Last week CU football had about as good a week as you can have after a loss. The Buffaloes played arguably their best game of the season against UCLA, and they were going back to Boulder after a 1-1 road trip that should have been 2-0. The point spread against #9 Stanford opened at a touchdown less than it had been against #24 UCLA a week earlier. By Saturday, it had moved to -14.5, a full nine points lower. On Tuesday night, ESPN aired "The Gospel According To Mac", and it inspired the team so much that they changed their uniforms from the planned Silver/Black/Silver look to the traditional Gold/Black/Gold.
There was a sense of belief and optimism that Saturday could be the day that CU finally got that mythical Big Win that the program has been seeking for so long. I even told my parents, who hadn't been to a CU football game since 2006, that they should come on Saturday. I told them that, while CU might not win, I expected another strong performance from them and a good game. They decided to come, and they were part of a crowd of just over 40,000 that marked the largest attendance for any game not against Oregon since 2012. There would be some other things on Saturday that had not happened since 2012, but they weren't positives.
While the general public showed up in strong numbers on Saturday, the same could not be said of the students. 11AM kickoffs have always had notoriously bad student turnouts, and the beautiful weather and possibility of knocking off a top 10 team didn't seem to make much of a difference on Saturday. The turnout was better than it was for Nicholls State earlier this year, and it was better than the 11AM kick against Washington on the day after Halloween last season. Still, it was one of the weaker showings I've seen for a conference game since I've been a student.
In an attempt to entice students to get to the game early, CU offered 50 students the chance to "run with Ralphie" before the game. Students had to arrive by 10AM in order to be eligible. I live off campus in the Bear Creek apartments and I had intended to make it to the stadium by ten, but I was given a rude awakening when I realized that the Buff bus doesn't even start running until ten on Saturdays. I didn't arrive at the stadium until around 10:30, and by then it was too late. There were still some donuts left, however (another promotion intended to get the students to the game early).
Just after 11AM, Ralphie ran out of the tunnel with the team behind her, and the students followed after them. It was cool to see some people I know have that opportunity, especially those who are in their last year here after spending years being die hard fans.
Then the game started and the Buffs found themselves behind again early, but they engineered a nice response drive that woke up the crowd, which had been disappointingly quiet on the first Stanford possession. The defense came up with a big stop on 3rd down on Stanford's next possession that really brought the crowd to life, and for the first (and only) time in the game, CU got the ball with a chance to take the lead. They went three-and-out and punted. Still, the first quarter ended with the score tied at 7, and the fans gave a nice ovation when the score was announced. The game was playing out like I had expected to, and it looked like CU was going to be able to hang around.
Stanford scored another touchdown, made all the more disheartening because it came on 3rd & 18, to go up 14-7, but the Buffs engineered a good drive all the way down to the 19, before settling for a field goal attempt. When Diego Gonzalez missed from 37 yards out, I felt a lot of the air go out of the stadium. It was almost like a bad omen of things to come. Stanford scored two more unanswered touchdowns, both on fourth down plays, before the end of the half, and suddenly a close game had become a blowout at 28-7. This was the first home game since the 2013 season that I felt was over at the half. CU had done a really good job of staying with teams in their previous seven conference home games, and the feeling of a three touchdown deficit was almost foreign to me.
Also strange to me was the lack of a mass exodus at halftime from the students. It was then that I realized that this was the first time that half of the students (the Freshmen and Sophomores) had experienced this type of game. That in itself is a positive statement about the strides that the team has made over the last few seasons, but it didn't do much to make me feel better about the situation on Saturday.
The Buffs got the ball to start the second half and drove down the field again, this time to the 9 yard line, before settling for another field goal attempt. This frustrated me, and many in the crowd, because it turned a 21 point deficit into an 18 point deficit, which was still three possessions. If CU had any chance to come back, it wasn't going to be by kicking field goals. Stanford increased their advantage to 35-10 and got the ball back with a chance to end any faint hope CU might have had left, when Tedric Thompson made the most exciting play of the game, intercepting Kevin Hogan and returning the ball over 60 yards, all the way to the Stanford three yard line. The crowd rose to their feet and stayed standing, as it looked like CU was certain to get back in the game (at least mathematically) with 22 minutes still left to play.
A rush on first down lost two yards, and then the Buffs threw three consecutive incompletions to turn the ball over on downs. I was dumbfounded, and I was angry. I even heard some people booing. I might have joined them, but I was honestly numb at that point. I felt ashamed to have told my parents it was a good idea to come to this game. For the first time in almost two full seasons, the Buffs had laid an egg. They trailed (and lost) by more than three possessions at home for the first time since 2013, and they scored the fewest points at home in the entire Mike MacIntyre era. This was the worst offensive showing at home by a CU team since a 38-3 loss against Washington when Jon Embree was still the coach.
With just over eight minutes to play, I left the game. I'm not proud of it, but I'm not ashamed of it either. One of the last plays I saw was Cade Apsay throwing an interception, and that was not what I had paid to see. This was the first time I had left a game early since USC in 2013, which was the game that eliminated the four-win Buffs from bowl eligibility that year. They'll be facing that exact same prospect on Friday night when the Trojans come to town for the first time since.
CU has one more chance to get that Big Win at home. For the seniors on the team (excluding Jered Bell), it would be their first. The only conference opponent CU has defeated at home in their time here was a 2013 Cal team that didn't win a single conference game. These seniors are the last veterans of the Embree era. They've seen how bad CU football has been, and they'll have one more chance to show the fans how far it's come. As for the senior students, they're on the verge of going an entire college career without rushing the field. The last time it happened was in 2011, against Arizona.
Friday night is not the last game of the season, but it's the last chance for the team to play in front of their fans, as well as for the fans to see their team for nine-and-a-half long months. A national TV audience will be watching, and Folsom will be blacked out for the occasion. It's time for the Buffs to do what they have failed to do for so many years and seize the moment.