BOULDER, Colo. — Colorado ran Nebraska's national championship hopes into the ground Friday with a performance that showed the Buffaloes are no longer waiting for a return to dominance.
The No. 14 Buffaloes stunned the second-ranked Huskers with a 62-36 stomping that scrambled Nebraska's bid for a perfect season. Instead of playing in the Big 12 Conference championship game next week, the Huskers will be home, watching on television. The same will be true Jan. 3, when two teams meet in the Rose Bowl to play for the national championship.
The Huskers-ranked No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings-had the inside track on being one of those two teams in Pasadena. But those dreams unraveled in the merciless assault Colorado unleashed on Nebraska.
The Buffaloes' 62 points were the most scored against a Nebraska team, and their 380 rushing yards and 582 total yards were the most allowed this season by a Husker defense that had played with distinction in the first 11 victories of the 2001 season.
"This is a terrible feeling because we had played so well for 11 games," Nebraska defensive tackle Jeremy Slechta said. "We had given up so few points all year and to give up 62, it's disappointing. They played great and we played like crap."
Some of Slechta's teammates struggled for ways to adequately describe the shock of watching Colorado run at will against a Nebraska defense that came into the game sixth nationally in total defense. Colorado running back Chris Brown scored a school-record six touchdowns, more points than the nation's second-stingiest scoring defense had allowed to any of its previous 11 opponents.
Brown finished with 198 yards, the fourth-best, one-game rushing performance against a Nebraska defense. Teammate Bobby Purify added 155 yards-he also had a 78-yard run nullified by a holding penalty-for the 11th-best, one-game rushing effort against the Huskers.
What the numbers don't fully show is the ease at which Colorado rubbed Nebraska's defensive pride into the Folsom Field turf to lock up the North Division's spot in the Big 12 title game.
"It was easy," Brown said. "The holes were huge. The first guy I'd usually run into was a safety. And their safeties were scared to come straight up and tackle me. Definitely, they didn't expect us to come out and play the way we did. I think they were overconfident.
"They're used to coming in here and whipping us every year, but it was a different story today."
Colorado had lost the last nine times it had played Nebraska, the last five defeats coming by a total of 15 points. The last two games were decided on the last play, with Eric Crouch scoring a touchdown in overtime for a 33-30 Nebraska win in 1999 and Josh Brown kicking a field goal last season to give the Huskers a 34-32 win.
The latter decision finished off a 3-8 season for Colorado, hardly what the CU faithful had in mind when Gary Barnett took over the program in 1999 and promised a "return to dominance."
Based on Friday's outcome, which came before the third-largest crowd (53,790) in Colorado history, the Buffaloes have accomplished Barnett's mission. Colorado will take a 9-2 record to the Big 12 championship game as the North Division's representative.
"Obviously, we're pretty excited about going to Dallas," Barnett said. "I'm really proud of these guys and the way they hung together and what they've been able to overcome. We're a pretty good team, and sort of showed it tonight."
There was nothing "sort of" about Colorado's performance as the Buffaloes built a 35-3 lead 18 minutes into the game. Nebraska slowly clawed its way back into the game, closing to within 12 points on Crouch's touchdown run with 4:17 left in the third quarter.
"I thought there was a period of time in the second half where we kept whittling away at them and we got back within 12 points," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "At that point in time, I felt like we had a chance to win this football game. But that did not materialize for a number of reasons."
The biggest turned out to be Nebraska's inability to stop Brown, Purify and Co. After Crouch's touchdown, Nebraska forced a three-and-out and took possession after a short punt at the Buffaloes' 41-yard line. If the Huskers could have punched in another touchdown, they might have gotten the Buffaloes on the run.
Instead, Nebraska's offense went three-and-out and, after a Kyle Larson punt pinned Colorado deep in its territory, the defense surrendered 93 yards on what proved to be the decisive drive of the game. Quarterback Bobby Pesavento, Colorado's backup until an injury sidelined Craig Ochs earlier this season, started the drive with a 22-yard scramble to the Buffaloes' 29-yard line.
Brown followed with a 12-yard run and Purify ripped off 18 more on the next play. When the Colorado drive was in danger of stalling, Nebraska got called for a pass interference and a defensive holding penalty. Brown eventually crashed over from the 1, igniting a 20-point final-quarter spurt that left the Huskers humbled.
"They gashed us," said Craig Bohl, Nebraska's defensive coordinator. "This is obviously one of the worst days that we've had."
Colorado's 380-yard rushing day was the most yards gained against Nebraska since Oklahoma popped the Huskers for 419 in 1987. Again, the Buffaloes' performance was shocking in the simplicity of the effort.
"It wasn't anything exotic," Barnett said. "We felt like no one had come at them, come out and lined up and run at them all year. That's what we were going to do."
Several Colorado players said the Buffaloes ran only three or four basic plays at the Huskers. To that, Barnett credited his offensive line.
"When I watched those guys and the way they were blocking play after play, it was just incredible," Barnett said. "I don't know that I've seen a more dominant performance by a team at CU than that offensive line."
While conceding that Colorado's offensive execution was above average, Nebraska's defensive personnel blamed themselves for their demise.
"They just beat us because we had missed assignments and missed tackles," Slechta said.
Said Bohl: "They had a good plan, but we were just not physical enough. We got knocked off the ball and then we got drug and we missed many, many tackles."
Nebraska made Colorado miss enough to pile up 552 yards, with Crouch setting a school record for total offense by rushing for 162 yards and passing for 198. Nebraska rushed for 354 yards, and averaged 7.2 yards per play to Colorado's whopping 8.2-yard average.
"I was proud of the way Eric hung in there and played as the game went along," Solich said. "Eventually, his big-play potential really showed. He's the leader of the offense, and the offense did a great job of mounting comeback after comeback. He was the catalyst of that."
But it took Crouch and the offense a while to get started. Nebraska's first six possessions ended with three punts, a fumble, a failed fourth-down play and a 27-yard field goal by Josh Brown.
Colorado's first six possessions ended with touchdown (Purify's 39-yard run), touchdown (Daniel Graham's 21-yard pass from Pesavento), punt, touchdown (Pesavento's 1-yard run), touchdown (Brown's 12-yard run), touchdown (Brown's 1-yard run).
That left Nebraska staring at a 35-3 deficit with 12:21 still to play in the second quarter. Colorado later would score again, on a 36-yard run by Brown, to make it the worst half of Nebraska football in terms of points allowed.
"The score should have been much closer," Solich said. "When you let things get out of hand, some of it comes back to turnovers and some of it comes back to trying to play catch-up all day. That's what we were forced to do. When you're trying to come back for three quarters of the game, it's probably going to come back and bite you."
Nebraska managed to close its deficit to 42-23 at the half. Crouch directed scoring drives that ended with touchdown runs of 24 yards by Steve Kriewald and 32 and 2 yards by Dahrran Diedrick. Nebraska then opened the second half by driving from its 28 to the Colorado 1, where it lost the ball on Diedrick's fumble.
Nebraska managed to score on its next possession but the turnover cost the Huskers valuable time. Colorado then salted away the victory by intercepting Crouch twice in the fourth quarter, scoring after each turnover.
"This is pretty much a nightmare for us," Crouch said. "They played a great game, offensively and defensively. They really put it to us. Colorado took care of the football and didn't make mistakes. We made some mistakes that really hurt us.
"This is a big shock. It's tough to talk about because this never happens to us. I can't remember the last time someone put up that many points against us."
No one else can, either.
|Yards per carry||7.3||7.2|
Nebraska is 49-19 all-time against Colorado.
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Sept. 1|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 8|
|Iowa State||Oct. 6|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 3|
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