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Plati-'Tudes Summer Series: 1971 Week 9

Aug 12, 2021

Welcome to a notes and comment column in its 22nd year, penned by CU Associate Athletic Director David Plati, who is now in his 38th year as the Buffaloes' director of sports information.

Plati-'Tudes No. 144 ... The ninth 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.  Through eight games, the Buffs were 6-2 and had split four games against teams ranked in the top 10, all on the road (wins at No. 9 LSU and at No. 6 Ohio State; losses at No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 1 Nebraska).  Up next was a road trip to Kansas, CU's sixth road game of the season; no doubt the well-traveled Buffs were looking forward to the last two games of the season set for the friendly confines of Folsom Field.

1971 Game 9: Colorado 35, Kansas 14  
Colorado's 45-29 win in Lawrence in 1970 finally enabled the Buffaloes to pull even all-time with the Jayhawks at 14 wins apiece (with three ties), the first time since after the first three games in the series at 1-1-1.  Thus, Kansas was not to be taken lightly, especially with the Buffaloes stung with a 31-7 defeat at the hands of No. 1 Nebraska the week before.  And for the second time in five games, the Buffs were playing back-to-back road games.  The Jayhawks were 3-5 (1-3 in the conference) and coming off a 17-10 home loss to Oklahoma State.

The previous week's loss to the Huskers dropped CU from No. 9 to No. 13 in the polls, and barring several massive upsets, the possibility of tying for the Big Eight title was moot.  The game in Lincoln had been more contested than the final score made it appear, and the chance for a special season rested on what the Buffs could do in their final three games against KU, Oklahoma State and Air Force and hopefully a bowl invitation that would follow.

The skies were clear, but with winds gusting to 15-20 miles per hour or more from the north and the temperature at kickoff 45 degrees, the wind chill factor hovered in the mid-30s all game (though it was seldom referenced back in the day).  The key was that CU chose to defend the north goal at Folsom, as CU forced KU to punt on its first possession – all of 30 yards – and then after fumbling the ball away on its own 25, the Jayhawks couldn't move the ball and chose to punt from CU's 33.  CU didn't do much on its next drive, and back-to-back gains by Kansas of 22 and 23 yards set it up at the Buff 17.  That drive stalled and John Stavely blocked a 22-yard field goal try.  The first quarter would end scoreless and Colorado found itself most definitely in a game.

After stopping KU early in the second quarter, CU's offense got rolling, moving from its 8 to the KU 22, but with the winds whipping up as the Buffs were now driving north, J.B. Dean's 29-yard field goal came up short.   CU again stuffed KU, and Brian Foster's 61-yard punt return set the Buffs up deep inside Jayhawk territory where on the fourth play of the drive, Charlie Davis scored from two yards out and CU was first on the board, taking a 7-0 lead with 5:52 left in the half.  That appeared to be the score heading into intermission, but Cullen Bryant fumbled a punt and KU recovered at the CU 23 and would tie the game two plays later 11 seconds before the halftime gun.

Neither offense had done much: Kansas had 127 total yards, the Buffs only 100.

On the second play of the third quarter, CU quarterback Ken Johnson's pitch was intercepted by Mike Burton, who raced 19 yards into the end zone and KU led, 14-7, having scored two touchdowns in 49 seconds.   Larry Brunson returned the kickoff 50 yards to the KU 32, and Johnson picked up 11 over the left side and CU was in business – or maybe not, as two played later, Johnson was picked off in the end zone.  CU's defense again rose the occasion, forcing a punt and with 9:58 left in the quarter, the offense took over at its own 29.

CU took a no-nonsense approach on the possession, calling all running plays on what would be a 12-play, 71-yard march that would tie the game with 5:41 on the clock.  The Buffs were 4-of-4 on second downs on the drive and on the only third down play, Davis burst in from a yard out and the score was all knotted at 14.  Kansas saw a heavy dose of Davis (36 yards on six carries), John Tarver (18 on three), Bo Mathews (12 on two) and Johnson (five on one). 

CU stopped KU again on three plays but couldn't counter, and the quarter expired with the teams still tied and KU facing a 4th-and-7 from its own 43.  A punt rolled dead on the CU 15 on the first play of the fourth.

The CU coaches went to the trick portion of the playbook and called for a reverse.  Johnson dropped back and handed the ball to 9.2 in the 100 speedster Cliff Branch, who raced around the left side for 85 yards and the go-ahead score.  But Dean's PAT kick was wide right, and the score remained 20-14.

KU went three-and-out again, and punted 18 yards into the fierce wind, setting the Buffs up at the KU 37.  But CU gave the ball back on a third down fumble by Mathews; KU didn't capitalize on CU's generosity, and on third down from its 30, David Jaynes dropped back to pass, was strip-sacked with Randy Geist recovering at the KU 14.  It took six plays and a pair of third down conversions, but Johnson kept the ball around the right end and punched it in from two yards, and then hit Davis on a 2-point pass and CU finally had some breathing room, leading 28-14 with 6:50 to play.  

Two more three-and-outs forced by the CU defense kept the Jayhawks at bay, and Mathews atoned for his fumble by scoring CU's last TD with a 1-yard straight ahead run with 10 seconds to play.  Dean's PAT kick made the final score 35-14.

When the smoke cleared, Colorado had outscored Kansas, 28-0, over the final 20:41 to pull away for the win, despite having six turnovers to just one for the Jayhawks.  The Buffs were now 7-2 on the season, 4-2 in the conference.

Branch had one other carry for 15 yards, giving him one unique stat line for the game: 2-100 with 1 TD rushing; Davis added 78 yards on 28 ties, and Tarver 59 yards on nine rushes.   The Buffs finished with 360 yards on offense, doubling KU's total to the yard.

Carl Taibi had a monster game on defense, leading the Buffs with 11 tackles, five of the solo variety that included three quarterback sacks for 28 yards in losses.  Geist, Billie Drake and Herb Orvis all had nine tackles as the Buff defense limited KU to just 53 yards in the second half (180 for the game), to only 2-of-17 on third down conversions and recorded eight sacks.  And 23 of those second half yards came on a quarterback keeper as time ran out with the game decided.

With all six road games now in the books, Oklahoma State was heading to Boulder with a 4-3-1 record (2-2 in the Big Eight), but was coming off a 35-23 loss at home to Kansas State.  Colorado would need a win to keep OSU from passing it in the standings.

NOTE: Kansas led the series by a 13-9-3 count through 1964; the teams remained together in the Big Eight/12 through 2010, with Colorado winning 33 of those final 45 games in the series (and now leads, 42-25-3).  The teams have not scheduled any future meetings at this time, though CU officials do want to play its former colleagues from the old Big Eight at some point.  Colorado has already played Oklahoma State and Nebraska, and have future games set with Kansas State (2028-29) and Missouri (2030-31).  The Buffs do play former Big 12 mate Texas A&M this fall, and played Texas in last year's Alamo Bowl.

This P-'Tudes Number: 35                    
Colorado has played 1,267 games in its history (714 wins), so you would think scoring 35 points in a game would happen frequently.  Not so – the Buffaloes have scored exactly 35 points on just 18 occasions (owning a 16-2 record).  The last time was last November in a 35-32 win at Stanford; the losses came at home against Air Force in 1958 (58-35) and to Utah in 2012 (42-35).  One would also thing a final score of 35-14 would be fairly common; but in fact, the above win over Kansas was the last time Colorado won a game by that score.  And it only happened on two other occasions, over Colorado College in 1921 an d over Tulsa in 1969 (both of those in Boulder).  CU owns a pair of 35-34 wins, against Texas A&M in Boulder in 2009 and at Washington State in 2012. The only other time the Buffs won scoring 35 in a road game was in 1976, a 35-28 win at Kansas State that enabled CU to tie Oklahoma and Oklahoma State with 5-2 marks in conference play (and with CU owning wins over both, the Buffs got the nod to play in the Orange Bowl).

"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.