Plati-'Tudes Summer Series: 1971 Week 11
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. 145 ... The 11th 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 defeated CU that fall. Through 10 games, the Buffs were 8-2 and back in the top 10 in the nation (at No. 10), climbing back in after decisive wins over Kansas and Oklahoma State. CU 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). Colorado was done with conference play, finishing with a 5-2 record which locked it into third place, barring NU or OU being upset before their upcoming clash on Thanksgiving Day and the two not tying (neither lost that Saturday and Nebraska, of course, won what was deemed the game of the century, 35-31). CU was finished with Big Eight games as it was closing its year with rival Air Force in what was the first 11-game regular season permitted by the NCAA.
1971 Game 11: Colorado 53, Air Force 17
Air Force came in with a 6-3 record; the Falcons were ranked 18th after opening 6-1 with a scant 16-14 loss at No. 9 Penn State; but consecutive losses to No. 18 Arizona State and Oregon dropped them out of the polls. The Falcons were no doubt out for revenge to turn the tables on the Buffs: in 1970, a 5-4 CU team went down to the Springs and trounced the 9-1, 10th-ranked Air Force squad by 49-19. CU, on the other hand, was shooting for its fourth 9-win season; CU went 9-0 in 1923 and 9-2 in both 1961 and 1967. The irony was present: unranked CU clobbered the No. 10 Falcons to end the '70 regular season, the only time in school history three Buffs ran for 100 yards in a single game (Bobby Anderson, Paul Arendt and Ward Walsh). Now, the unranked Falcons had designs on doing the same to the No. 10 Buffs, and had a good defense, allowing only 134 points in nine games (14.9 per, and 44 of those came in the loss to ASU).
In the '70 game, Air Force scored on its first possession, and then watched Colorado reel off the next 42 points – including 28 in the second quarter as the Buffs led 35-7 at halftime. John Tarver got CU on the board first in the season-ending rematch, as the Buffs needed just three plays to capitalize on an AFA fumble. Charlie Davis picked up four yards on the first play, then Tarver tried the middle and busted through for 28 yards before going over left guard for a 1-yard TD pop. J.B. Dean's PAT kick made it 7-0 with 9:24 on the clock. The Falcons put three on the board and the contest remained close at the end of 15 minutes with CU ahead 7-3.
For the second straight year, CU pulled away in the second quarter, this time scoring 20 points to go up 27-10 at halftime. Ken Johnson and Larry Brunson hooked up on 55-yard touchdown pass early in the period, but Air Force matched it on a 50-yard TD pass play to pull back to within 13-10. But the Falcons would get no closer. The Buffs took the ball and marched 82 yards in eight plays, capped by a 7-yard TD run by Davis; CU overcame a 1st-and-25 after a most of a 52-yard run by Tarver was wiped out due to a clipping call (and were aided by pass interference on AFA). Brian Foster intercepted a pass with 1:15 left in the half, and after a roughing the kicker (punter John Stearns) call on AFA gave CU new life, Cliff Branch raced 34 yards on a reverse and the Buffs led 27-10 at intermission.
The Falcons scored on their first possession of the second half, a quarterback sneak by Rich Haynie from a yard out cut the CU lead to 27-17. It would remain a 10-point game until a little over a minute remained in the third quarter; the Buffs put together their longest scoring drive of the season, covering 95 yards in 11 plays with Johnson hitting J.V. Cain for an 11-yard TD pass (Dean's PAT kick was no good, leaving the score at 33-17). Davis picked up 19 yards on the first play to get CU some working room, and on a 3rd-and-2, Johnson hit Dean for a 27-yard pickup to the AF 41. Davis picked up another first down as did a Johnson to Willie Nichols 10-yard pass play as with the scoring play, CU had five plays on the drive in double figures.
Branch ended the quarter with a 51-yard punt return to the Falcon 35, and on the third play in the fourth stanza, Davis took a pitch from Johnson and scampered 30 yards for six (Dean's PAT kick was blocked, but CU was well ahead, 39-17). CU stuffed the AFA offense on the next drive, and this time Branch alluded all tackles and returned the ball 65 yards for a touchdown. Bo Matthews added the final points on a 1-yard plunge over right tackle, capping a 12-play drive with 6:55 remaining. The benches emptied late in the game and a fistfight among some ensued, but no one was ejected and CU had won its ninth game in the 13 in the series.
Davis finished with 196 yards and the two scores on 25 attempts, while Tarver galloped for 139 and his TD on just 15 tries. Davis had 1,386 yards for the season, setting a new Big Eight sophomore record. The Buffaloes as a team, with the help of the extra game, set team records for total offense as well as for rushing and passing yards.
Colorado finished with 352 rushing yards with 204 passing, just the fifth time in CU history that the Buffaloes gained at least 200 in each phase – and the first time for a 300/200 effort. The 556 yards on offense was bolstered by another 175 return yards, 140 of which came on six punt returns by Branch. Air Force finished with 333 yards, and by comparison, just 43 via return. (Note: return yards do not include those on kickoffs.)
Lennie Ciufo led a stout CU defense with 14 tackles, with Billie Drake adding 12 and Bud Magrum in on 10.
Now 9-2 on the year, and ascending to No. 7 in the final regular season polls, the Buffaloes unanimously voted postgame to accept an invitation to play in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl on New Year's Eve (the invitation came over the telephone after the game). The opponent confirmed the next day would be hometown host and No. 15-ranked Houston. The independent Cougars were also 9-2, with their two losses to No. 16 Arizona State in the second week of the season (18-17) and at No. 4 Alabama in week seven (34-20).
NOTE: Newspaper accounts at the time said that the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl was the only postseason game interested in the Buffaloes, despite the 9-2 record and No. 10 ranking at the time of the invitation. CU head coach Eddie Crowder said following the game and the likelihood of playing a team in more or less what would be a home game for it, "Our guys are enthusiastic enough that I think they'd play anybody anywhere."
This P-'Tudes Number: 72
As mentioned above, the 1971 Air Force game was the fifth time in school annals the Buffaloes gained at least 200 yards both rushing and passing in the same game. Through the 2020 season, that has now happened 72 times overall, with the Buffs owning a 61-11 record in those games. Thirteen of those games, CU has rushed for 300-plus yards twice over 400), and on 15 occasions, CU had 300 yards or more passing (two 400-plus, one 500-plus). CU has not had a game with 300 of each; in last year's season opener against UCLA (a 48-42 win), CU tied for the second-most "balance" ever in a 200/200 game: 264 yards rushing and 261 passing. The only closer games in differential came against Utah in 1961 (210-208) and at Texas in 1997 (208-211).
"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.