ORLANDO, Fla. - Colorado came to the Champs Sports Bowl hoping to win a game for departed coach Gary Barnett. To win a game for his assistants, most of whom will be looking for work within a few days.
To win a game in order to halt a three-game losing streak that had leveled a Top 25 program and left it in ruins, the fodder for late-night talk show jokes. But failing that, the Buffaloes were hoping to accomplish something — anything — positive which they could use to feel good about their future. For more than three quarters of a 19-10 loss to No. 23 Clemson in front of 31,470 at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on Tuesday, there seemed to be little chance of the Buffaloes doing something about which they could feel particularly pleased. And even less chance of securing a feel-good victory. But that changed with 9:06 to play when sophomore quarterback Brian White stepped onto the field. Until that point, under the direction of junior quarterback James Cox (who started for the injured Joel Klatt), the Colorado offense was inept. During the first three quarters and a drive that extended into the fourth, the Buffaloes gained 36 yards on 38 plays. White entered with Colorado trailing 13-3. At that point, White had thrown just one pass in his career. But on the third play of the drive, he threw a strike to tight end Quinn Sypniewski for 28 yards — in one play surpassing the yardage total of Cox (4 of 12, 26 yards) — and followed that with a 17-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Patrick Williams. Three plays later White hit Sypniewski for a 2-yard touchdown. After Mason Crosby’s extra point, Colorado was within three points with 5:45 left. “Brian just went in there and played uninhibited,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “Didn’t think, just played.” Unfortunately for White, Colorado could not give him a chance to put together a gamewinning drive. A personal foul on center Mark Fenton after the extra point helped give Clemson good field position. Then Colorado’s defense did not come up with a stop. Clemson went 61 yards in seven plays and scored a gameclinching touchdown with 1:38 left. The game’s Most Valuable Player, freshman running back James Davis (28 rushes, 150 yards), barreled into the end zone from 6 yards out. White then moved the Buffaloes from the Colorado 22-yard line to the Clemson 29 before time expired. He completed 7 of 12 passes for 81 yards. Watson said White’s performance would have held a great deal of weight — if Watson was to be retained on CU’s coaching staff. “He’s had this talent all along,” Watson said. “And Brian had to discover he had that talent.” The finish left many to wonder why Colorado waited until the fourth quarter to go to White. Interim coach Mike Hankwitz said he wanted to give Cox time to settle down and work through the nervousness that hurt his play. “We thought James had performed best in practice, and he’s the most experienced of the guys,” Hankwitz said. “You can’t look in a crystal ball and know he’s going to press.” Colorado and Cox had an auspicious start, as the quarterback hit Evan Judge for a gain of 16 yards on the game’s first play from scrimmage. But the Buffaloes’ next nine plays netted minus-1 yard. The Buffaloes had prime field position three times in the first three quarters but managed three points. Late in the first quarter, a shanked punt gave Colorado the ball on the Tigers’ 29-yard line, but the Buffaloes settled for Mason Crosby’s 36-yard field goal. Late in the second quarter, after a Tyrone Henderson interception gave Colorado the ball at its 49, the Buffaloes were limited to 2 yards. They punted. In the third quarter, Colorado again started at its 49 but netted minus-11 yards. Had it not been for its defense, which stiffened near the goal line, and punter John Torp, who almost single-handedly won the field position battle for Colorado, the game might have been out of hand by halftime. Instead, the game was close, which gave some players a sense of satisfaction — “We could have rolled over,” senior defensive tackle James Garee said — and others a sense of hope for the future. Especially about their quarterback. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or email@example.com