU played only four games, and lost all four. Without a head coach, CU not only finished 0-4, but was outscored, 217-4 … including a 103-0 loss to Colorado Mines.

The Buff players and coaches had a bye week to absorb the firing of head coach Karl Dorrell and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson. The coaches and players all said the right things during the time off, saying that the team had found a new energy.

“We’re not going to really talk about … this is an interim head coach advantage game, because this thing is about the players,” interim head coach Mike Sanford said the week before the Cal game. “It’s not about me and it’s not about our staff. It’s about our players and restoring their confidence, their belief, and their trust in one another and their trust in us.

“I see a team that’s playing confidently, practicing confidently and I believe that they trust the process. That’s what we’ve got to continue to do, not just this week, but going forward.”

“Everybody’s seen a different energy,” tight end Erik Olsen said. “I think the most important part about that energy is I think people are enjoying practice a whole hell of a lot more than they used to be. And if you’re having fun at practice and you want to come to practice, you’re gonna practice better and that’s gonna translate to game day.

“I think that energy is not necessarily just all within the juice, but it’s also within the individual wanting to be there now versus just a mundane practice that was too long for what it needed to be and not a lot of energy was there. (Before the change) everybody sort of was there just to be there, not trying to get better.”

All well and good, but we had heard for several months that the Buffs were practicing well … only to see Colorado be dominated on game day.

The Buffs had lost the first five games of the season, and the closest CU had gotten to an opponent was the 43-20 loss to Arizona. The Buffs were being outscored by an average score of 43-13; outgained by an average of 507 yards to 277. It wasn’t until the Arizona game – the fifth game of the season – that the Buff offense scored a first quarter touchdown … and scored the first third quarter points of the entire season.

Perhaps the most telling stat of how bad the Buffs were in 2022 … Colorado had held the lead only once in the first five games, and that was at the tail end of the first quarter of the first game, a 3-0 lead over TCU.

Time spent in the lead … Colorado: 5:08 … Opponents: 264:51.

So it not a surprise that the California Bears, though not exactly world-beaters themselves, were two-touchdown road favorites against the Buffs.

What was a surprise was that the Folsom Field scoreboard read Colorado 0, California 0, at the end of the first quarter. The sellout crowd (yes – sellout crowd) of 50,471 finally had something to cheer about. The Buffs, who had been outscored 54-10 in the first quarter in the first five games, were still in the contest.

Thanks to the Buff defense … and a little luck.

The Colorado offense was as anemic as usual, with the first three drives of the game going:

  • Three plays, five yards, punt;
  • Three plays, five yards, punt; and
  • Three plays, minus-two yards, punt.

What was unusual was the play of the Buff defense. After giving up touchdowns on the first drive of the game in the last four games, the Buffs actually got a turnover on Cal’s first possession, an interception by safety Tyrin Taylor. Two subsequent nine-play first quarter drives by Cal finished with a missed field goal and a turnover on downs. Cal’s first drive of the second quarter also resulted in a missed field goal.

The score was 0-0 at the first quarter break, but the writing appeared to be on the wall. It seemed that it was just a matter of time before Cal scored, and then scored again, and put the game out of reach.

But something happened on the way to the rout – the Buff defense continued to play well, shutting out the Bears in the second quarter as well. Meanwhile, the Buff offense, held without a first down in first quarter, managed to move the ball well enough to get a 31-yard field goal by Cole Becker and a 3-0 halftime lead.

The second half was a back-and-forth affair, with the Buffs showing a resiliency not previously seen from the 2022 team. The Bears took a 7-3 lead in the third quarter, but the Buffs responded with a touchdown drive of their own, taking a 10-7 lead on a one-yard Anthony Hankerson dive early in the fourth quarter. Then, after the Bears tied the game at 10-10, the Buffs again showed their grit, taking a 13-10 lead on a second Cole Becker field goal.

As the fourth quarter clock ticked down, it appeared that the Buffs were going to come up just short as the Bears drove for the winning score. Cal had a first-and-goal at the CU seven yard line with less than a minute to play. A close loss, but a loss nonetheless, seemed predestined. The Bears would escape, 17-13, and the Buffs would be left with the moral victory of beating the spread for the first time in 2022.

Instead, the Buff defense rose up. A sack of Cal quarterback by linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo on third-and-goal forced a game-tying field goal and overtime.

CU had the ball first in overtime, and appeared to have been stopped on third-and-seven when a pass from backup quarterback J.T. Shrout to Montana Lemonious-Craig was called incomplete. After a replay review, however, the call was reversed, and CU had a 20-13 overtime lead.

Poised to win its first game of the season, the Buff defense was called upon one last time. A pass interference call on the first play gave the Bears a first-and-goal at the CU ten yard line. On first down-and-goal, it looked like Cal had a quick answer to the CU score, with quarterback Jack Plummer finding a wide open Mason Starling in the back of the end zone. Instead of coming back for the ball, however, Starling just stood there, waiting for the ball. The error gave Buff safety Trevor Woods just enough time to catch up to Starling and knock the ball away. Three plays later, Plummer’s pass to tight end Keleki Latu fell harmlessly to the turf, opening the flood gates for the CU student section to rush the field and celebrate the unlikely victory.

“This is all about the players,” Sanford said. “Their resilience, their resolve. I’m really proud of these players. As I told them in the locker room, the best part about being 1-0 in our new season is the chance to be 2-0.”

So, now, the question becomes, will the 2022 team become the seventh team in school history to finish a season with only one victory, or is there a chance at victory No. 2?

Having relegated the 1890 team back into history books as CU’s only winless team, the Buffs now can set their sights on moving past the sad list of CU one-win seasons …

Three of the six seasons with only one win are far back in CU history:

  • A 1-4 record in 1891, with the Buffs picking up the first victory in school history with a 24-4 win over Colorado Springs A.A.;
  • A 1-6 record in 1915, the final season of coaching for CU’s legendary head coach, Fred Folsom (his last victory left him with a 77-23-2 record at CU, and the most wins until Bill McCartney came along, winning 93 games, 1982-94); and
  • A 1-5-1 record in 1916, under Folsom’s replacement, Bob Evans.

The next three seasons with only one win have all come during my tenure as a Buff fan:

  • A 1-10 record in 1980. It was my freshman year at CU, and was quite the baptism. The Buffs opened the season by falling behind UCLA 56-0 – at halftime. CU would lose to Drake – Drake! – 41-22, and was run over in the infamous 82-42 loss to Oklahoma;
  • A 1-10 record in 1984. The “underrated” one-win season, with a loss to Rick Neuheisel and the UCLA Bruins, a 55-14 loss to Notre Dame in CU’s lone trip to South Bend in school history, and the decision to keep a head coach with a 7-25-1 record on the payroll (Bill McCartney); and
  • A 1-11 record in 2012. Home losses to CSU and Sacramento State set the table for a 69-14 road loss at Fresno State (35-0 in the first quarter!). Over a five-game stretch CU lost to ASU (51-17), USC (50-6), Oregon (70-14), Stanford (48-0), and Arizona (56-31) as the Jon Embree experiment limped to a 4-21 conclusion.

The second half of the CU schedule is daunting. Four of the six entered the weekend nationally ranked, while the other two opponents, Oregon State and Arizona State, have offenses vastly superior to that of Cal.

Will the Buffs ride the “interim coach bump” to another victory this season? Or will the Cal game prove to be the high water mark of the 2022 season?

In real life stays of execution rarely play out the way they happen in the movies … In the real world, the stay of execution is just that, a stay. It’s not a pardon. It’s just a brief time out. The execution is just rescheduled for a later date.

For the 2022 Buffs, it remains an open question as to what happens next:

Was the Cal game a full pardon? Is this the competitive team Buff fans thought they would see this season (at least on defense)? Are there additional wins on the calendar?

Or was the win over the Bears merely a stay of execution, with lopsided losses coming the rest of the year?

Let’s find out …


9 Replies to “The Call From the Governor”

  1. MEGA KUDOS to Coach MIke Sanford and his staff! This huge win would not have happened
    but, for the Coach Mike Sanford’s unwavering belief in his players, steadfastness in his
    process, his focus and fortitude in acheiving victory. Truly, a memorable moment in Buff
    Nation football history!

  2. The good things about this game: the defense played fundamentally sound football for the first time in over a year. The running game started to look good, especially with hankerson. The defensive line dominated and the linebackers were in the correct gaps. The offense actually played with tempo and caught Cal off guard a few times.

    The bad: owen McCown getting pulled for (injuries?) Shrout. Credit to shrout for leading the offense to the big scores with his aggressive throws down the field, but I still want mccown to be the starter. We don’t need more qb controversy.

    Also bad : WR play, excepting Montana. Some huge drops early made mccown’s stats look bad, but I thought he played pretty well. Same on Cal’s side, to be fair. They had two drops in the endzone in overtime!

    Frustrating that cu continues to show promise on offense but can’t put it together enough to score more than 13 in regulation.

  3. I was a beer vendor in the stands for that infamous 82-42 game. It was a simpler time then, and good cash business selling beer to happy OU fans and lamenting CU fans. Never checked an ID either.

    As for yesterday, it was a fun day. It’s amazing how the players and coaches take on the personality of the head man. Dour old FHCKD had a dour team, Sanford who is obviously enthusiastic put an enthusiastic team on the field. The trick is finding the right balance.

    Montana had his coming out party. The first quarter would have looked a lot better if Arias had caught that first long ball and CU may not have had to go to OT to win. Arias makes the tough catches and drops the easy ones.

  4. It must really suck to see the team and staff you put together get their first win while playing their best defense right after you and your DC are fired. For the team to go from 40 points blowouts to holding a team to only 13 points including OT is got to be humiliating for the old HC.

    If the Buffs had gotten blown out again he could say he just didn’t have the players due to transfer rules, but this game shows something different. Simplified the defense and the Buffs won. Not saying they would have won those past games, but they look like they would have been more competitive; with maybe a win or two.

    One week at a time. It’s just great to see the win and for the Buffs to not get skunked this year.

  5. I think they will find one more win, more due to the other team making more mistakes and losing, than our Buffs rising up and winning. That is college football.

    But if they are competitive, play hard, and improve every week? That will be progress. And I do expect to see that.

    Most likely upsets? Next week and asu. As we all know.

    Go Buffs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *