Plati-'Tudes Summer Series: 1971 Week 8
Welcome to a notes and comment column in its 22nd year, penned by CU Associate Athletic Director David Plati, who is beginning his 38th year as the Buffaloes' director of sports information.
Plati-'Tudes No. 143 ... The eighth 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. Colorado already had three major tests, winning two (at No. 9 LSU and at No. 6 Ohio State), with a loss at No. 2 Oklahoma. Game eight brought a road trip to No. 1 Nebraska, and while no one doubted the defending national champion Cornhuskers' ranking, this would be NU's first game against a ranked opponent that season.
1971 Game 8: Nebraska 31, Colorado 7
The first (and only) regular season televised game featuring the Buffaloes in 1971 came with the team owning a 6-1 record and No. 9 national ranking heading into a much anticipated game at undefeated (7-0) and No. 1 Nebraska. It was Keith Jackson's first year replacing Chris Schenkel on the play-by-play for ABC with Bud Wilkinson still handling analyst chores. At the time, it was just the second CU regular season game that was nationally televised (preceded by the win over Penn State the year before), the fifth national one overall including bowls, and just the 16th on the tube when including regional telecasts.
The Cornhuskers and Michigan had jockeyed most of the season a top the national defensive stats. Nebraska's 5-2 defensive front would allow just 209.4 yards over 13 games in 1971 (97.8 rushing, 111.6 passing), and that number was a little inflated after the nation's top offense, Oklahoma, managed to total 416 yards in "Game of the Century" later that season on Thanksgiving Day. So coach Eddie Crowder knew his Buffaloes had a daunting task ahead of them on offense.
And it would turn into most frustrating game for the Buffaloes, due in part to a strong Nebraska defense that bent but never broke. Six CU possessions ended in Nebraska territory: two by turnover (an interception and lost fumble), three on fourth down stops (one on a sack) and one by a punt. All six of those drives never penetrated the Nebraska red zone, in fact on the year, prior to its game against Oklahoma, NU only allowed 12 total drives to cross its 20-yard line. CU also had seven fumbles in the game, losing three, while the others stifled drives.
All that aside, the game was scoreless as neither team could do much in the first five possessions combined; but on that fifth one, CU quarterback Joe Duenas had the center snap fly out of his grasp and the Huskers snared it at the CU 16-yard line. Two plays later, Jeff Kinney scored from 11 yards out and Nebraska led, 7-0, with 2:01 left in the quarter. Less than five minutes later and following an interception thrown by Ken Johnson, NU turned that into another TD and took a 14-0 advantage at the 12:17 mark of the second quarter.
If Nebraska fans thought the rout was on at that point, it wasn't. Charlie Davis returned the kickoff 20 yards to CU's 42-yard line, and after a 1-yard gain by Davis, Johnson and Steve Mendez made good on an 18-yard pass play that set CU up at the Husker 39. Three plays later on third-and-5, Johnson found Cliff Branch for a 34-yard TD and the Buffs were on the board, down 14-7 with 10:04 to go in the half.
To Nebraska's credit, it came back with a 10-play, 75-yard march that consumed nearly five minutes, with quarterback Jerry Tagge sneaking the ball in from a yard out and the Huskers were back up by two touchdowns. The teams then traded three-and-outs, with NU pinned at its own 25 after Herb Orvis sacked Tagge for a 12-yard loss on third down. NU's punt carried just 22 yards and the Buffs appeared to be in business at NU's 47 with 2:52 remaining before halftime.
Then the backbreaker for the Buffs. Davis was stopped for a yard loss on third down, and then on a fourth-and-2 at NU's 39, Johnson tried to around the end but stumbled a bit and fell to the turf for a three-yard loss, ending the threat. In the final 83 seconds of the half, the Huskers drove to the CU 17 in eight plays and Rich Sanger's 27-yard field goal at the gun made it 24-7.
The Buffs stopped Nebraska on fourth down on the CU 22, and then both went three-and-out. CU didn't feel out of it, driving from its own 16 to the Nebraska 27, with Davis gaining the bulk of those yards with a 36-yard run. But on third and short, Duenas fumbled and NU recovered, ending that threat. CU again stopped the Corn but Branch bobbled the ball fielding the punt, and six players later Kinney took it in from the three and the icing was on the cake. CU's turnovers had led to 21 Nebraska points.
In the fourth quarter, the Buffs were stopped twice on fourth down at the Nebraska 33- and 24-yard lines.
In the end, CU had just 160 yards total offense (on 64 plays), though three Nebraska sacks added to 33 yards in losses with two CU fumbles costing the Buffs another 31 yards in losses. NU, however, didn't exactly run roughshod over the Buffs, gaining 324 on 79 attempts. Overall, defense ruled the day: of the 143 plays on offense, only 13 gained 10 or more yards. Nebraska had nine that totaled 168 yards, CU four that added to 102. The other 130 plays in the game netted just 214 yards, or 1.6 per.
One thing that didn't materialize was a battle in the return game between CU's Branch and NU's Rodgers. Branch had one kickoff return for 17 yards and one punt runback for 10; Rodgers also had one kickoff return for 17 yards and one punt return for 13, though it was him who hit Branch and recovered the ball to set up the Huskers' last score.
Billie Drake once again led the Buffs in tackles with 13 (six solo), with Randy Geist adding 12 (seven unassisted) and John Stavely was in on 10 (six solo). Orvis had seven in all, four solo including two quarterback sacks. Davis had CU's best stat line on offense, rushing 17 times for 76 yards; Kinney led Nebraska with 81 yards, but needed 27 carries to get there.
The Buffaloes would remain on the road the next week (and for the fourth time in five games) with a date against Kansas in Lawrence. The Jayhawks were 3-5 (1-3 in the conference) and coming off a 17-10 home loss to Oklahoma State. KU actually had an easier time with rival K-State than the Buffaloes did, winning 39-13, whereas CU had to hold off the Wildcats, 31-21, albeit a week after the huge win at Ohio State. But CU was taking no one lightly and were looking to rebound with a goal of its first-ever 10-win season still a possibility.
NOTE: It was Nebraska's largest margin of victory over the Buffs since a 38-13 win in Lincoln in 1965; Colorado won in its next trip there in '67 (21-16), but then the Cornhuskers would reel off 18 straight wins in the series from 1968 through 1985. Though there were many occasions where the Buffs were in position to break through, CU finally ended that run with a 20-10 win in Boulder in 1986. That victory was referred to as "The Turning Point" during Bill McCartney's 13 years as Colorado head coach.
This P-'Tudes Number: 41
Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado had an astounding 41 players named to the 1971 All-Big Eight teams (and that was when solely 11 were selected on offense and defense and no specialists). Between the AP and UPI selections, Nebraska placed 12 players on the first-team All-Big Eight team in 1971, with 19 overall honored when including the second-team and honorable mention squads. Oklahoma had nine first-team and 12 overall. Colorado had 10 players honored: three first-team selections (MG Bud Magrum, DT Herb Orvis, OT Jake Zumbach), four second-team picks (WR Cliff Branch, RB Charlie Davis, OG Bill Kracilek, DT Carl Taibi) and three honorable mention performers (QB Ken Johnson, DE John Stavely, RB John Tarver).
"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 email@example.com, and the subject may appear in the next Plati-'Tudes.