TWISH: Colorado gets Stanford; Card beat Utah

Stanford football, 2011: A team trying to show it has some staying power. Stanford football, so often through the years: A team trying to break with the past and forge a new identity. The 2011 debut of This Week in Stanford History focuses on the latter, looking at a pair of surprises against current conference foes.

When Tyrone Willingham brought the Cardinal into Utah to face the Utes in 1995, Stanford was nine years removed from its last 2-0 start. Assistant coach Willingham arrived in Colorado along with Denny Green's staff to begin the 1990 season on a Thursday night in front of ESPN. Ranked No. 6 in the country and coming off an 11-1 season, the Buffaloes were 20-point favorites.

Sept. 6, 1990: Colorado 21, Stanford 17

When the game was scheduled years earlier, mismatch potential prevailed. Stanford would have been favored. Embarrassment reigned in Boulder. Bill McCartney arrived in 1982 to rescue a loser on the field and a Fannie Mae-sized burden on the school's athletic department.

The Buffs dropped four sports in 1980. The school, meanwhile, spent $50,000 on a new desk for Chuck Fairbanks and broke the bank on other new facilities for the embattled coach, who won all of seven games in three years.

"When I scheduled Colorado," former Stanford athletic director Andy Geiger said sheepishly in the days leading up to the 1990 opener, "they weren't very good."

The 1990 Buffaloes are rightfully revered in Boulder, which last year celebrated the 20th anniversary of that team's co-national championship. That year's Cardinal, inspired by the leadership of head coach Denny Green and defensive coordinator Willie Shaw, came within inches of pulling off a shocker, however.

With Stanford up 17-14 and the desperate hosts looking at a fourth-and-goal, Eric Bienemy dived over the top of linebacker Jono Tunney for a one-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left. The Buffaloes, who a month later would find themselves facing an infamous fifth-and-goal, had driven to the Stanford one following John Hopkins' 27-yard field goal with 4:17 to play. Quarterback Darien Hagen's one-yard sneak on fourth down from the two gave the home team a first-and-goal with 33 seconds left.

But that's where the inspired Cardinal dug in. Shaw right then put his team in a goal-line defense it had never before practiced. The results paid off immediately when fullback George Hemmingway was stuffed for no gain. The Buffs called his number the next play, but the same thing happened. Twenty-two ticks remained. Stanford had already forced Colorado to use its last timeout. The run-minded Hagen, who completed only 46 percent of his throws that year, was going to have to pass.

He rolled left, but was soon nearly in the grasp of cornerback Kevin Scott. Hagen barely got the throw off before it fell incomplete near the sideline. "We had him on the third down play and he got away," Green said afterwards. "He shook a five-yard loss."

Now with 16 seconds to play, all 50,669 fans in Folsom Field knew who would be called on next. Bienemy was suspended for his team's season-opening tie against Tennessee for breaking team rules. (At least he wasn't arrested; 24 CU players were between 1986 and 1989). He had already carried 31 times for 148 yards and raced for two earlier touchdowns.

Stanford looked very little like a team that went 3-8 the previous year. Glyn Milburn, making his debut after transferring from Oklahoma, returned a punt 75 yards to set up a Cardinal touchdown. Stanford led 14-0 at the half. Led by a transfer of its own (Ron George, late of the Air Force Academy), the defense held Colorado in check. It blitzed safeties often to neutralize the vaunted option offense.

There was no fourth-down trickery. Bienemy took the handoff and went airborne. Tunney stood right in his path and met him before he reached the plain. Brief euphoria for Stanford turned to gloom, once the officials immediately signaled touchdown.

"I'd like to see a replay on that," Green said later. "I don't believe he was in the end zone. I'd love to see a shot of it. I don't buy it."

Sept. 9, 1995: Stanford 27, Utah 20

Just minutes earlier, Stanford looked to put this out of reach with a field goal. Now it held on for dear life.

Utah had a first-and-goal at the Stanford two in the final minute. The Utes had quickly moved down the field after blocking Eric Abrams' 50-yard field goal try. But on third-and-goal, Alistair White intercepted Mike Fouts' pass in the end zone to seal the victory.

"Things are so different these days," said linebacker Mike Hall, whose defense that held the Utes to 255 yards total offense. "It's an entirely different atmosphere now."


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