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woody paige

Huskers again go on heart attack

By Woody Paige
Denver Post Sports Columnist

Nov. 25, 2000 - LINCOLN, Neb. - The occultist villain in the Indiana Jones sequel "Temple of Doom" clutches, with outstretched fingers, the chest of a decent man and forces him to watch as his heart is wrenched out.

As the University of Colorado Buffaloes now understand.

At the end of an effulgent Friday afternoon, at the conclusion of an interminable, tormenting season, at the finish of a preposterous college football game, the hearts of the Buffs suddenly stopped pumping, started throbbing and were laid bare at Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska won over Colorado - again.

It was a heartless act.

But the Big Red-baffled Buffs were kicking themselves when a 29-yard field goal on the very last play made the score NU 34, CU 32.

Colorado missed two field-goal attempts; two others were blocked and directly led to Nebraska touchdowns; and an errant, ill-conceived squib - or was it a squid? - kickoff with 47 seconds remaining gave the Cornhuskers location, opportunity, motive and time to triumph.

The Buffs indeed are the best 3-8 team in a nation that doesn't recognize the popular vote or moral victories. "We are not losers," declared quarterback Craig Ochs. Which means absolutely nothing, except to the Buffs. "We left our hearts out there, but we still bleed black and gold," linebacker Jashon Sykes said.

CU didn't make enough points Friday, but there are points that must be made on this Saturday:

  • Gary Barnett publicly blamed himself for the defeat, and there are rumblings that the second-year Colorado coach should be dismissed. He will not be, so dismiss the thoughts, said athletic director Dick Tharp (before the Nebraska game). Nor should he be. Barnett deserves credit publicly, too, for coming so close to beating a 9-2 team - on a field where it loses once every presidential term - with a bunch of teenagers who sobbed like youngsters in the locker room afterward.

    Barnett just has to improve as his Buffs do. His decision to go for a two-point conversion and a 32-31 advantage (or certain defeat) with less than a minute was correct, and his play decision was correct. His decision to "squib" kick, rather than go deep, was inane and incorrect. And his decision then to play with a basic defense - instead of using one or two extra men in the secondary - was intolerable.

    "I feel like I let our guys down," said the coach.

    But he also got them up for a game that was inconsequential.

  • True freshman quarterback Ochs grew into a true man quarterback against the Huskers. He completed 25 of 41 passes for 254 yards, settled after being "too wired in the first quarter" and put the Buffs ahead in the final moments - which virtually never happens here - with a 15-yard touchdown fade toss and the twopoint pass in the waning seconds.

    The CU seniors, as most CU seniors before them, never beat Nebraska. When I asked Ochs whether he would vow that Colorado wouldn't fail four more consecutive seasons against the Huskers, he wouldn't bite. But he did say: "I don't want to feel like this when I'm a senior. We will have 17 returning starters (in 2001). Things are in place. We came together. I'm very excited."

  • For too long the Buffs' kicking game has been inconsistent and incompetent, if not embarrassing. They've lost the past five games to the Huskers by a total of 15 points.

    CU had five reasonable field goals Friday. The Buffaloes converted one, and two were complete disasters. They gave Nebraska the ball at its 41 for the final drive. They lost last season when a fieldgoal attempt at the end of regulation was off. Two punts Friday averaged 34 yards. Nebraska has won nine in a row primarily because the joke is on Colorado's "special" teams. The Buffaloes have been dead and kicking all year.

  • Over an extended span, Colorado won't be as potent as Nebraska. The Cornhuskers care too much and try so hard, and their fanatics are interested. But the Buffs can be as good as Nebraska occasionally - as was proven during the Bill McCartney era and could have been shown Friday. CU running back Cortlen Johnson's oft-injured toe limited him, but he still was the No. 1 rusher in the game - and Nebraska I-backs ceaselessly outrun people. Ochs almost doubled Eric Crouch's passing production, and the Buffs' offensive line was stronger than the Huskers' defensive line, which is unusual. Colorado, a 26-point underdog, was not barking or overmatched.

  • There is hope for next season with Ochs throwing and Johnson, (injured) Marcus Houston and Bobby Purify running, John Minardi and three other wide receivers and two tight ends catching and an offensive line, a defensive backfield and a linebacking corps basically back intact.

    "We can be a pretty good team," Barnett said. "We've got to figure out how to carry this (game) over to next year."

  • The opening six games of the schedule mauled CU.

  • And the last game ripped out the Buffs' most vital organ. But a broken heart can be mended.

    E-mail Woody about this column.

    Copyright 2000 The Denver Post. All rights reserved.
    This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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