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The words echoed through a silent locker room with rude force.
“Being close isn’t good enough,” said head coach Jon Embree to his players after his team’s 36-33 overtime loss to Cal.
A bid to revenge last season’s 52-7 demolition in Berkeley went awry through a chain of missed tackles, blown coverage, and repeating penalties.
Not much is falling the way Embree expected. Or the way anyone predicted for that matter.
“I expected to be 2-0,” Embree said. “That team and that staff expected to be 2-0, and we are not. I don’t want to sound sour, I don’t want to diminish what the kids have done, but we came here to win.”
With an oversized load of offensive linemen, the Buffs set their pro-style offense to center on trucking people through the running game.
Instead, it is senior Tyler Hansen and the passing game that give offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy’s side some needed energy. Hansen threw 50 times for 474 yards, both all-time CU highs.
CU’s signal-caller lasted the whole day without much relief from his running backs.
Senior Rodney Stewart found no holes behind his linemen when taking Hansen’s handoffs up the gut. Most of his yards came via screen passes, as the Buffs never reliably pushed back Cal’s defensive line.
“We just need those five [linemen] up front to mold and play together and play as one unit,” Hansen said. “Especially in the running game we need to play as a unit.”
In a matchup where future NFL receiving prospects were abundant, including Cal’s Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, Richardson shined most brilliantly, catching eleven balls for 284 yards and breaking the school-record for most receiving yards in a game.
Still, Richardson found negatives to highlight in the offense’s performance.
“The run game is what we have been working on, and we have a really strong running game when we are clicking and all doing our jobs,” Richardson said. “It’s our job [as receivers] to make the blocks on the perimeter and spring [Rodney Stewart] free, and we can do that, and we are going to do that (in the future).”
Embree’s staff signed up to captain a sinking ship that may take years to help right. The holes in this program will not be patched in two games, maybe not even two seasons.
But those record-setting performances on offense place focus in the right direction.
After losing two starting corners to the NFL, the thinning secondary was supposed to give up huge yardage. Not relatively deep in linemen or experienced linebackers, the front seven consistently finds its way to quarterbacks. Three sacks on Cal’s Zach Maynard give the group eight total on this young season. What was assumed to be the weakness is now the one of the Buffs’ surviving assets.
On the other hand, twelve penalties–including nine in the first half–temporarily deflate the opinion that a staff decked with NFL experience can turn discipline issues into an immediate fixture of the past.
False start penalties in particular stained the offensive line.
“I don’t understand the issues of snapping a football,” Embree said. “I will get that fixed; that’s on me.”
A hodgepodge of missed tackles plagued the defense as well, allowing Cal to score on numerous crucial possessions.
In overtime, the defense needed to hold Cal’s offense following a field goal that gave the Buffs a 33-30 advantage. Cal backed itself into a 1st-&-30 situation with two penalties, but Maynard threw 32-yards to Allen to setup the game-winning touchdown.
“We are there to make plays, so we’ve just got to make them,” said junior linebacker Jon Major. “They made the plays when they had to and they made one more than us.”
A halftime honoring of the 2001 Big 12 Championship Team serves as a homely reminder to how far they are from seriously challenging the Pac-12’s elite. That group played a trio of teams ranked among the AP poll top-3 in consecutive games, and won two in that stretch.
This 2011 version might have trouble containing the top three members of the Sun Belt Conference.
Crisis in the defensive secondary will rear its ugly head again, maybe not next week, but eventually. Meetings with some of the nation’s greatest quarterbacks loom, including Stanford’s Andrew Luck and USC’s Matt Barkley.
“As a defense, we’re not getting it done, that’s the bottom line,” said senior captain and safety Anthony Perkins.
It was the head coach who remained most disappointed of all, surprised with his team’s presentation after two losses. By games end, Embree was hard-pressed to accept his team’s loss.
“I thought we would win,” Embree said. “We continually find a way not to finish.”
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Michael Krumholtz and Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org.