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Plati-'Tudes Summer Series: 1971 Week 6

Jul 23, 2021

Welcome to a notes and comment column in its 22nd year, penned by CU Associate Athletic Director David Plati, who is wrapping up his 37th year as the Buffaloes' director of sports information.

Plati-'Tudes No. 141 ... The sixth installment in a 12-game series in marking the 50th anniversary of CU's 1971 season, when the Buffaloes finished 10-2, won the Bluebonnet Bowl to finish third in the nation behind Nebraska and Oklahoma, the only teams that bested CU that fall.  The Buffs opened 5-0 with wins over No. 9 LSU, No. 6 Ohio State and Iowa State on the road and home victories over Wyoming and Kansas State.  For game six, CU remained on the road with a key game at No. 2 Oklahoma.

1971 Game 6: Oklahoma 45, Colorado 17  
Two previous times in its history, Colorado opened a season 5-0 with the sixth game against Oklahoma.  In 1955, the Sooners won in Norman, 56-21, over the No. 14 Buffaloes, and in 1958, OU prevailed in Boulder, 23-7, over the ninth-ranked Bison.   With CU 5-0 at this juncture in 1971 and ranked No. 5, would the proverbial third time be the charm?

Unfortunately, no.  As the late Fred Casotti noted in his 1979 book The Golden Buffaloes, "As in the days of old this undefeated and ranked CU team went to Norman full of hope.  And as in the days of yore, hope was not enough.  There was simply too much Sooner speed and Oklahoma broke it open early to win, 45-17."  Now that had to be something to see, since opponent coaches had been raving about CU's speed all over the field.

Oklahoma's offense was simply too much for the Buffs, as the Sooners ran 78 plays for 670 yards, which computed to 8.6 yards per play.  That was inflated a bit by three scoring plays in excess of 50 yards, two of which surprisingly came via the pass, not an OU staple at the time, of 54 and 68 yards, and one rushing TD of 66 yards.  Oklahoma still averaged 6.4 yards on the other 75 plays.   Two of those long gainers came in the first nine minutes of the game; despite the Buffs holding a slight edge in plays, OU scored first on a 66-yard TD run around the left side by Greg Pruitt, and one series later, Jack Mildren hit Jon Harrison over the middle for a 54-yard score and at 14-0, OU never looked back.  It worked to a 24-0 lead at halftime.

Not that the Buffs with their potent offense, didn't throw a brief scare into the Sooners and their 61,826 faithful in attendance that afternoon.  CU scored on the first three of its second half possessions, as the Buffs got on the board a little over two minutes in on a Ken Johnson-to-Willie Nichols pass play that covered 64 yards.  The drive took just two plays, as Glenn Bailey recovered a Pruitt fumble at the CU 31 that ended the Sooner threat; Pruitt would atone for the miscue on OU's next possession, as he scampered 14 yards for a TD to finish off a nine-play drive.  

The Buffs answered right back, with Charlie Davis running it in for a score from 16 yards out.  After CU 's defense held OU to three-and-out for the first time all game, following a short punt into the wind, nine plays later J.B. Dean connected on a 32-yard field goal and lo and behold, the Sooner lead was cut to 31-17.

CU's defense had come alive, but on a 2nd-and-12 from the OU 32, Mildren found a wide open Joe Wylie near the left sideline, and needed just one block to race 68 yards for a touchdown that took the wind out of CU's sails.   A John Stearns punt into the fierce winds, at that point gusting to 25 miles per hour, traveled only 14 yards and three plays later the Sooners added the game's final points.

Frank Boggs, who at the time was writing for the Daily Oklahoman before moving on to the Colorado Springs Sun, had the assignment of covering Colorado postgame.   His opening graph:

"In the Colorado locker room a guy who should have known better asked of Edward Crowder (sic: his first name was Edwin): 'How ya doing'?  It compares with other thoughtful questions over the years, like asking one of the fellows who jumped off the Titanic if the water felt cold.  'Terrible,' said the Colorado coach while buttoning up his shirt and his temper.  'The worst I've ever felt.  Our ball club was terrible.  They had 700 yards against us.'"  Eddie eventually cooled off and later would still admit that CU "is a good football team" and went on to compliment Oklahoma, his alma mater.

The 670 yards of offense set a school record for the Sooners, besting the 664 they gained against Oklahoma State in a 73-12 win in 1946.  That record lasted for seven days, until the OU rolled up 758 yards against Kansas State the next Saturday.  That record would last until the infamous 82-42 win over the Buffs in Boulder on Oct. 4, 1980, when Oklahoma amassed 875 overall in one of the wildest games in college football history at the time.

While OU had a huge edge in plays (78-51), Colorado did average a healthy 6.4 per when it was on offense.  Davis picked up 77 yards and his touchdown on just 12 carries, and Johnson averaged over 17 yards per completion (14-of-33 for 241 yards).  Nichols hauled in two of those for 78 yards.  OU kept CU speedster, Cliff Branch, in check, limiting him to four touches (three receptions for 41 yards and one rush for 16 – but froze him out of the return game).  Pruitt was one of many offensive stars for OU, gaining 190 yard on 14 tries.  Mildren was 3-of-4 for 152 yards and the two TDs. 

Linebackers Randy Geist topped the tackle chart for the Buffs, registering 18 (17 of which were assists) while Billie Drake added 15 (five solo) with tackles Mark Cooney and Bud Magrum securing 12 stops each.  All things considered, it could have been worse for the Buffs as Oklahoma fumbled six times, with CU recovering five.  

Lucious Selmon sacked Johnson three times to star on defense for the Sooners.  Crowder summed it up, well, with fruit: "They start eight seniors on defense and they've played against superior opposition.  Golly peach they are really good defensively!"  (Never heard "golly peach" before, but there it was in the Daily Oklahoman.)

Oklahoma would go on to finish 11-1 on the year (6-1 in the Big Eight), with its only loss to No. 1 Nebraska at home, 35-31, on Thanksgiving Day in what became known as the "Game of the Century."  The Sooners remained No. 2 throughout the remainder of the year, which they capped with a 40-22 win over No. 5 Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.  The week after OU defeated CU, it dismantled Kansas State in Manhattan, 75-28.  In amassing the 785 yards of total offense against the Wildcats, 711 of those came on the ground, "dwarfing" the 498 the Sooners had against the Buffaloes (K-State actually scored first, but then saw Oklahoma go on a roll, working to a 51-14 lead less than three minutes into the second half).

Colorado, now 5-1, returned home to face Missouri in the school's annual homecoming game.   The Tigers were 1-5 (0-2 Big Eight), making their second trip to the state after losing to Air Force, 7-6, a little over a month earlier.  Their win was a 24-12 win over SMU at home, otherwise they were coming to Boulder struggling on offense, having scored just 28 points in the five losses including being shutout twice, by Stanford (19-0) and Nebraska (36-0).  Oklahoma State knocked MU around in their last game, 37-16.  CU and Mizzou had split the last four games, each defending their home turf; CU's 31-24 win in 1969 was costly, as it would be MU's lone league loss and forced them to share the title with Nebraska and knocked the Tigers nine spots down in the rankings (from No. 5 to No. 14) and possibly a shot at the national title. 

NOTE: The fourth time actually was the charm, as an undefeated CU team finally kept its season undefeated streak going against the Sooners in 1989, when the 8-0 Buffs (ranked No. 3) went into Norman and left with a 20-3 win.  In 1992, a 5-0 CU squad (No. 7) tied OU in Boulder, 24-24; in 1994, the 5-0 Buffs (No. 4) routed OU in Boulder, 45-7; in 1995, CU, 4-0 and No. 7, bested the No. 10 Sooners in Norman, 38-17 with John Hessler coming off the bench to throw a then-record five TD passes in what became known as the "asterisk" game; and in 1998, CU, again 4-0 and ranked 15th, won in Norman again, 27-25 (the last time the Buffs entered a game against the Sooners undefeated).

This P-'Tudes Number: 100                    
Largely due to COVID and all the restrictions, the men's golf program at Colorado turned 100 this past spring; the furthest back in history through yearbooks indicates the first team was in the spring of 2021.  The first head coach of the program, Joe Mills, wrote the summary in the yearbook (the '22 Coloradan).  Hard to tell how matches were scored, but CU beat Colorado Mines, 3-0 at Boulder Country Club (which was then located where Flatirons is now), and then defeated Colorado College, 5-3, at Lakewood Country Club.  CU then won the Rocky Mountain Conference title by defeating both in a triangular meet, also at Lakewood C.C. (CU 12, CSM 10, CC 10).

"Plati-'Tudes" features notes and stories that may not get much play from the mainstream media; offers Plati's or CU's take on issues raised by those who have an interest in the program; answers questions and concerns; and provides CU's point of view if we should disagree with what may have been written or broadcast.   Have a question or want to know CU's take on something?  E-mail Dave at, and the subject may appear in the next Plati-'Tudes.