Embree: We did what? (photo courtesy of cubuffs.com)
CAN EMBREE'S HOWL AWAKEN LONG-LOST ROAD WARRIOR BUFFALOES? AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT, #4 STANFORD IN PALO ALTO IS NEXT.
I haven't seen anybody wear one of these shirts in a few years, but every school had its variation. For CU fans, it would say "THE GOOD (CU logo), THE BAD (CSU logo), THE UGLY (Nebraska logo)." If we had a shirt made for the Buffaloes game against Washington State, there would be a CU logo after each of the three categories listed. In an agonizing come-from-ahead loss, the Buffs had their GOOD moments: an interception and 52-yard return to start the game off right; a quick 21-yard drive leading to a 48-yard lead-taking field goal to end the first half right; a six-minute 78-yard touchdown drive in the middle of the 4th quarter that all-but-sealed the victory for the Buffs. Big "-but-" , as it turned out.
The BAD moments? The offense failing to capitalize on that early interception by turning redzone field position into a blocked field-goal; the defense relaxing just enough with a 10-point lead to allow TWO 4th-quarter TDs by Wash.St. And the UGLY: watching incredulously as Rodney Stewart caught 2 more punts inside the 10-yard line; cringing as the Buffs cemented their hold on 1st place in the FBS for number of penalties with 10 more penalties in this game; standing in disbelief as a pass play towards the sidelines was called on a 3rd and 6 in the 4th quarter with time running out and WSU with no timeouts left; and, finally, contemplating self-inflicted injury as we watched CU safeties forget what the word "safety" means as WSU's Marquess Wilson toasted and dusted CU for the game-winning TD. Coaches, you've GOT to learn from these mistakes and make sure your players do, too. Never ever call another play like that 3rd and 6 play again.
Now it's on the road again to meet #4 Stanford, and the Cardinals have more than Luck on their side, as they rate in the Top 20 in 12 different statistical categories, 7 on offense and 5 on defense. Saturday is the first day in the rest of their inaugural PAC-12 season where they will find themselves as underdogs in every game, unless they start winning. Some look at it as no light at the end of the tunnel, but I see it differently. It's a perfect scenario for a new coach and a young team - no expectations, no pressure. After losing to the only PAC-12 team they were favored to beat, and barring a sudden scheduling of Oregon State as a midweek opponent, Colorado has nowhere to go but up. If they have any pride, and they do, and if they have any talent, and they do, and if they are truly sick of losing, and they finally really are, then that makes them a dangerous team. There may not be any signs of this in an awfully oppressive October schedule, yet the team that emerges on the other side of Halloween can't help but be tougher.
(See HITS, MYTHS & FIXES after the jump)
1. Speedy breaks rushing double-drought.
An excruciating loss once again eclipsed an extraordinary day for Rodney Stewart. He scored the 2011 Buffs' first rushing touchdown by a running back and got the first 100-yard rushing game of the season on Saturday. While those accomplishments did end a couple of rushing droughts, they only point out Colorado's poor rushing attack in the first 4 games. Skipping his participation on the punt receiving team for now, his real accomplishment was his overall contribution to the team: a 23-yard average in five kickoff returns to add to his 34 yards receiving(all on the longest CU pass play in the game) and 132 yards rushing. "Speedy" Stewart amassed 278 all-purpose yards on 33 touches, an amazing 8.4 yards per touch. As he did all of this, Stewart passed Herschell Troutman for most career receiving yards by a running back(736), passed Eric Bieniemy for most career carries(718), and moved into 2nd place all time at Colorado in career rushing yards(3156), passing Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan "who stole all of the 'A's out of the lphbet" Salaam. Not bad for a day's work.
2. CU "Crossover kids" step in, step up on defense.
With serious attrition in the defensive backfield, Colorado has seen some curious new volunteers cross over from the other side of the line of scrimmage. Jason Espinosa, wide receiver, has become Jason Espinosa, cornerback, joining quarterback-recruit-turned-cornerback Josh Moten. And #10 Brent Burnette, quarterback, became #10 Brian Lockridge, running back-turned-cornerback. The Sunday Denver Post in its stats section listed a "Burnett" with a sack for a 9-yard loss, and a "Burnette" with 5 solo tackles. No, fourth-string QB Brent Burnette, #10 on offense, has not been recruited by the defense, at least not yet. Lockridge had to change his number from #20 at running back to #10 at cornerback, since starting cornerback Greg Henderson already wears #20 on defense. Lockridge, not Burnette, was the Buff with the stellar stats despite seeing his first playing time ever at cornerback. Espinosa and Moten stood up to the task as well when they were called on, the former with 4 solo tackles and the latter with 3 solo tackles. These kids really stepped up in a time of need. Unfortunately, their accomplishments were overshadowed by other teammates' poor coverage on the winning TD, and by the midweek suspension of 5 players, including Moten among 4 defensive backs indefinitely suspended. Look who just got needier. Brent?
1. The Season is Over.
If a team can't beat the worst team in the PAC-12 at home, and all that they have left on their schedule is more PAC-12 teams, many would say there is no hope left for this season. That is the wrong approach for a number of reasons. First, we're talking about a new beginning with a new group of coaches. It's worth watching not just for that first surprise win but for learning about this team under these coaches and exactly how they're building the foundation for a new Colorado football program. We've already seen special teams improve little by little, and kicker-wise by a lot. We've seen the promise of a potent passing attack. We'll see more. Second, it is clear that Jon Embree and many of the players do not believe for a moment that the season is over. You saw Embree at the press conference after the game. Do you want to tell Embree that the season is over? Be my guest. Do you want to tell Tyler Hansen that the season is over? Don't you dare. Third, there are no unbeatable teams on CU's schedule. How many teams in the old PAC-10 went undefeated last year? Zero. Oregon beat Cal by 2 pts last year and has since lost two games. Stanford lost to Oregon, beat two teams by 4 pts or less, and beat a bad Wash.St. by only 10. The Cardinal has yet to play a good team this year. No coach in the PAC-12 wants to play a desperate, angry team that his team thinks will be an easy win. Besides, how would you feel if you missed that next CU upset because you gave up on the team or the season? Hang in there, Buff Nation.
2. Embree's Emotions are Bad for the Team.
I have read that Coach Embree and AD Bohn have received some criticism of Embree's emotional remarks after the game. Frankly, I've seen nothing of note in the press or in internet blogs or posts that were critical of Embree's remarks. I think it's clear that CU fans are supportive of a coach who clearly hates to lose and wont remain silent when the team does lose. He's on the same page as the rest of us. And until I read or hear something from a player to the contrary, I see no indication that the players dont believe in what Coach Embree is doing and saying. Nevertheless, while emotion expression isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's not necessarily good unless it's channelled in a positive direction. Disappointment must become determination. Steaming anger must become steely resolve. And the biggest metamorphosis must be from despair into delight for the next opportunity to make things right and to enjoy playing the game.
1. He who Hesitates is Lost.
Rather than reiterate the repairs that still need to be made in reducing penalties, let's focus on an area that affects every aspect of the Buffs' game. From quarterback to safety to returner, Colorado players are not acting and/or reacting quickly enough often enough. They hesitate and then are lost, frequently under a pile of opposing players. I know they can make a decision and act quickly because I have seen them do it in the past. Too much of the time, neither Polk nor Perkins gets in position quickly enough to make a play, whether it be a run or a pass. They each need to make a decision and stick with it. Polk should be coached to favor moving up to attack the run, as he is better at hitting and tackling than at coverage, while Perkins should favor moving to coverage, as he is a little better at that. In the return game, they still need to find players on both kickoffs and punts that will make a quick move upfield and stick with it, as well as players who can perceive when a punt is going behind the 10-yard line and will let it go. And Tyler Hansen, while doing a fine job, still waits too long to decide when to throw the ball and when to run. He's overcompensating for a tendency in his early years to run before he passes, ignoring the obvious allure of 10-20 yards of unoccupied turf right in front of him sometimes. Sometimes, he just needs to trust that instinct that tells him to run and run now. And he is throwing to too many receivers too late in their patterns. The solution to that problem is to work on more timing patterns. His timing is perfect on screen and flat plays, so he is highly capable of executing on timed turnaround, short cross, and other such patterns, and has the route runners to execute them on the other side of the pass. The coaching staff needs to work with the offense on quick reads and to emphasize no hesitation. No slow-to-develop plays even when deception is used, as time exposes the illusion. And they will need deception and trickery on both sides of the ball to throw off the better teams they will face, though all such illusion must be grounded in sound fundamental plays.
2. Take Advantage of Superior Conditioning Where Possible
Athletes who train at high altitude always have an advantage in endurance at any altitude. This is no less true in football. I truly believe that CU's team, between the altitude and the intensity of training, are in better shape than their opponents. And I have noted several times that sideline-to-sideline plays and gasser pass patterns appear to have been intentionally used to wear out the opposing defense. It still appears that better use could be made of that strategy even in away games. Against some teams, it may be one of the few advantages CU has. Obviously, it would require digging a little deeper into the roster, and some positions aren't deep enough to make it feasible. But we do have enough players at the offensive skills positions to make it work. Then, on top of that, use of a hurry-up offense would multiple the effects of such a strategy on defenses' ability to keep up. It's worth a try.
3. Ease the Pressure and Play with a Bounce in your Step.
If the coaches and players would step back a little, they might see that they are in a great position for the rest of the season. There is no real pressure on any of them because there are no real expectations by anybody of them. That doesn't mean the Buffs should go out there and act like it doesn't matter by just goofing around. They don't want to fulfill the lowered expectations of nearly all of the PAC-12 media and fanbase. They just need to take the pressure off of themselves enough to enjoy the spoiler role. The coaching staff needs to go for broke more often, take some chances now and then. This will give the players more confidence in knowing that their opponent wont know what CU will be doing next. With less pressure and more confidence, the most talented players will be playing at a more natural and higher level. An attitude of going for broke goes hand-in-hand with never giving up, and when added to a team with stamina and grit, it will produce wins against almost any team out there, STANFORD INCLUDED!
LET'S GO BUFFS! YOU'VE SEEN US OUT THERE FILLING UP THE SEATS DESPITE THE RECORD. WE'RE STILL WITH YOU ALL THE WAY! GO PUNISH THE PAC-12, NEVER RELENT, & ENJOY THE RIDE!! WINNING IS ALWAYS MORE FUN, AND IT'S IN YOU!!! GO BUFFALOES!!!