Rooney: Brian Lindgren return rekindles nightmare memories for CU Buffs football

Loss to Lindgren’s OSU Beavers in 2018 sparked huge change in Boulder

Former Coloradao offensive coordinator and current Oregon State offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren has an offense powered by freshman running back Jermar Jefferson.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Former Coloradao offensive coordinator and current Oregon State offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren has an offense powered by freshman running back Jermar Jefferson.

The last time Brian Lindgren visited his former place of employment, he helped set off a chain of events that completely reshaped the Colorado football program.

Come Saturday night, if Lindgren and Oregon State again leave Folsom Field victoriously, the Buffaloes once again might be hard-pressed to reverse the momentum down the stretch.

Oct. 27, 2018 was one of those days Buffs fans would rather forget. It was only Lindgren’s eighth game on the job as the offensive coordinator at Oregon State following five seasons in the same role at CU. That run included the 10-4, Pac-12 South championship team of 2016.

OSU arrived at Folsom Field a 1-6 team that had scored all of seven points in a lopsided loss at Cal just a week earlier. The Beavers had lost 22 consecutive road games and hadn’t defeated any FBS-level foe since the final game of the 2016 season. CU had suffered two consecutive losses after a 5-0 start, but they at least were competitive losses against tough foes on the road (USC, Washington). Win against Lindgren and the Beavers, and the Buffs would’ve been bowl eligible with four games remaining.

A 31-3 lead for CU 12 seconds into the third quarter wasn’t enough to get the job done.

In one of the more stunning turn of events witnessed at Folsom Field in recent memory, OSU reeled off 25 consecutive points, eventually topping the Buffs 41-34 in overtime. The Beavers didn’t win another game. Neither did the Buffs. In the end, Lindgren played a small part in getting his former boss fired, as CU’s downward spiral led to the end of Mike MacIntyre’s run as head coach.

Buffs fans weren’t necessarily crying in their drinks when Lindgren left for OSU after the 2017 season. They likely would love his touch with the offense right now.

In five seasons as CU’s offensive coordinator and play-caller, Lindgren’s offenses posted at least 410 yards per game three times. The lowest total during that run was the first season in 2013 (369.9 per game), when the Buffs went 1-8 in the Pac-12. The only non-400 yards per game season under Lindgren other than 2013 was just off the pace with a 396.8 mark in 2015.

Lindgren was forced to share the offensive coordinator title his final two seasons at CU with Darrin Chiaverini, and Lindgren’s one-time staff mate hasn’t fared nearly as well in his 26 games as the Buffs’ primary play-caller (2018, 2020, 2021).

In 2018, Chiaverini’s first foray into the play-caller role — and with Steven Montez and Laviska Shenault at his disposal — the Buffs averaged 392.6 yards per game. In 2020, with a quarterback recruited by, and currently playing for, Lindgren, the Chiaverini-led Buffs offense compiled 421 yards per game (in a six-game season). But the Buffs have come crashing down to earth this year and go into the Oregon State game averaging an FBS-worst 251 yards per game, with some colossal struggles along the way.

Like his time at CU, Lindgren weathered some lean early years at OSU that are paying dividends now. The Beavers remain in the thick of the Pac-12 North race behind a rushing attack that has them ranked third overall (437.0) and third in conference games (427.4) in yards per game in the Pac-12. CU is a distant 12th in both categories.

It’s difficult to conceive of similar drama as that 2018 meltdown unfolding on Saturday, but a loss by CU would put Chiaverini, head coach Karl Dorrell, and the Buffs in an unenviable position. Given financial and simple continuity concerns, it’s equally difficult to envision the Buffs without Dorrell in 2022.

But lose against OSU, and the Buffs’ next-best chance at salvaging another win this season will be at home against Washington in two weeks. If things again bottom out following a loss against OSU, and the Buffs finish 2-10, what then?

Maybe he keeps it smothered. Maybe he wears it proudly. But one of the only things certain in that scenario is the little smirk of triumph likely to overcome Lindgren.