Ever get the feeling you've seen something before?
For any of the 39,666 in attendance at Folsom Field on Saturday night, it was hard to ignore the strong scent of deja-vu in the air. For the second time in three weeks, the Buffs were playing a home night game on national television against a conference opponent who had started out the season in the top 25 only to underperform in the early part of the season. Once again, the Buffs were underdogs, but only by about a touchdown, and many people both inside and outside the program thought an upset was possible. The main difference was the mood in the stadium.
Two weeks ago, the Buffs were riding a three game winning streak, and the hype in Boulder was about as high as it's been in half a decade. Oregon was coming off a crushing home loss to Utah, and there seemed to be a sense that the moment had finally come for CU to take a step onto the national stage. By Saturday night, the circumstances had changed. The Buffs were now 3-3, with their hopes for a bowl bid slipping away. Instead of "Man, how cool would it be if the Buffs won this game?", the line I heard most often before kickoff was "Man, the Buffs need this game."
Despite all the rain, the atmosphere before Oregon could have been described as "festive". I wouldn't use that word in reference to Saturday night, despite the fact that quite a few people in the student section had obviously prepared to have a good time by drinking all day. With no hourlong rain delay before the game and homecoming tailgates all across campus, the crowd was much smaller at kickoff than it was against Oregon. I had hoped for a larger turnout at kickoff, but I can't really be too angry about it. By the start of the second quarter the student section had reached about 90% of the size it was against Oregon, which was about what I had expected with the nice weather on Saturday night.
Overall, the crowd was 6500 people smaller than two weeks ago, but it was still the largest crowd for any game against someone other than Oregon since 2012. The nearly 40,000 fans were just as hungry for a win as the crowd two weeks ago; possibly even more so. There was no pregame weirdness, and Ralphie led the team onto the field in their all-silver uniforms right at 7 o'clock. The crowd wasn't quite as large, the television network and opponent didn't have quite as much cachet, but the opportunity was still there for the Buffs to grab their biggest victory in years and turn a major corner for the program. Then the game started, and all those hopes appeared to be almost instantly dashed.
Yet again, the Buffs were unable to start the game on anything resembling the right foot. Before five and a half minutes of clock had run, it was 10-0 Arizona, and the air had already been sucked out of the stadium. Students were still streaming in and it felt like the game was in danger of being over. Luckily, Folsom was brought back to life on Sefo Liufau's beautiful touchdown pass to Shay Fields, and the crowd remained engaged for the rest of the game until the final five minutes. At halftime, with the score once again 17-17, the sense of deja vu got even stronger. Here the Buffs had a chance to create a different ending to the exact same script we had seen two weeks ago, as well as several times in 2014.
At first, it seemed like this time really was going to be different. Instead of going three-and-out as they had against Oregon, the Buffs marched right down the field and scored to go up 24-17. That was the moment when I bought in. Against Oregon I never really felt like the Buffs were going to win the game, but for the entirety of the third quarter against Arizona I absolutely did. I can't speak for anyone else, but when you get your expectations up like that it makes a loss even more crushing, and last night's result hurt far more than Oregon did. Watching the offense stall on drive after drive was agonizing, and everyone in the stadium seemed to sense that the defense wasn't going to be able to hold Arizona forever. It was torture to watch 17 Arizona points become 24, 31 and eventually 38.
When the final U of A touchdown was scored, most of the student section left. Again, it's difficult for me to blame them. While they missed a CU touchdown and an outside chance at tying the game in the final seconds, the result of the game was the same as they thought it was going to be when they left. The Buffs have proven that they can stick with teams, and that has prevented people from leaving in the third quarter like they used to, but they're going to have to prove that they can actually win before they can expect people to stay for a two-possession game late in the fourth quarter.
If the word "dang" could accurately be used to sum up the reaction to the Oregon game, an expletive would be required to describe the reaction I heard after this one. The Buffs needed to win this game. They should have won this game. And they didn't. It's that simple. Not only that, but a coach's guarantee of a victory followed by yet another loss adds a touch of betrayal to the disappointment and anger. I'm not one to take something said at a pep rally too seriously, but others might not have such a favorable view of it.
Amidst all the frustration, there is one incident from the game that I'd like to address. I was standing with some friends in the tenth row of the student section for this game instead of up front, and with roughly four minutes remaining in the second quarter I saw several bags of marshmallows emerge out of nowhere and fly into the crowd. I have no idea where they came from. It could have been magic or an act of God. Now, all the rumors I had heard had stated that any marshmallow fight was due to happen at halftime, so I can't say how or why the bags were released when they were. Either way, it was the first marshmallow fight at Folsom Field in over ten years.
Unfortunately, some students decided to throw marshmallows at the field instead of at each other. This made security very angry, and they made the first 20 or so rows of the student section sit down. A few marshmallows made it onto the playing surface, but there was no warning from the public address announcer and no one (as far as I saw) was ejected.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind CU students that just because you have something in your hand does not mean you are required to throw it in the direction of the field. I know we have a long, (proud?) tradition of doing this at our school, but you are not obligated to take part in it. Just like the team, the student section is making progress, but we still have a long way to go to get to where we want to be, and hurling things onto the field doesn't help. Near the end of the game I saw something (I couldn't make out what it was) fly out of the stands and hit one of CU's assistant coaches in the head. You are literally physically hurting your own damn team when you do this. Stop it.
Unfortunately, there isn't much of a positive spin I can put on this game. Close just isn't good enough anymore, and you can't get any closer than CU was last year. The Buffs are in serious danger of having the wheels come off entirely now, and if they enter their matchup with Stanford at 3-6 there won't be nearly as good of an atmosphere awaiting them. CU fans want their team to win. Badly. But they won't keep showing up indefinitely without results. The Buffs have two weeks to prove that they're still a team worth watching, or else the final two games at Folsom won't be very much fun.