It wasn’t the 62 points, more than any opponent had scored against Nebraska in 11 decades of playing football.
It wasn’t the 380 rushing yards, either, that Colorado accumulated, more than four times the average figure surrendered by Nebraska’s stout defense.
No, it was the method by which Colorado beat the Cornhuskers on a cool Boulder Black Friday afternoon that sent shockwaves radiating back to Lincoln, in every direction, really, and through the sport’s power structure, ultimately contributing to the changing of the postseason formula.
The 15th-ranked Buffaloes pummelled BCS No. 1 Nebraska with simple misdirection and sheer power, winning 62-36 on Nov. 23, 2001, to claim the Big 12 North crown and end 10 years of frustration against their more successful rival.
“I think I was in shock for a long time — weeks, months, years,” said Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, the 2001 Heisman Trophy winner and Sports Illustrated cover subject the week of the Colorado game. “I’ll never not be in shock about that one. We were a better team than Colorado. They were a better team that day. But we let that one go. It was a complete upset.”
Colorado won in a display reminiscent of the poundings delivered so often by Nebraska over the 30 years prior. The Buffs leaned on senior quarterback Bobby Pesavento, inserted midseason for injured Craig Ochs, All-America tight end Daniel Graham and a pair of sophomore running backs, Chris Brown and Bobby Purify.
Brown, an overlooked Northwestern transfer who in 2004 led the NFL in yards per carry with the Tennessee Titans, rushed for 198 yards and a school-record six touchdowns. His yardage total, at that point, was the fourth-highest ever recorded against Nebraska. And Purify, who replaced injured starter Cortlen Johnson on the Buffs’ opening drive, gained 154 yards, the 11th-highest rushing output surrendered by the Huskers.
“They took us for granted,” Brown said after the game. “They thought they could just come in and manhandle us like they do every year.”
Instead, the Colorado offensive line, featuring stars Andre Gurode and Victor Rogers, opened giant holes. Purify burst through into stunningly wide-open space for gains of 39 and 44 yards in the first quarter, with a 78-yard sprint called back on a holding call.