No. 12 Oklahoma State 31, Colorado 28: Buffaloes Can't Hold on in Stillwater

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No. 12 Oklahoma State 31, Colorado 28: Buffaloes Can't Hold on in Stillwater
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

November 19th - @ Oklahoma State          #12 Oklahoma State 31, Colorado 28

For the second time in 2009, Colorado held a 14-10 halftime lead, on the road, against a ranked conference opponent. As with the Texas game in October, however, the Buffs could not hold the lead, falling 31-28 to #12 Oklahoma State. The Buffs turned four Cowboy turnovers and the poor play of backup quarterbacks into a 21-10 lead, but were unable to come away with their first road victory since 2007.

Four 15-yard penalties, missed opportunities, and a complete lack of a running game dropped the Buffs to a 3-8 season record. Oklahoma State did not complete a pass in the first half, as backup quarterback Alan Cote, substituting for the injured Zac Robinson, started 0-for-9 with an interception. Turning to third-string quarterback Brandon Weeden, the Cowboys found the spark they were looking for. Weeden went 10-for-15 for 168 yards and two touchdowns in leading the second half comeback. Colorado also played two quarterbacks, with starter Tyler Hansen missing much of the second quarter with a hand injury. Cody Hawkins was mostly effective in relief, going 7-for-11 for 69 yards, including a five-yard touchdown pass to Riar Geer just before halftime.

Even with the announcement that starting quarterback Zac Robinson would not be playing, the Thursday night nationally televised game had the look of a rout early on. Colorado opened in typically frustrating fashion, as, after a first down and a seven yard completion from Tyler Hansen to Markques Simas, the Buffs went from second-and-three to second-and-eight when freshman right tackle Bryce Givens was called for a false start. Two plays later, a four yard completion to Simas, which, but for the penalty, would have resulted in a first down, instead resulted in a fourth-and-four at the CU 32-yard line. Matt DiLallo's 35-yard punt was low, giving Oklahoma State cornerback Perrish Cox the opportunity to set up a return. Cox juked his way through several attempts at tackles, winding his way to a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Oklahoma State was without its starting quarterback, but it didn't matter. Without an offensive play from scrimmage, the Cowboys were already up, 7-0, less than three minutes into the game. Buff fans throughout the nation anxiously eyed their remote controls, as memories of the 58-0 loss to Missouri in 2008 seeped back into their collective consciousness.

When the Buffs' ensuing drive resulted in not one, but two sacks of Tyler Hansen, the rout appeared to be on. On Oklahoma State's first offensive play, though, running back Keith Toston fumbled, giving the ball back to Colorado at the OSU 47-yard line. The forced fumble by senior linebacker Marcus Burton gave the Buffs new life, and the offense responded. An eight-play drive, which included an eight yard completion from Hansen to fullback Jake Behrens on fourth-and-two at the Cowboy 39, tied the score. A 26-yard completion to Markques Simas gave the Buffs a first-and-goal at the five, where on third down Hansen hit Scotty McKnight in the back of the end zone.  Midway through the first, the Buffs had forged a tie with the No. 12 team in the nation.

Oklahoma State looked to restore order before a Senior Day crowd of 50,080, quickly driving into Colorado territory. On fourth-and-one at the Buffs' 40, though, running back Keith Toston was stopped for no gain by senior linebacker Shaun Mohler. The Buffs went backward in their next drive, though, including another sack of Tyler Hansen, and the game settled down into one of field position. Over the remainder of the first quarter and deep into the second, the teams traded punts, with Oklahoma State slowly improving its position in the process. With 8:24 left before halftime, the Cowboys took over at the Buffs' 41 yard line. Three runs by Keith Toston pushed the ball into the Colorado red zone, but there the Buffs held, forcing Oklahoma State into settling for a 30-yard field goal by Dan Bailey. 10-7, Oklahoma State.

Cody Hawkins made a surprise appearance at quarterback after the Oklahoma State kickoff. Tyler Hansen had bruised his thumb on the previous series, forcing the former Buff starter back into action. The immediate results were not promising, as two incompletions and a sack forced a quick punt back to the Cowboys. Taking over at the CU 48-yard line, it appeared that Oklahoma State was poised to turn the close game into a rout. However, backup quarterback Alex Cote, who had yet to complete a pass in the first half, finally had a ball caught. Unfortunately for Cote and the Cowboys, the player who came down with the ball was Colorado safety Anthony Perkins.

Another three-and-out by the Buffs' offense gave the Cowboys another chance to up their lead before halftime. Assisted by a roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Michael Sipili, Oklahoma State found itself back in Colorado territory. A 53-yard field goal attempt by Dan Bailey, though, was blocked by sophomore defensive end Conrad Obi, giving the Buffs one more offensive opportunity before halftime.

On his third drive at the helm of the Colorado offense, Cody Hawkins delivered. Hawkins completed a 25-yard pass to Scotty McKnight, immediately followed by a 19-yard completion to senior tight end Riar Geer. After a ten-yard completion to Will Jefferson on third-and-five gave the Buffs a first-and-goal at the OSU five yard line, the Buffs silenced the Boone Pickens Stadium crowd when Hawkins hit Riar Geer for a touchdown with 22 seconds to play before halftime.

Halftime score: Colorado 14, #12 Oklahoma State 10

 Six weeks earlier, Colorado had held a 14-10 lead at halftime as well. The site: Texas Stadium. The opponent: the No. 2 Texas Longhorns. The second half result: Texas 38, Colorado 14, as the Buffs gave up a blocked punt for a touchdown, a 92-yard interception for a touchdown, and a punt return for a touchdown.

How would the Buffs fare on the road, against another ranked opponent, with the same halftime score? ...

Oklahoma State took the second half kickoff and set off on a ten-play drive. The Buffs assisted the Cowboys when, on third-and-one, cornerback Jalil Brown was called for a personal foul away from the ball. Unable to capitalize, the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs when running back Keith Toston was stopped for a loss at the CU 32 on fourth down. Defensive end Marquez Herrod and linebacker Marcus Burton teamed up on stopping Toston for a two yard loss to give the Buffs the ball with the lead.

The Colorado offense was not able to take advantage, however, as the Buffs' first drive of the second half netted 11 yards (even with a 15-yard facemask penalty). Once again, though, the Cowboys were generous, as a short Matt DiLallo punt was fumbled by the Cowboys, recovered by Anthony Perkins at the OSU 28-yard line. The Cowboys' third turnover of the night resulted in the Buffs' third touchdown, as Tyler Hansen, back in for the Buffs, hit Marques Simas for a 28-yard score. Simas made a great adjustment on the ball, with his over-the-shoulder catch giving Colorado a 21-10 lead with 8:41 left in the third quarter.

There was a distinct nervousness in the home crowd after third-string OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden, in for the ineffective Alex Cote, threw three straight incompletions. The Buffs were now, after the Oklahoma State punt, in unfamiliar territory. Colorado had the ball, at their own 41, up two scores, midway through the third quarter.

How would the Buffs respond?

With a three-and-out. Three plays netted nine yards, and the Buffs, rather than risk a momentum shift which could come after a turnover at mid-field, punted the ball away.

The strategy was sound - but the momentum shifted anyway. Brandon Weeden, one-for-four to start the half, found his rhythm. Weeden completed three straight passes, pushing the ball into Colorado territory. There, running back Keith Toston took over. Toston, who would go over 1,000 yards on the season with his 172-yard effort on the night, scored on a 45-yard run to pull the Cowboys back to within one score. Colorado 21, Oklahoma State 17, late in the third quarter.

The Buffs did find some offensive success on their next drive, and the fourth quarter opened with Colorado facing a second-and-seven at the Oklahoma State 32-yard line. Two incompletions later, Aric Goodman was sent in to give the Buffs a seven point lead. Goodman's 49-yard attempt, though, hit the right upright (if there is a record for this category, Goodman almost certainly must own it). Once again, it appeared that the momentum shift had gone away from the Buffs, but on the very next play, OSU running back Kendall Hunter fumbled. The fourth Cowboy turnover of the night, forced by Michael Sipili and recovered by Will Pericak, set up the Buffs at the Oklahoma State 36 yard line.

Colorado, as had been the case during the frustration which was the 2009 season, was not able to take advantage. A false start by Bryce Givens turned a third-and-five into a third-and-ten, with an eight yard completion from Hansen to McKnight leaving the Buffs with a fourth-and-two at the Oklahoma State 28. Eschewing a 45-yard field goal attempt moments after Goodman's 49-yard effort had failed, the Buffs went for the first down. The Buffs tried a short pass, but the Cowboys were sitting on the short routes, and Hansen's toss to tight end Riar Geer was batted away by linebacker Daniel Booker.

Oklahoma State quickly responded to regain the lead. Aided by a personal foul penalty on senior safety Benjamin Burney, the Cowboys found themselves with a third-and-one at the CU 47. With the short distance running game not working, the Cowboys spread out to pass. The Buffs blitzed, with no one taking running back Keith Toston. An easy toss from Weeden to Toston resulted in a 47-yard score. Order had been restored:  Oklahoma State 24, Colorado 21.

Then a funny thing happened.

The Buffs responded.

Brian Lockridge, who had been stopped at the Colorado 15, 21, and 18 on his previous return attempts, returned the Oklahoma State kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to give the Buffs back the lead, 28-24. There was plenty of football yet to be played, but, with 11:11 left, Colorado had the lead.

With a possible bid to a BCS bowl in the balance, Oklahoma State set out to re-take control of the game. Converting a third-and-11 and a third-and-nine along the way, the Cowboys set off on a seven-play, 73-yard drive which consumed only three minutes of playing time. Brandon Weeden, who went 4-for-5 on the drive, hit wide receiver Justin Blackmon for a 28-yard score to give the Cowboys back the lead. With 8:11 left in the game, the scoreboard read: Oklahoma State 31, Colorado 28.

The Buffs did put togther a drive after the Blackmon score, but, on first down at the CU 49 yard line, the Buffs turned the ball over for the first time all night. A Demetrius Sumler fumble was recovered at the CU 48, and the "black out" crowd at OSU (the Cowboys wore all black uniforms for the first time since 1994) breathed a sigh of relief. Three runs, though, netted nine yards. On fourth-and-one at the Colorado 39, quarterback Brandon Weeden was stopped for a three yard loss by sophomore linebacker Tyler Ahles - the third time in the game the Colorado defense had stuffed the Cowboys on fourth down.

One last chance for the Buffs. Colorado took over at its own 42, with 3:14 left to play and all three time outs.

Three incompletions later, the Buffs punted.

Hoping to stop an Oklahoma State rushing attack which would post 232 yards in the game, the Colorado offense never saw the field again. The Cowboys never even saw a third down until the final play of the game, running up the middle to preserve the win.

Final score:  #12 Oklahoma State 31, Colorado 28.

"Those guys shouldn't hang there heads," said Dan Hawkins of his 3-8 Buffs. "They battled, and they brought it like a good football team's supposed to, and they did everything they're supposed to do ... They did everything right. They've got nothing to hang their head about that way." Hawkins also talked about how much he loved the players, their intensity, and how they competed. He said everything ... except that coaching, a lack of discipline (four 15-yard penalties, 80 yards in penalties overall), and poor playing calling may have played a role.

The rushing game for Colorado was all but abandoned against Oklahoma State. The Buffs first 13 play calls were all passes. With five sacks counting against the rushing totals, Colorado was not into positive numbers in rushing until Brian Lockridge took off on a ten-yard run on the second-to-last play of the third quarter. For the game, Colorado netted 13 yards rushing on 22 attempts. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, did not complete a pass in the first half, but did, behind third-string quarterback Brandon Weeden, end the night with 168 yards passing to complement their 232 yards rushing.

Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins both had their moments. Hansen finished with 169 yards passing on 23-of-36 attempts, with two touchdowns. Cody Hawkins, in relief, hit on 7-of-11 for 69 yards and one score. Neither Colorado quarterback threw an interception. "It's real frustrating," said Hansen of the Buffs' near miss in Stillwater. "Some of it's experience, some of it's people doubting themselves because of what has happened in the past."

And what of the main topic of conversation revolving around the Colorado football program - the future of head coach Dan Hawkins? "We always hear that Coach Hawkins is solid right now and his job is pretty certain, and he's going to be here", said Tyler Hansen. "We're playing for ourselves and for the team and for some pride right now." Pride was also the word of choice for running back Brian Lockridge, whose 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the first for Colorado since Josh Smith scored in a similar fashion in the 2008 opener against Colorado State. "Even though we're not getting the wins, we still have plenty of pride," said Lockridge. "We still want to go out there and perform at a high level. We want to do our best and play to win."

At 3-8, with a chance at a bowl bid - a source of conversation just a week ago - now long gone, all the Buffs have left in the 2009 season is the rivalry game against Nebraska. Colorado will have two extra days to prepare for the Cornhuskers, who face Kansas State in a de facto Big 12 North title game on Saturday. The Buffs will finish the year at either 3-9 or 4-8. Not much difference to those outside of Boulder. The nation's attention hasn't focused on Colorado in over four years. Colorado - another losing season. One game won't make that much difference.

When there is nothing else left to play for, pride has to take the leading role ...

Game Notes -

- Junior college transfer wide receiver Andre Simmons started his first game at Colorado.

- The linebacking crew had a new look. Out were usual starters Jeff Smart (pinched nerve) and B.J. Beatty (concussion), replaced by Shaun Mohler and Tyler Ahles. Both Mohler and Ahles contributed fourth down stops during the game.

- Senior punter Matt DiLallo had ten punts on the night, the most for Colorado since punting 11 times in the 55-10 loss to Missouri in 2007.

- Wide receiver Markques Simas tied two school records on the night, and came up just short of a third. The sophomore wide receiver had 11 catches against Oklahoma State, tying a school record held by three others (including Scotty McKnight, who had 11 catches earlier in 2009, against Toledo). Simas also collected at least seven catches for the third straight game, only the fourth Buff to pull off that feat - latest: D.J. Hackett in 2003). The record almost had was a third consecutive game with over 100 yards - Simas fell just short, gaining 90 yards in the game.

- Scotty McKnight, who had seven catches for 71 yards, moved into second place on the all-time receptions list, with his 158 career catches passing the 152 catches by Phil Savoy (1994-97). Only Michael Westbrook, with 167, had more. With 69 catches on the season, McKnight has the opportunity, with one game to play, to set the all-time single season record. Only Michael Westbrook's 76, in 1992, and D.J. Hackett's 78, in 2003, are ahead of McKnight's 69.

- Think the Colorado defense wore down in the second half? The numbers bear that out. Oklahoma State's total yardage increased each quarter, going from 48 to 78 to 111 to 163. Time of possession also shifted throughout the game. Colorado's time of possession, by quarter:  9:44; 8:11; 7:09; and, in the decisive fourth quarter, 5:19. Oklahoma State started the game 0-for-8 on third down conversion attempts, but finished 5-of-15, meaning the Cowboys were successful on five of their last seven third down attempts.

- Running back Rodney Stewart had only 21 yards rushing against Oklahoma State, but his new career total of 1,316 moves him up two spots on the career chart, to No. 32, passing Erich Kissick, 1,297, 1986-89) and John Tarver (1,300, 1970-71).

- Quarterback Tyler Hansen had 169 yards passing against the Cowboys, moving the sophomore into the top 20 in career passing yards. Hansen now has 1,640 career yards, passing Sal Aunese (1,526, 1987-88) and Robert Hodge (1,554, 2001-02).

If you are going to win only one game ...

Bill McCartney and I have at least one thing in common.

Both of us came to Boulder in the early 1980's wondering, "Who is Colorado's rival?".

McCartney came to Colorado from Michigan, where the Wolverines had multiple rivals, including Michigan State, Notre Dame, and, of course, Ohio State. The Buffs, when McCartney came to Boulder in 1982, were lacking in that department. Colorado had not played Colorado State since 1958, and was still a year removed from the state legislature mandated renewal of the rivalry. Colorado had beaten Nebraska only once in 20 years, and was on a 14-game losing streak to the Cornhuskers (with exactly zero of those games being within two scores at the final gun). The Buffs final game of the season was usually against hapless Kansas State. Colorado had a successful college football history - but no rival.

I was in a similar quandry when I arrived in Boulder. Growing up in Bozeman, Montana, home of Montana State, there was no question who was the rival - Montana. The Bobcat/Grizzly game was always a war, and for the better part of my formative years, the Bobcats were on the winning side. MSU won seven of ten games in the 1970's, and the most successful decade in school history included a Division II national champioship in 1976. To the winner of the "Brawl of the Wild" (a more recent moniker which has yet to really catch on) got the spoils. Some of my favorite early sports memories involve calling out "Pooooooor Griz-zlies! Poooooooor Griz-zlies!" at football and basketball games when the results were no longer in doubt.

So it was surprising to me that Colorado did not really have a rival.

Of course, Bill McCartney changed all that, nominating Nebraska as Colorado's rival, and spending the better part of his 13-year stint as the Buffs' head coach trying to raise the bar in Boulder to the level seen for decades in Lincoln. It is safe to say that, if it were not for McCartney's challenge, Colorado would not be playing Nebraska the last regular game of every season, which has been the case since the Big 12 was formed in 1996.

Which brings us back to 2009. Nebraska and its fans, taking the lead of former head coach Tom Osborne, refuse to acknowledge Colorado as its rival. Still, the Buffs have won four games against the Cornhuskers this decade, the best ten year span for the program since the Buffs went 6-3-1 against the Cornhuskers in the 1950's. Colorado fans see red when Nebraska comes to Boulder, and the Buffs would like nothing more than to derail the Cornhuskers' season with a victory next week.

Would a win over hated Nebraska be enough to save Dan Hawkins' job. Now 16-32, Hawkins is setting all kinds of records at Colorado - all bad. Over the past two seasons, Colorado has lost more consecutive road games - and more consecutive conference road games - than any other team in Colorado history. The Buffs are awful against teams in the Big 12 North (1-2 against Kansas; 1-2 against Kansas State; 0-3 against Missouri; 1-2 against Iowa State; 1-1 against Nebraska) - in an era when the Big 12 North is down. (Anyone want to pit the Buff teams from the late 80's to mid-90's against the North teams of today? No question: Colorado would be a regular in the title game).

When Colorado was ahead of Oklahoma State - a ranked team, on the road - there were signs of what could be. The defense (granted, it was against backup quarterbacks) was playing well, while the offense showed glimmers of possibility. Then penalties, missed opportunities, and poor play calling shook us back into reality.

Another loss. 3-8.

Would a win over Nebraska mean that all is forgiven? ESPN's Chris Fowler, a CU alumnus who was calling the Oklahoma State game said, both at the beginning and at the end of the game, that "the money is there" for a Dan Hawkins' buyout. With the loss to the Cowboys, even the defenders of the program are growing silent.

But ....

Never underestimate the power of a win over a hated rival.

Back to Montana State/Montana. By the time Sonny Lubick left (yes, that Sonny Lubick) after the 1981 season, the Bobcats had fallen on hard times. Doug Graber lasted a year as head coach, with assistant Dave Arnold taking over in 1983.

Dave Arnold went 1-10 as Montana State's head coach in 1983, the worst record for the Bobcats since the 1969 team went 1-8.

But Arnold kept his job.

His one win? You guessed it. Over Montana. The Bobcats, who were held under 20 points by every other team on the 1983 schedule (and who didn't score a touchdown in five of those games, averaging less than ten points per game on the season), beat the Grizzlies, 28-8.

Dave Arnold kept his job.

And, for you Dan Hawkins' loyalists still out there, I give you this happy ending ...

In 1984, a year after going 1-10, head coach Dave Arnold led the Bobcats to a 12-2 record - and the Division 1-AA national championship.

So, coach Hawkins, if you are going to win only one game ...

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