Oftentimes, in rivalry games, you can throw the records and the recruiting rankings out the window. That certainly applied late Saturday night in Boulder. The No. 18 Colorado Buffaloes (3-0), amidst all the Coach Prime hype, came from behind to defeat in-state rival Colorado State (0-2) 43-35 in double overtime in the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
“I’m not happy with the way we played, but I’m happy with the win,” said Coach Prime postgame. “You gotta be happy with a W no matter how it comes.”
The matchup, on paper, wasn’t supposed to be this close. Colorado came into the day riding the high of two Power Five non-conference wins, boosting them up in the rankings and bringing every pregame show you could imagine to Boulder on Saturday morning. They were favored by 23 points over a Rams team that had been boat raced by Washington State just two weekends ago. Here were a few themes from the 92nd edition of the Showdown.
Photo Credit: Colorado Athletics
Colorado State came out as the aggressor in this rivalry matchup, unfazed by the glitz and glamor that CU brought, capped off by a live Lil Wayne performance as the Buffs ran out of the tunnel. It was a chippy affair from even before the opening kick, as a scuffle at midfield interrupted warm-ups. Coming in viewed as the “little brother” in this matchup, the underdog Rams had a chip on their shoulder.
Photo Cred: Hoops Hype
There was plenty of trash talking and pushing and shoving between plays, but it came to a head near the end of the first quarter. Shedeur Sanders lofted a deep ball down the left sideline for Travis Hunter that fell incomplete, but he was drilled late in the ribs by CSU safety Henry Blackburn. Hunter stayed down, but Sanders made it all the way downfield to express his displeasure. He returned to the game, but then left at halftime and was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation. After the game, Coach Prime said that Hunter will miss “a few weeks”.
Sanders Goes “Brady Mode” Late, Lifts Colorado Offense
To put it nicely, it was a slow start for the Colorado offense. The Buffs scored on just one drive in the first half, and even that was assisted by 30 penalty yards from Blackburn’s hit on Hunter. Throughout the first half and deep into the second half, CU couldn’t find the rhythm that clicked so effortlessly for most of the first two games.
Colorado could not run the ball at all throughout the night. There was no finer example of it than getting stuffed on three consecutive runs on the goal line at the end of the third quarter before settling for a field goal. The offensive line as a whole had a subpar showing, getting no push in the run game and putting Sanders in a lot of collapsing pockets in the passing game.
Photo Cred: Fox News
But when push came to shove, Sanders rose above it all and pushed the Buffs over the top. Sanders hit Jimmy Horn Jr. for a 45-yard touchdown with 36 seconds left in regulation, capping off a 98-yard drive to keep the Buffs’ unbeaten record intact. He finished off the Rams with two more touchdown passes to tight end Michael Harrison in overtime. Despite the offense struggling for more than three quarters, Sanders finished 38-for-47 with 348 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
“We like these high pressure moments. That’s what we live in, and I wish the whole game was like that, honestly,” said Sanders after the win. “But really, in my own mind, I was thinking ‘Brady mode’. He does it all the time, I gotta be able to do it.”
CSU Passing Game Shows Out
Despite the loss, the Rams’ explosive passing game was on full display on Saturday night. Freshman quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi had his ups and downs, but responded well from mistakes and finished 34-for-47 with 367 yards, three touchdowns and three picks (the last of which coming on a Hail Mary heave at the end of double overtime). The Rams shredded the Buffs secondary, which has looked very good to start the season, primarily with short crossing routes.
Photo Cred: Hero Sports
Fowler-Nicolosi found a good balance of getting his playmakers the ball in space, while letting it rip when he was allowed to, such as his 15-yard dart to Louis Brown for the Rams’ third touchdown of the evening. The Colorado State pass catchers starred throughout the contest, making big play after big play to give the Rams a chance to win, even as they had their own struggles on the ground. Brown finished with 10 catches for 131 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, while tight end Dallin Holker reeled in six receptions for 109 yards and two huge scores, the last of which gave CSU a 28-17 lead in the fourth quarter.
The star of the show, however, was Tory Horton. The senior wideout racked up a mind-blowing 16 catches for 133 yards and a score in overtime, and added a 30-yard passing touchdown on a double pass in the first quarter. Horton’s full skillset was on display all night, as he ran crisp routes, flashed great hands and body control, and made defenders look silly after the catch. Even in the loss, this Rams pass catching group proved that they will be a headache for defenses all season.
Lack of Discipline Costs CSU
Photo Cred: The Denver Post
The main reason CSU was unable to finish off Colorado in this one may have been a lack of discipline. Self-inflicted mistakes cost the Rams all night, and constantly kept the Buffs in the game even when they seemed out of it. In the end, Colorado State finished with four turnovers, and was penalized 17 times for 187 yards. Not only that, but they committed multiple red zone turnovers, and many of their penalties were personal fouls that gave the Buffs a fresh set of downs.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Buffs, as they kick off conference play next week with a blockbuster matchup against No. 13 Oregon in Eugene. This matchup of unbeaten teams will kick off at 1:30 p.m. MST and will air on ABC.