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Fairbanks showed up in Colorado last April, too late for recruiting. Moreover, he found the football program to be in a precipitous decline. He had no running backs with breakaway speed, no top receivers or quarterbacks, but he did have injuries at key positions.
Senior Linebacker Bill Roe was among those caught in the transition. "Last year, when I played on the wide side of the field and there was a pass, I'd look for the tight end," he says. "This year, on some coverages, if the tight end comes straight out, I run past him and look for the wide receiver, depending on the coverage. Now I route-read the tight end. A lot more thinking is involved. This was New England's defense. In preseason we watched a lot of New England films. This is a big difference from last year; everybody's thinking a little bit instead of reacting."
In the first three games, and in parts of the fourth, the thinking was clearly woolly, the execution ragged. Oregon beat Colorado in the opener 33-19, and LSU then manhandled the Buffaloes 44-0. And before they got on the board against Drake, fans in the stands in Boulder were chanting, "Two-four-six-eight, score before we graduate!" Colorado did, but not enough, and down they went 13-9.
Not that the once prepotent Buffaloes weren't trying. On the morning of the Indiana game, Bill Roe sat on the floor of his room at the Holiday Inn in Bloomington and read Psalms 91 and 121 from the Gideon Bible to some of his teammates. "It's something we've been doing," he said.
As things turned out, they needed all the assistance, divine or otherwise, that they could get to beat Indiana. But there were moments when Colorado jelled and looked like a football team. A 16-year-old freshman, Split End Don Holmes, caught a pass to score the first touchdown. Holmes was recruited out of Miami ( Fla.) Northwestern High School, having accelerated at the urging of his mother. Cornerback Mark Haynes was everywhere he was needed—making the first Buffalo interception of the year, recovering a fumble and charging in to block an extra-point attempt, a play that ultimately won the game. And Nose Guard Laval Short had 18 tackles—13 solos and five assists.
Had they lost to Indiana, the Buffaloes would have been facing the prospect of being 0-7 at the end of the month, but for now the pressure is off.
"Yeah," said Fairbanks. "For about a week."