UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Prime aces first test in Buffs’ 3-point win

It could easily have been lost amid the runaway excitement of the Colorado Buffaloes’ heart-pounding 45-42 upset of TCU. 

It might have been overlooked after what TV analyst Joel Klatt called the “hyper tempo” of the first quarter, when both teams ran play after play without a huddle, as if trying to get in one more play before time ran out.

But in the final minute of the first half last Saturday, Coach Prime showed that he’s much more than just jive-talkin’ Neon Deion. He’s a real coach, capable of wise, heat-of-the-moment decisions.

The Horned Frogs—20.5-point favorites—had just tied the score at 14 with 1:53 left in the first half on a four-yard run by another Sanders (Trey, not Deion, Shedeur or Shilo).

Starting on their own 25-yard line after TCU kicked-off into the end zone, the Buffs moved to their 41 in three plays. 

Then came Deion’s first big test as head coach.

With 56 seconds left in the half, the Buffs were flagged for a false start. Because the infraction occurred in the last two minutes of the half, they faced a 10-second reduction in time remaining, in addition to the five-yard penalty. 

To avoid the loss of those precious 10 seconds, Coach Prime could have used one of his two remaining timeouts.

But he declined, placing more value on the timeout.

In the next 42 ticks of the game clock, CU ran five plays and gained 32 yards. That moved the ball to the TCU 32 and left four seconds in the half—just enough for a long field goal attempt by Jace Feely, son of 14-year NFL kicker Jay Feely.

Sanders called his final timeout to preserve those four seconds, and Feely, who’d had a previous attempt blocked in the first quarter, trotted out for another try.

After a TCU timeout just as holder Mark Vasset was about to call for the snap, Feely calmly drilled the only field goal of a game that saw each team score six touchdowns.

Coach Prime’s decision to save a timeout in case his team got into field goal range with only seconds left in the half enabled what turned out to be the difference in the game.

That, of course, wasn’t the only pivotal moment in a classic that saw:

CU drive 73 yards on 12 plays on its first possession of the Coach Prime Era to take a 7-0 lead, after stopping TCU’s opening possession in three plays;

Six lead changes in the second half, as each team scored 28 points, including several big plays and sudden strikes;

Shedeur Sanders, one of Coach Prime’s sons, complete 38 of 47 passes for a school record 510 yards and four touchdowns;

Phenom Travis Hunter, the most remarkable two-way player this side of Shohei Ohtani, on the field a jaw-dropping 80% of the game’s snaps—on defense, making a sensational pass interception at the four-yard line to prevent a sure TCU touchdown, and on offense, catching 11 passes for 119 yards, including a clutch 39-yard reception on third-and-16 (on his 109th snap);

Freshman Dylan Edwards, heralded transfer Jimmy Horn Jr., and fellow transfer Xavier Weaver all join Hunter with more than 100 pass receiving yards—doubling the number of 100-yard receivers CU had all last season, and setting a record for the most 100-yard receivers in one game;

Edwards break off TD runs of 75 and 46 yards after catching short passes from Sanders (two of his four touchdowns); 

Coach Prime’s other son, safety Shilo, lead the defense with nine tackles; and

Junior safety Myles Slusher, another of the 51 transfers Coach Prime attracted for the 2023 season, stop TCU tight end TE Jared Wiley two yards short of a first down at the CU 36 with 55 seconds left to play, to position the Buffs to run out the clock and secure their upset. 

Next up is his home opener against Nebraska—the day before the Broncos open their first season under Sean Payton, also at home.

Those Broncos had better beat the Raiders and look good doing it, or they risk playing second fiddle to the rejuvenated, reconstituted Buffs and their charismatic coach.

After the game, TV commentator Gus Johnson said, “It was put-up or shut-up time, and Colorado put-up.”

Even more, so did Coach Prime with his prescient decision just before halftime.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.