"We knew we had enough points to win," said senior defensive tackle James Garee. "That was what we said. (The offense) gave us 10 points and that was always we needed."
In the fourth quarter, after the game was a sure victory for CU, the bench emptied and several backups got playing time. But late in the contest, the Cowboys were threatening to score when freshman Marcus Burton returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown to preserve the shut out.
"We took a timeout and told the young guys, ‘All right, we worked all game for this. We want the shut out,'" said senior linebacker Akarika Dawn said. "Then on the next play, it was Burton down the sidelines."
While the defense's goal became to preserve the shut out that was in place at the half, gunning for shut outs isn't necessarily a goal coming into the season. One reason is that shut outs are rare.
Prior to this season, Colorado had held an opponent scoreless just twice under head coach Gary Barnett, blanking Baylor in 1999 and 2002. Colorado pitched a shutout just twice during Rick Neuheisel's four-year tenure as head coach. Seven times, the Buffs kept opponents off the scoreboard when Bill McCartney was head coach from 1982-94.
Twice, in 1991 and '92, the Buffs shut out opponents two times in a season under McCartney. Mike Hankwitz was defensive coordinator those seasons, as he is this year. But Hankwitz doesn't set a team goal for shutouts before the season.
"If it happens, it happens," Dawn said. "It's a product of playing well. If you get a shut out, that's awesome. But I don't think you can say, ‘I want three shut outs a year.'"
It's clear now CU's two shut outs have come against the two least effective offenses it will probably face this fall, the Cowboys and New Mexico State. Producing a third shut out in 2005 is unlikely. Four of CU's remaining opponents — Texas A&M, Texas, Missouri and Kansas State — are averaging over 30 points per game, with Iowa State (25.8 ppg) and Nebraska (22.5 ppg) rounding out the slate.
Interestingly, the last time CU got three shut outs in a season, in 1977, the defense wasn't as good as the one Colorado fielded the prior year, when it failed to shut out anyone. That's according to Brian Cabral, who played linebacker from 1975-77, coached linebackers in 1991-92, the position he still holds at Colorado.
Cabral led the Buffs in tackles with 88 in 1976, and the Buffs finished first in the Big Eight, earning a berth in the Orange Bowl. Despite three shut outs, the 1977 team finished 7-3-1 and failed to play in a bowl game.
"Those shut outs, those are rare," Cabral said. "I don't know that you plan for those, you're just happy when they do come."
Whether or not the 2005 CU defense matches what the Buffs did in Cabral's senior year in 1977 and gets a third shut out, according to Garee, the best news is that there is room for the 2005 defense to get better.
"We haven't played up to our potential yet," Garee said. "It's not like we have everybody doing everything right. We've still got a lot of mistakes to fix. That's the good thing about coming out of last week is we pitched a shut out and have a lot of stuff to fix."
CU's practice was cut short by about 10 minutes Tuesday due to heavy rain that hit after 5 o'clock. Barnett said CU had planned to run, but the rain made that impossible because of bad footing.
He said everyone expected to play Saturday, including Jack Tipton and Tyler Polumbus, practiced Tuesday. However, Barnett indicated those two offensive linemen, who have been banged up, may not start vs. Texas A&M. …Safety Dominique Brooks also practiced, and appears to be out of the coach's doghouse. However, Barnett was still unsure if Brooks' ankle would be good enough for him to play Saturday.
Tickets remain for Saturday's Homecoming game vs. Texas A&M (5 p.m. kickoff, FSN). Call (303) 49-BUFFS for more information.