The Long Road Back

Colorado head coach Jon Embree was an assistant coach at UCLA for three seasons, from 2003-05. With the Bruins playing their home games in the Rose Bowl, Embree is very familiar with playing games in Pasadena.

This past week, with the Buffs traveling to Pasadena to play the UCLA Bruins for the first time as a member of the Pac-12, Embree talked about returning to the Rose Bowl, not as a visiting team, but as the conference representative as the Pac-12 champion.

It’ll be awhile …

After a big home win over Arizona, the Buff Nation basked in the glow of the possibilities of a strong finish to the 2011 season. After struggling all season to score, the Buffs rolled up 48 points against the Wildcats, the highest point total for Colorado since posting 65 against Nebraska in 2007.

Could Colorado post back-to-back wins for the first time since interim head coach Brian Cabral led the Buffs to wins over Iowa State and Kansas State last November?

Could the Buffs live up to the guarantee of their senior quarterback Tyler Hansen, who boasted that the 28 seniors in the Class of 2011 would take out the last vestige of the Dan Hawkins’ era?

Could the Buffs finally play a complete game on the road?

Could Colorado finally show up in the first quarter?

No. No. No. And No.

UCLA appeared to be the best bet at a road win for the Buffs since the opener against Hawai’i. The Bruins came into the game at 5-5, and while it was true that UCLA controlled its own destiny in the Pac-12 South division race, it was also true that the Bruins were not world-beaters. Coming off of a 31-6 loss to Utah, the Bruins’ head coach, Rick Neuheisel, was rated as the No. 1 head coach in the head coach hot seat ranking.

The Bruins also appeared to be the Buffs’ best bet for a fast start on the road. The Buffs’ inability to play well in the first quarter was well known, but not as well documented were the Bruins’ first quarter struggles. On the year, the Bruins had only scored 30 first quarter points, while giving up 65 to the opposition.

So, how did the first quarter play out?

Buffs’ first three drives:

– Four plays, punt

– Two plays, interception

– Four plays, punt

Meanwhile, UCLA, with all of 30 first quarter points in ten games, also had three first quarter drives:

– Two plays, touchdown

– One play, touchdown

– 12 plays, touchdown

The Buff Nation had grown accustomed to the Buffs falling behind by several touchdowns to good teams, but to UCLA?

Down 21-0, the Buffs, to their credit, did not quit. Colorado out-scored UCLA 6-0 in the second quarter, with Tyler Hansen hitting fellow senior Toney Clemons for a 20-yard touchdown. At the half, the Buffs had more plays (33-30), almost as many first downs (10-9), and the edge in time of possession (15:30 – 14:30).

But the Bruins had more than twice as many yards (260-117), and more than twice as many points – 21-6 (Buff kicker Will Oliver, after being perfect for the first nine games of the season, missed an extra point for the second time in as many weeks to account for the halftime score).

Any hopes of a Colorado comeback were quickly extinguished as UCLA took the second half kickoff and marched down the field, stopped only when the Bruins got to the Colorado three yard line. A goal line stand, unique for the Colorado defense in 2011, forced a field goal. The Buffs countered with another Tyler Hansen interception on the Buffs’ second play of the third quarter.

The Colorado defense kept the score respectable through the third quarter, surrendering only a field goal as the Colorado offense continued to struggle.

Then, early in the fourth quarter, the Bruins added insult to injury. Up 24-6, UCLA faced a fourth-and-three at the Colorado 21 yard line. A 3-0 career record against his former team already all but guaranteed (the Colorado offense had posted an anemic 148 yards of total offense through three quarters), UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel eschewed a 38-field goal attempt. The Bruins converted the fourth-and-three with a six yard run, scoring a touchdown on the next play to make the score 31-6.

Instead of adding the final nail the Rick Neuheisel coffin, the Buffs instead gave their former coach a sixth win, a bowl bid, and kept the Bruins on track to claim a berth in the Pac-12 championship game.

Not what the Buff Nation was looking for when the 2011 schedule was announced.

The final score left Colorado with not only another road loss, but another road blowout. In the previous ten road games, covering all of 2010 and 2011, the Buffs had given up an average of 43 points, and had not come within 17 points of any opponent.

With the loss, the road losing streak was extended to 23 games. How bad is the streak? Even with three ten loss seasons in the Buffs’ past (1980, 1984, 2006), Colorado had never lost more than ten consecutive road games before the latest streak, and that was back in the bleakest days of the Chuck Fairbanks’ era.

While the vast majority of the losses, of course, are attributable to Dan Hawkins, the Jon Embree staff cannot avoid its share of blame. In 2011, Colorado has lost on the road by 17 points (Hawai’i), 20 points (Ohio State), 41 points (Stanford), 28 points (Washington), 34 points (Arizona State), and now 39 points (UCLA).

While Stanford is a top ten team, the other opponents the Buffs have faced are not dominant teams – the Buffs just make them look that way.

Hawai’i is now 5-6 after a home loss Saturday night to (pause for irony) Fresno State. Yet the Buffs fell behind the Warriors 17-0 at halftime.

Ohio State is 6-5, but also was able to forge a 17-0 lead before the Buffs were able to find the endzone.

Stanford is 10-1, and little was expected from the Buffs in their trip to Palo Alto – but it was 27-7 at halftime on the way to a 48-7 embarrassment.

Washington is all of 6-5, but the Huskies easiest game of year was against Colorado. After allowing the Buffs a spark of hope with an opening drive touchdown, Washington scored on all six first half drives in building a 38-10 halftime lead.

Arizona State is also 6-5, but the Sun Devils looked like championship contenders in forging a 31-7 halftime lead on Colorado (with the Buffs’ only first half score coming on defense).

Saturday, it was ULCA’s turn. The Bruins are also now a robust 6-5, but a 21-0 first quarter lead was all it took to make a mockery of the Buffs’ confidence.

Six road games in 2011. Six blowout losses – with only one of the six sporting a record better than 6-5.

Colorado is not only not able to win on the road, the Buffs are wholly unable to be competitive.

What will it take for the Buffs to win a game on the road?

Perhaps the game against Utah will present a chance, albeit a small one. The Utes play well at home, and are 7-4 on the season. Utah has a very good defense, which does not bode well for a Colorado team which has an offense which struggles on the road (the Buffs did not go over 200 yards in total offense against UCLA until the final drive of the game).

A likely loss to Utah will leave the Buffs – and their fans – to live with the losing streak into 2012. The first road game of 2012, against Fresno State, will become – as was the Hawai’i game back in September – the “brick game”. The game against the Bulldogs (4-7 after taking out Hawai’i Saturday night), looks like a good chance at a victory … lat least for the next nine months, as Buff fans attempt to deflect criticism from other fan bases concerning their inept home team.

Colorado walked off the Rose Bowl field 45-6 losers, aware of their losing streak, cognizant that the Bruins had scored all the points they needed to win in the first three minutes of play.

Colorado will return to the Rose Bowl in 2013, once again as a road team. Once again the Buffs will don the road whites. Perhaps by then the Buffs will have figured out how to win on the road consistently. Perhaps by then, a return trip to Pasadena, as the champions of the Pac-12, will not be a distant and fanciful dream.

If Colorado were to represent the Pac-12 as the champions of the conference, they would likely be allowed to wear their home colors, instead of their road whites.

So the Buffs would have that going for them …

… which is nice.

9 Replies to “The Long Road Back”

  1. The most important thing a coach can do is get good players.If you have them, you win. Actually coaching them is secondary.

    An example from the past. Casey Stengel was manager of the New York Yankees when they won 10 American League Championships and 7 World Series between 1949 and 1960. He wasn’t a great manager, he had great players.

    In 1962 Casey Stengel was the manager of the New York Mats. Their record was 40-120. He wasn’t a terrible manager, he had terrible players.

    If Embree can recruit, CU will win in the future.

  2. The problem with buffs has been coaching for the last 6-7 years and that won’t change for the next 5. We just don’t have the coaches that can compete in division 1. I think instead of pac 12 we should have moved to WAC. We just don’t have the athletes and the coaches to compete in a BCS conference.

    1. Gary Barnett was a Division 1 coach. The program would have rebound if he would have been retained. People have short memories.

  3. Stuart,

    Terry has a great point and it would be great to see an article on this topic. You have a wonderful knowledge of the facts and allegations concerning this. I have a good idea of what is going on but then again I have a hell of a Kool Aid hangover going on that might pollute the truth! Your the expert Stu ; )

  4. I believe the biggest problem with the Buffs is the quality of the athletes. I believe they play and practice as hard as most teams, and the coaching, while still moving up the learning curve, is good enough to win.

    What I’d like to hear about is why we can’t get 4 and 5 star recruits. And I don’t mean one or two, I mean a half dozen a year. Is our academic standard too high? Is it that we don’t have curricula designed for “athletes?” Why can’t we recruit OL and DL lines? Are kickers that can put KO’s in the end zone or make 100% of their PAT’s that hard to find? I look at our 2012 class so far and it looks like Hawkins is doing our recruiting.

    Anyone who has some insight would have my undivided attention.

    1. Terry,

      Unfortunately, winning breeds winning, and losing breeds losing. It takes a great deal of effort, time, and a little luck to break out of that cycle.

      In 1982, Bill McCartney inherited a team which had three straight losing seasons. He proceeded to win all of two games his first year. At the end of three years, he had a total of seven victories. Yet Bill Marolt, the AD at the time, believed in his coach, and gave McCartney – fresh off of a 1-10 season in 1984 – a contract extension. Coach Mac turned it around in 1985 … by switching to the wishbone offense.

      Since it is unlikely that Jon Embree will go to the wishbone, and unlikely he will get a contract extension if he only wins seven games in three years, we all want a quick fix. Problem is, it isn’t coming.

      Why can’t the Buffs get more 4* and 5* players? I really can’t say for certain. I could never figure out why any high school senior would rather spend five years in Lincoln, Nebraska, or Norman, Oklahoma, than beautiful Boulder. The answer, perhaps, has to do with the culture at Colorado.

      When Buff fans clamour for a better football team, they need look no further than their own backyard for reasons why recruits flock to other schools. CU is not a football school. In fact, there has always been an undercurrent, both in the town and in the CU faculty, which resents/dislikes and works against the atheltic department.

      Do you think Lawrence Phillips would have kept on playing had he been at CU? Not a chance. Yet in Lincoln, it was the beat up girlfriend and the police which were accosted, not the player.

      Do you think Oregon’s Cliff Harris would have been suspended for more than one game had he been pulled over for doing 113 mph at 4:00 a.m. with a suspended driver’s license and smoking pot had he been at CU? Nope. (I’m not advocating recruiting criminals, just noting that other schools have different philosophies).

      I have been to many other schools to watch the Buffs play. The football culture and atmosphere in Athens, Columbus, Lincoln, Austin, College Station, etc., is a world apart from what you see in Boulder. Yes, facilities play a major role in recruiting. Yes, the quality of the coaching staff plays a major role in recruiting. But the culture at CU is not something Jon Embree – or Mike Bohn – can change overnight.

      So, what will it take to get more 4* and 5* players to Boulder? Facilities will be a good start, but it will be toward the end of the decade before Colorado will begin to be competitive with other teams in the Pac-12 in that area.

      In the meantime, it will take great recruiting by Embree and his staff to find the “overlooked” three star player, and mold them into stars (Rodney Stewart, you’ll recall, was a throw in recruit, barely mentioned on signing day as everyone waited for 5* RB Darrell Scott to put on a CU hat).

      All Buff fans can be is patient. Football for schools like CU is cyclical – and Colorado is a top 20 team all-time!

      1. Does Colorado still have self imposed sanctions left over from the Barnett era? My understanding is that they do and this is not to mention the tough academic requirements to get into the school. Colorado does not exactly offer Underwater Basket Weaving for some of the brighter athletes who would rather focus their energy on playing football. “Show me a Top 25 Program and I’ll show you a program that cheats!” Have you ever heard that said before? Colorado cannot risk taking the highway after being caught with their pants during the post Neuheisal – Gary Barnett era. Many schools flat out bribe their student athletes to join their program. Colorado cannot afford to take this risk. This is probably more common after an honest climb to the top. These kids do not go to schools for free anymore. You want me to play, you gotta pay. Ask Cam Newton, Cam is the rule anymore, not the exception.

  5. Embree? Why the hell do you give a rat’s ass about sending the seniors out with a road victory. I have some armchair quarterback advice for ya…..SHOW THEM THE FRIGGIN DOOR! These seniors have brought us the losing tradition that Colorado fans have come to take for granted. This is their legacy. From Rodney Stewart bouncing backwards off a wall of defenders every other week, to John Major arm tackling the opposition on the two yard line. How about just throwing the babies out with the bathwater while your at it! CU is terrible because of the same situation every year. Do you have depth at the running back and tight end positions? Do you actually care that the second string Running Back is as lousy as Speedy? I care! Maybe Speedy was a great RB but only because nobody ever bothered to develop anybody else. Hows Daryl Scott doing these days? Hows Josh Ford doing sitting on the bench with a 7 yard per carry average and a Buffalo Heart Of Gold?

    WTF Embo? Did you not learn anything from your predecessor? The season was lost after the Oregon game, forget the past and start building the future before you are watching it from your couch. These seniors are the kids that lost every road game for the past four years! They don’t get it, they are not going to get it! They don’t want to win! They don’t know how to win! They had their fun beating up Arizona last weekend (Lets go kill some flowers!).

    The future of the Colorado Football team has quite a few players that really could use some quality playing experience against Utah next weekend, especially because they are the same one and two star redneck flunkies that Hawkins so loved to recruit. Speedy can still play when the future star Josh Ford needs some rest. Of course Josh won’t be a star until his second senior year because you have this penchant for dwarfs like the moron before you who preferred them over 5 star #1 picks who are raging at South Florida right now. You have a 6’4 Freshman QB that needs some reps instead of the midget Sr. flunkie that looks like he is peeing like a sophomore fraternity girl on the side of the road when he is under center. Whats one more loss? Are you worried that the kiddies might get injured or traumatized? Don’t worry about that, it’s not any different than the past twelve games and besides, they have the entire bowl season to get over it!

    I honestly thought that you were gonna back up your tough talk guarantee tonight and beat down Dicky boy in the Rose bowl instead of helping UCLA mow the grass. Maybe you should tell EB to stop yelling at the kids until they piss themselves and start getting them counseling to help them overcome their fear of success.

    Tonight is the first time in three years that I turned over the tube before the last second rolled off. I had faith that things were going to be different. I now realize that four years from now Colorado might still be the team with the losing tradition. Bring back the HOOKER!

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