The Heat of the Moment

The spotlight was supposed to be off the Buffs this week.

For the first time in six games, there wasn’t an obvious national storyline following Coach Prime and his team onto the field. For the first time in six games, the Buffs weren’t expected to break records for viewership, with the CU/Arizona State banished to the television version of the desert – the Pac-12 Networks.

For only the second time in the first six games of the 2023 season, Colorado wasn’t the lead story for the Fox Big Noon Saturday crew. It had seemed like a gamble in August when Fox announced that it would have its Big Noon crew in Ft. Worth for the season opener between TCU and CU, and then feature Colorado again a week later in Boulder in the renewal of the rivalry against Nebraska.

CU under Coach Prime could be viable, or it could be a joke … none of us knew.

Fox bet on Coach Prime, and was handsomely rewarded. The network then doubled down on Coach Prime, staying in Boulder for the CSU game, then returning for a third time for USC.

A year after being completely off the national radar, the Buffs traveled to Tempe without huge national headlines in tow for the first time under Coach Prime. Yes, the Buffs remained a national story, with Coach Prime this week being the cover story on no less a national magazine than Time. Still, with Oklahoma/Texas and other nationally attractive games, the CU/Arizona State game was what it was: a 3-2 team trying to defeat a 1-4 team. No national storyline to pursue … the Buffs were just an FBS program looking for only its second-ever road victory over the Sun Devils.

The Buffs opened poorly, played poorly in stretches, and gave the Sun Devils every opportunity to win their first game against an FBS opponent since taking out the Buffs in Boulder last October (0-8).

Instead, it was CU which gutted out a 27-24 victory, with the much-maligned CU special teams coming through in the end. Kicker Alejandro Meta, taking over for the inconsistent Jace Feely, hit a 42-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to give CU a seven-point lead, then calmly hit the 43-yard game-winner with 12 seconds to play.

It was around 100-degrees when the Buffs took to the field to take on the Sun Devils for the 3:30 p.m. local time start (as of this writing, the official game book has listed, under weather: “Sunny”. I’m not kidding).

Talk about the heat of the moment.

It a strange stat only Dave Plati would love, the Buffs won the opening coin toss for the sixth straight game to open the Coach Prime era.

For the sixth straight game, the Buffs deferred to the second half, putting their defense on the field to open the game.

And for third straight game, I didn’t care for the choice.

With a struggling defense and a strong offense, why not put your best unit on the field to open the game? Yes, it’s convention to defer your choice until the second half, taking the ball to open the third quarter.

But … Just as Oregon Ducks and USC Trojans had done before them, the Arizona State Sun Devils took the opening kickoff, and marched smartly down the field for a touchdown.

So … For the third straight game, the Buffs were behind 7-0 before Shedeur Sanders and the Buff offense was able to take their first snap.

For a team which had come into the game being out-scored 41-21 in the first quarter of the first five games (and 104-58 in the first half), perhaps allowing the opposition to take the ball to open the game isn’t such a great idea.

Just sayin’ …

When CU’s first offensive series went …  intentional grounding …  incompletion … sack, Buff fans could have been forgiven for believing the 2022 Buffs had reappeared, and that CU was well on its way to a third straight defeat.

Instead of folding, though, the Buffs fought back. The defense forced a three-and-out on ASU’s second possession, with the offense taking off on a 16-play, 75-yard drive to tie the score.

The Sun Devils turned up the heat again in the second quarter, taking a 14-7 lead on a Cameron Scattebo run. Again the Buffs had an answer, with Shedeur Sanders scoring on a 16-yard run in the final minute before the break.

The Buffs had their fans pulling their hair out yet again, though, on the ensuing kickoff, when a silly penalty gave the Sun Devils a free 15 yards to start their drive. Rather than being content to take a tie game into the locker room, the ASU offense needed only 50 seconds to cover 47 yards to take a 17-14 lead into halftime with a 33-yard field goal.

After a scoreless third quarter, the Buffs took their first lead of the game in the first minute of the fourth quarter on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Shedeur Sanders to this week’s star … Javon Antonio.

On the ensuing possession, the Sun Devils were about to retake the momentum, catching the Buffs on a line switch on a fourth-and-three. Instead, the ASU right tackle moved before the snap, making it fourth-and-eight, giving the ball right back to the Buffs.

Xavier Weaver looked to blow the game open with a 51-yard punt return (had Shilo Sanders bothered to block the punter, it would have been a 76-yard touchdown, and given CU its first two-score of the game), but the Buffs kept the game too close for comfort, settling for a 42-yard field goal by Alejandro Mata.

The Sun Devils then did what teams with an eight-game losing streak to FBS teams do … they drove down the field … only to miss a field goal attempt.

The Buffs then did what teams with an eight-game conference losing streak do … they failed to run out the clock, giving the Sun Devils one last chance.

Arizona State then drove down the field, scoring with less than a minute to go.

Then … the play of the game. I fully expected Arizona State to go for the two-point conversion and the lead. Kenny Dillingham has been trying everything to win games (ASU had a fake punt, an onside kick, and two halfback passes in the first half of their game against USC), and a two-point try would have made sense. The Sun Devils had a sold out crowd behind them, a temperature still in the 90s, and had a gassed Buff defense reeling.

Instead, Dillingham played for a tie, and was burned a few moments later when the ASU secondary inexplicably allowed Javon Antonio to get behind them for a 43-yard gain, setting up Mata’s heroics.

The Arizona State game was supposed to be a methodical win for the Buffs. The CU offense was coming in with confidence after its productive second half against USC. The Sun Devils had all of one win on the season, and that was a 23-20 nail-biter against a mediocre FCS team in Southern Utah.

Instead, the Buffs had to play through the stifling heat and their own mistakes to gut out a 27-24 victory.

As they did against TCU and CSU, the Buffs came through in the fourth quarter, turning a likely loss into an improbable victory.

The Buffs are now 4-2 at the midway point of the season. With four of the final six games likely to come against ranked teams, a bowl game is still not assured.

CU will continue to make its fans sweat … but will also continue to provide the Buff Nation hope, not only for this season, but for seasons to come.

And no one knows this better than Coach Prime himself.

This week, Coach Prime was not only the subject of an article in Time magazine, CU’s coach was on the cover. “The Believer: How Deion Sanders is Changing Football Forever” wasn’t just a (mostly) flattering portrait of what Coach Prime has brought to Colorado and college football, but a 1,500-word informercial for the Buffs, the University of Colorado, and Boulder.

“We’re being unapologetically who we are,” Sanders told the Time interviewer. “You can tell, by everything that we’re accomplishing right now, that we’re headed in the proper direction at a speed that is undeniably a lot more expeditious than many people would have suspected. Shoot, this is going to be good. It’s just like the trailer of a movie you’re seeing. Just wait until you see the whole dern movie.”

Can’t wait …


7 Replies to “The Heat of the Moment”

  1. Mata doesn’t miss. 45 yard range is solid for college.
    Losing Washington and Woods hurt.
    Cormani is NOT ready.
    Shilo does not tackle well (I think his dad had some words as he stopped trying to deliver blows and started trying to tackle but he is not a great tackler)
    We really miss Brown at guard. I think Prime and his staff made a mistake letting Grey and Wiley out the door.
    Other than 2016 the last 15 years of CU football would have lost this game (probably would have lost CSU as well)

    So Coach Prime has done wonders for us, I am so glad he is here and I do think we are on an upward trend. That said, I think the success this year is because of Shedeur. Without his level of talent, we lose most of the games we have played. Put Sheduer on last seasons team and they win more than 1 game. Put Sheduer on the 2017 or 2018 teams and we easily go bowling. He is a generational talent.

    Now Prime brought in a lot of the talent that is bringing the success now but what he really brought in was his son. (Hunter is pretty friggin good as well). The challenge for our long term success is can Prime recruit someone close to Sheduer (As I said before I think Sheduer is a generational talent). He doesn’t have to be as good becuase it is likely Prime will be able to recruit better lines going forward. But we MUST avoid the 20 years of ok qb play if we want to be great.

    1. I agree. What a difference a qb makes. Just look at bama, Clemson, etc.

      And that is exactly prime and co’s biggest challenge: who’s next after Shedeur?

      They’re working on that too.

      Go Buffs

  2. Winning the coin toss in all 6 games got me to thinking about the 2016 team. I can’t remember the exact details, but I think CU had a string of luck with coin tosses that season as well. Anyway, I always think of that 2016 team as dominant and taking care of business. But they weren’t. I went back to look at the scores (thanks for the archive Stuart!) and there were some of ugly wins mid-season that year too.
    Love the win, but like many others, frustrated with the Buffs not realizing their perceived potential. Shadeur was a little off all day. Think about the overthrown passes to Harrison and Miller. Shadeur makes those two throws, which he usually does, and it’s game over. The punter is properly blocked, and it’s a three touchdown lead. Like in 2016, these Buffs need to find an identity and execute on it the second half of the season. After Stanford, the rest of the season is going to be a gauntlet.
    Go Buffs.

  3. A win is a win, as much of a shit show that it was, still able to pull it out.
    I feel a lot better after watching GT & Miami afterwards. That washed away the filth from this game. Go BUFFS let’s focus on Stanford!!!!

    1. Filth? What are you talking about? Any win after the FILTH of the last 10+ years and a historically bad 2022 season is beautiful. Improvement is needed but to characterize a conference road win as filth is offensive.

      1. I’m spoiled now after 4 wins. But the OL has not improved, the mental mistakes really haven’t improved and ASU is not that good and on their 3rd QB.

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