After opening the 1987 season with a 3-1 nonconference record, the Buffs went to Stillwater to play the 19th-ranked Cowboys of Oklahoma State.
The average starting field position for Oklahoma State on the day was their 45-yard line, so you can guess the result. Six turnovers doomed Colorado in a 42-17 loss, leading to an 0-1 conference record.
Mark Hatcher, who returned to the starting line-up following an injury to his ankle in the Stanford game, had a particularly telling stat line: 3-of-10 passing for 35 yards and two interceptions; four carries for 14 yards.
At 3-2 overall, the ‘87 Buffs were at a crossroads. The Kansas Jayhawks were the next Colorado opponent and, at 1-4, represented easy pickings on paper. They had only managed to defeat the Salukis of Southern Illinois, 16-15, and were coming off a 54-2 thrashing at the hands of Nebraska.
Other losses had come to the likes of Kent State and Louisiana Tech. This effort had come from a Kansas team which dropped its final three games of 1986 by a combined score of 182-3.
The game looked like a mismatch.
The Buffs in the 1980s had rarely faced a game which they were supposed to win easily, especially in conference. Against Kansas, the Buffs were installed as 31-point favorites. It was time for the 1987 squad to put up or shut up.
Oct.17: Boulder, Colo.—Colorado 35, Kansas 10
Homecoming for Colorado was a win for the fourth consecutive year. The the Buffs put together a season-high (and wishbone-high) 546 yards of total offense.
As had become the pattern in 1987, a new face led the way. Sophomore fullback Erich Kissick, who had carried the ball only nine times for 26 yards on the season, lumbered for 122 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Michael Simmons, who had started the season at fullback, chipped in 41 yards and a score on 12 carries.
Quarterback Sal Aunese, returning to the starting role in place of the ineffective Mark Hatcher, posted his second 100-plus-yard passing performance. Aunese was 5-of-8 for 105 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown pass to Drew Ferrando that he didn’t complete to Ferrando.
With less than a minute to play in the first half, and the Buffs struggling to pad a 7-3 lead, Aunese threw the ball to halfback Eric Bieniemy. Bieniemy was hit from behind as he reached the Jayhawk 4-yard line. The ball popped free and rolled into the end zone. CU split-end Drew Ferrando was Johnny-on-the-spot, falling on the ball for a Colorado touchdown.
In the game statistics, Aunese was given credit for a 28-yard touchdown pass, Bieniemy was given credit for a 28-yard catch, and Ferrando was given a touchdown catch but no yardage.
Colorado’s defense also came to play.
The Jayhawks managed just over two yards per carry, compiling 84 yards on 39 attempts. Kansas did have 204 yards passing, but 98 of those came in the last minute of play, when the Colorado secondary had a mental lapse.
Up 35-3, the Buffs’ secondary allowed Jayhawk quarterback Kelly Donohoe to connect with Willie Vaughn on a 98-yard touchdown, the longest play Colorado has ever allowed (besting 95-yard touchdown passes in 1951 and 1965).
The final score, 35-10, was satisfying in part. Still, the Buffs failed to score until mid-way through the second quarter against a defense that had allowed all of its Division 1-A opponents to score on its first offensive series.
In addition, the Buffs turned the ball over three times and recovered their own fumbles three more times.
Such sloppy play was permissible against Kansas. Unfortunately, the Big Eight did not allow the Buffs to play Kansas every weekend.
Up next: Undefeated and No. 1-ranked Oklahoma.
Ralphie III had been scheduled to make her first appearance at the Kansas Homecoming game. Ralphie was given a few trial runs around Folsom Field the day before the game, but was deemed too wild to be trusted on gameday. She attended the Kansas game, but was kept in her pen.
The win against Kansas also represented the Buffs 200th win at Folsom Field. With the 35-10 triumph, CU’s record on the “hilltop” rose to 200-106-8.
(The Buffs would lose the following week to Oklahoma, 24-6, and fall to 4-3. A string of three wins, though, gave Colorado seven wins on the season, usually good enough for a bowl bid. A season-ending 24-7 loss to No. 5 Nebraska left Colorado without a bowl bid. The Buffs would not stay home again during the postseason until 1997.]