Game 4: Colorado Buffaloes
Game-changing performances were commonplace during the Heisman Trophy campaign of Oklahoma State tailback Barry Sanders in the 1988 season.
Colorado’s Buffaloes were one of the victims when Sanders and the Cowboys visited CU’s Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo., Oct. 8, 1988.
In a battle between two unbeaten teams, the Cowboys overcame an early 7-0 deficit as Sanders rushed for 174 yards and scored four touchdowns in leading O-State to a 41-21 victory.
The impressive road victory allowed the Cowboys to start the 1988 season at 4-0. CU dropped to 4-1.
Touchdown runs of one, one and seven yards by Sanders were responsible for a 21-7 Cowboy lead midway through the second quarter. When Cary Blanchard kicked a 30-yard field goal OSU led by 24-7 with 9:28 left before halftime.
Colorado, which also featured an explosive offensive lineup, used a one-yard sneak by quarterback Sal Aunese, who had scored the game’s first TD from three yards out, to trim the deficit to 24-14 at halftime.
The Buffs’ explosiveness was on display late as they took over on their own 13-yard line with 1:05 remaining until halftime. Eight plays later, CU was in the end zone with only eight seconds left.
CU went into the intermission riding a momentum wave, while the Cowboys left the field disappointed, especially the OSU defenders. The Buffaloes had injected new life into the partisan crowd of 41,854.
It didn’t last long.
It took only three plays into the third quarter for Sanders to deflate the Buffaloes and their boisterous fans.
Sanders grabbed a pitch from quarterback Mike Gundy and raced outside to his left. CU’s Tim James, the lone defender in the area, was unable to solve a move by Sanders, who raced 65 yards for the back-breaking touchdown.
“It looked at times like they had Sanders in check but then he’d just explode,” said then Cowboy head coach Pat Jones. “That run on third down was the biggest play in the ball game.”
Â “They all gathered in on the play and we just pitched the ball to him and he got outside,” the Cowboy quarterback said. “There was only one guy to beat and in the open field Barry’s tough to catch.
“I turned around to see if someone might be coming after him. On a play like that I look to see if I need to block someone. If not, I just wait on him to come off the field and shake his hand.”
Sanders’ eruption sparked a solid third quarter performance by the Cowboys, who out-gained the Buffaloes 440 total yards to 390.
Blanchard later contributed a 26-yard field goal and Gundy scored on a one-yard sneak as the Pokes built up an insurmountable 41-14 lead entering the final quarter.
O-State ended with 238 yards rushing, thanks to Sanders’ effort. He finished with 174 yards on 24 carries, an average of 7.25 yards per carry. Through the Cowboys’ first four games in 1988, Sanders had scored 15 touchdowns.
Colorado, coached by Bill McCartney, finished with 241 rushing yards, led by Eric Bieniemy’s 81 yards on 16 attempts. Aunese scored twice for CU, while Darian Hagan, who rushed four times for 32 yards, ended the scoring with a 16-yard TD burst.
Gundy was his usual productive self as he passed for 202 yards on 13-of-23 passing attempts. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass, nor was he intercepted. He played a key role in the Cowboys converting 9-of-17 third down plays.
OSU’s terrific pass receiving tandem of Hart Lee Dykes and Jarrod Green had productive outings as Dykes had five catches for 83 yards and Green four grabs for 70 yards.
“I think we beat a good football team. Colorado has a good team,” Jones said. “They are a very well-coached, solid football team. This is a very big win against a good football team.
“They had swung the momentum in the second half and we did a good job of coming back defensively in the second half and making plays on both sides of the ball.”
Momentum swings are prevalent in most any college football game. With Barry Sanders on the field, more times than not, the momentum favored the Cowboys.