The First Victory of 2011
The calendar says it is still November, 2010.
The schedule says that there are two games left for the Colorado Buffaloes as a member of the Big 12.
The 4-6 record says that Colorado is still a member of the lower echelon of major college football.
The 34-14 victory over Iowa State, however, was more than the fourth victory of the 2010 season. The win was more than the first conference win of the year. It was better than the first "W" in over a month of play.
It was the first victory of the 2011 season.
The win gives Colorado a chance to look past the last five weeks of frustrating losses, and instead start to look forward. Dan Hawkins finished his career at Boulder with a 19-39 record; interim head coach Brian Cabral started his career 1-0. Colorado played a complete game against Iowa State, with the offense, defense and even the special teams contributing.
Want to look for a hero on offense? Look no further than Cody Hawkins at quarterback. Four days after his father was fired, Cody came out and played a strong, consistent error-free game. Hawkins went 16-for-24 for 266 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Under the circumstances, it was a remarkable performance.
"I thought I was doing fine," said Hawkins about playing with Brian Cabral on the sidelines as head coach instead of his father. "Then right before I came out onto the field it hit me a little bit, and it was tough. (Offensive coordinator Eric) Kiesau asked me on the phone, 'What's wrong with you?' I was like, 'I'm just about to lose it here'. I thought the guys did a good job of rallying around."
One of the "guys" Cody Hawkins has always been able to rely on is his fellow senior Scotty McKnight. The senior tandem continues to set records, and the Iowa State game was no exception. McKnight, now of the 46 consecutive games with at least one catch, had three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown against the Cyclones. The duo of Hawkins and McKnight now have hooked up 13 times on touchdown passes, one better than the duo of Koy Detmer and Rae Carruth, who had 12 touchdowns together. McKnight also became the third player in Colorado history with 20 touchdown receptions, tying Carruth and Derek McCoy.
There is one record which McKnight might lose, though, in the next few weeks. McKnight holds the record for most receiving yards by a freshman, 488, but Paul Richardson is well on his way to setting a new standard. With his second straight 100-yard game (five catches, 121 yards), Richardson now has 442 receiving yards on the season. Richardson is already the first freshman to have two 100-yard receiving games and has three 50-plus plays this fall, the first Buff to do that since Derek McCoy in 2003.
Then there is, of course, Rodney Stewart. The junior running back was the workhorse in the victory over Iowa State, carrying the ball 36 times—the fifth-highest total for any Buff in a game in Colorado history.
"It was more of a control the clock move, and to hold onto the ball," said Stewart. "That helps us win the game, so I guess it's a good thing." Stewart's 123 yards pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, just the 14th time in school history that feat has been accomplished. Stewart is now ninth on the all-time rushing list, tying Charlie Davis for fourth on the all-time list for 100-yard games, with 13 in his career.
The all-around effort by the Buffs against the Cyclones certainly included the defense.
Colorado held Iowa State to 229 yards of total offense—a season low. On third down, the Cyclones converted just 3-of-14 attempts (0-for-10 on 3rd-and-five or longer). The Buffs sacked Cyclone quarterbacks either eight or nine times, depending on which stat sheet you go by (Curtis Cunningham chased down Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud in the second quarter, but Arnaud made it back to the line of scrimmage. The NCAA does not count the "no gain" as a sack; Colorado does). In either event, the sack total was the third most in Colorado history, and the most since Colorado had eight against Washington State in 2004.
With the sacks included, Iowa State rushed the ball 26 times against the Buffs for a minus-six yards—but even that is not the entire story.
Iowa State senior running back Alexander Robinson came into the game with great expectations, and why not? Robinson had run for over 100 yards in each of his first three games against Colorado. The senior also came into Boulder having posted 100 yards or more rushing in three consecutive games this season. All signs pointed toward a 100-yard rushing day for Robinson against Colorado on Saturday. Robinson's numbers against Colorado in 2010? Nine carries, 22 yards.
Oh, and by the way, the Colorado defense finally scored.
Held without a non-offensive touchdown all season, the Buffs finally turned the trick with linebacker Michael Sipili scoring his first career touchdown with a 45-yard fumble return in the third quarter.
"All I remember is seeing the end zone, and I had to get there," said the senior linebacker. "The crowd was going crazy. I hear Ray Polk to my right saying to pitch him the ball, but there was no way I was going to pitch it. I knew, I just had it in my mind, I was going to score."
Another unit held without a touchdown all season is the special teams. In the all-around solid effort against Iowa State, though, that almost changed as well.
Arthur Jaffee's 89-yard kickoff return started with a fake reverse and ended just nine yards short of a touchdown, but it did set up the Buffs to take the lead for good just two plays later. "We'd practiced that reverse a couple of times this week," said Jaffee. "We thought we'd have some success with it because Iowa State, they're good at reading returns. Coach Riddle wanted to give me a chance, I just took off."
It is also worth noting—very quietly—how well kicker Aric Goodman has done in the last few games. After starting the season one-for-four, Goodman has connected on seven of his last eight field goal attempts, including field goals of 24 and 39 yards against Iowa State.
Goodman's story is not unlike that of Cody Hawkins, and to a lesser extent, the entire Buff team. The Buffs have failed to meet expectations over the past five years. True, the overall talent level is down, an issue that can be laid at the feet of the departed Dan Hawkins. Still, there has been enough talent on the roster to pull off upsets of top-ranked teams and certainly enough talent to compete day-in and day-out in the Big 12 North, but the Buffs have failed to play a complete game—failed to finish—on far too many occasions.
Against Iowa State, the Buffs played a complete game, faring well on offense, defense and special teams. The last two games, the Buffs have produced 848 yards of total offense and 79 points. The last two games the opponent has held the lead for all of 1:47 in game time. But for a meltdown against Kansas in the fourth quarter, Colorado would be 5-5 and looking at playing for a bowl bid in its last two games.
But the Buffs can't change what happened in Lawrence.
The reality is that Colorado is a 4-6 team and not likely to qualify for a bowl game.
The reality is that Colorado will likely finish the 2010 season with a losing record for the fifth consecutive year.
But the past is the past. The Dan Hawkins' era in Boulder is finally over. Colorado has a multitude of talented players returning in 2011, and there is a sense of a fresh start in the locker room. "I think we just took everything that happened, everything that was said, all the negative things and we just kind of used it," said senior captain B.J. Beatty. "We just took all the frustration we had, and all the stress, and took it out today."
The 34-14 victory over Iowa State wasn't just the fourth win of an otherwise forgettable 2010 season.
It was the first victory of 2011...
Game recap, locker room quotes and CU/ISU game notes at www.cuatthegame.com