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COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 3 | NO. 14 MICHIGAN 27, NO. 8
COLORADO 3

Griese Is Hot, Hessler Is Not in Easy Victory

September 14, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The only Hail Mary completed on Saturday was the one Colorado quarterback John Hessler probably said when he saw Coach Rick Neuheisel charging at him red-faced for the sixth time with a rolled-up program.

The game was billed as the final act of a three-game drama between Colorado and Michigan, the schools splitting the first two meetings on last-second, game-deciding desperation passes. This time, Colorado didn't have a prayer.

In a different sort of drama starring two last-chance, fifth-year senior quarterbacks, Brian Griese was as terrific as Hessler was lousy as No. 14 Michigan routed No. 8 Colorado, 27-3, before a crowd of 106,474 at Michigan Stadium.

With his father, Bob, providing analysis for ABC, Brian Griese played a near-flawless game, completing 21 of 28 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Griese's lone interception hit his receiver, Tai Streets, square in the hands. Griese also averaged 38 yards on two punts and was the holder on three extra points and two field goals.

With his coach, Rick, providing in-your-face commentary on the field below, Hessler came undone, throwing four interceptions and completing only 15 of 40 passes for 141 yards.

He was sacked three times and publicly harangued, mercilessly at times, by Neuheisel, the former rags-to-riches UCLA quarterback turned whiz-kid coach.

Hessler stood there and took it like man.

"No, I didn't get upset at all," he said of his coach's tongue-lashings. "If the quarterback needs to get his head chewed off, he deserves it."

Neuheisel had reason to fume. Three of Hessler's interceptions led directly to 13 Michigan points. He threw high and he threw low.

"I know he had guys open and the ball was high," Neuheisel said. "I believe he can play better, and I'm assuming he will."

Of his brusque sideline treatment of Hessler, Neuheisel said: "I don't know any other way to coach quarterbacks than what I did."

Colorado (1-1) will discover in film review that the collapse was universal. Michigan (1-0) blitzed and harassed Hessler from the outset. Michigan held Colorado to 1.8 yards per rushing attempt and outgained the Buffaloes, 426 to 224 in total yards.

Quarterbacks always seem to get the credit and blame, and Saturday there was plenty of both to go around.

At one point, Griese and Hessler could have never imagined meeting like this. Griese debated long about returning for a fifth season to battle junior Scott Dreisbach for the job.

Bob Griese said he told Brian, "You'd kick yourself in the butt if Michigan went to the Rose Bowl," but acknowledged it was the family's older brother, Jeff, who ultimately talked Brian into returning.

"Jeff said, 'Brian, you're crazy,' " Bob recalled after the game. " 'You don't want to come out and go to work.' "

Brian was named the Michigan starter Wednesday.

"When I decided to come back, this is what I wanted to happen," he said. "But it's just the start of what the team wants to accomplish."

Much of Griese's fortune came at the expense of Hessler, the ugly tone set with 10:17 left in the first quarter when Michigan two-way star Charles Woodson intercepted a Hessler pass at the Wolverine 45.

Griese quickly burned Hessler for the mistake, hitting tight end Jerame Tuman on a 53-yard pass and catch to the Colorado two, setting up Chris Floyd's one-yard scoring run two plays later.

Griese and Tuman would connect five times for 126 yards on similar play-action hook-ups, but Colorado never seemed to catch on.

The Buffaloes couldn't even run out the clock properly, punting the ball back to Michigan with 16 seconds left in the half. Griese quickly connected with Woodson for 29 yards, setting up Kraig Baker's 37-yard field goal to make it 10-0 as time expired.

Michigan made it 17-0 on its first second-half possession, driving 89-yards in 11 plays, Griese tossing a five-yard pass to Chris Howard for the score.

Hessler's third interception, at the 10:13 left in the third quarter, was the killer, linebacker Clint Copenhaver returning the errant pass 19 yards to the Colorado 14. That set up a six-yard scoring pass from Griese to Russell Shaw to put Michigan up, 24-0.

The day couldn't have been worse for Hessler, who was once talked out of transferring from Colorado after thinking he'd never get a chance to play as he waited out the careers of Kordell Stewart and Koy Detmer.

Hessler stayed on and, two years ago, replaced an injured Detmer and threw a school-record 20 touchdowns in a storybook ride that landed Colorado in the Cotton Bowl.

After another year of backing up Detmer in 1996, Hessler returned this season as the clear-cut starter.

Neuheisel was more forgiving of Hessler after the game than he was during it, relating the time at UCLA in 1983 he overcame a four-interception game against Illinois to become the Rose Bowl MVP.

Pressed further, Neuheisel acknowledged then-UCLA coach Terry Donahue actually benched him after the Illinois game and that Neuheisel returned to the lineup only after an injury to Steve Bono.

Sensing the moral of his story was taking a wrong turn, Neuheisel concluded, "I have no designs of taking John out of the starting lineup."

The Colorado-Michigan series would end in a whimper, but not without an exclamation mark.

Late in the fourth quarter, as Buffaloes' backup quarterback Adam Bledsoe--younger brother of Drew--was driving his team downfield in a game hopelessly lost, someone on the Michigan bench screamed, "Hail Mary!"

"That would have been nice to see," Michigan safety Marcus Ray said.

Just for old time's sake.

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