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Gone in 70 seconds. That’s how quickly CU vacated a ten-point lead in its Pac-12 opener against Washington State, the conference’s last place team for the last two seasons.
Ahead 27-17 with just under three minutes, the secondary allowed Wazzu a sudden pair of touchdown passes to snatch a 31-27 victory from Folsom Field.
Head Coach Jon Embree is not living comfortably in the losses that surrounds his program.
“We don’t expect to win, we obviously don’t,” Embree said in a passionate postgame conference. “So that is on me, I have to figure out a way to get these guys to believe that they can win. It starts with Jon Embree, no one else.”
A bruised secondary had to line up with Brian Lockridge and Jason Espinoza, who started opposite freshman Greg Henderson. They began nobly against a passing attack that ranks fourth in the FBS. But by the final quarter, the secondary’s reserves were all dried up.
Wazzu’s Marquess Wilson, who entered Boulder leading the nation in receiving yards per game, streaked past Henderson for the 63-yard game-clinching touchdown.
“He’s a great corner, but by the end of the game I noticed his weakness and just attacked that,” Wilson said.
Tyler Hansen and the offense tried to stage one final scoring drive, but star receiver Paul Richardson fumbled the chance away.
“We just got to find a way to make that one play,” Hansen said. “There’s a want to. Guys consistently find a way in critical situations to not make that play – and that’s everyone, that’s me included.”
A 1-4 start currently stains Buff seniors like Hansen with a career record of 14-27, including no postseason trips. As the meat of their conference schedule awaits, the prospect of reaching their first bowl glows dimmer.
“So when is it enough?” Embree asked his team. “When are they going to get tired of losing?”
At season’s beginning, media members picked both Washington State and CU to finish last in the Pac-12’s North and South divisions.
“We were picked to finish (last), so right now we’re proving everyone right,” Embree said.
A battle of Pac-12 bottom feeders was littered with mistakes, personal fouls and turnovers. Washington State had four personal fouls by halftime and both teams ended with 10 penalties each. Now the Buffs, who committed one more turnover than the Cougars, are looking ahead to rise from the sewer of the Pac-12 standings.
“It is a good league, but I don’t see ourselves being the worst team in the league,” Embree said.
If that theory is to solidify into reality, the Buffs will need to build upon the balanced offensive effort they showcased in the conference debut.
Coordinator Eric Bieniemy continues to lean his offense on the churning legs of Rodney Stewart, who surpassed his play-caller in rushing attempts by a Buffalo.
That stability is necessary for CU to hang onto their pro-style identity and avoid becoming a typical, pass-happy Pac-12 team.
Stewart’s 26 carries for 132 yards was nearly enough to wind out time on the two-score advantage. But on third down and six, with less than two minutes remaining, the Buffs threw the ball out of bounds and let WSU save its three timeouts for the fate-sealing drive.
For the second time this season, CU was unable to finish off a fourth quarter lead at Folsom Field.
Leading-tackler Doug Rippy and his defense looked just as worn down as they did in the overtime loss to California three weeks ago.
“I’m tired of losing,” Rippy said. “When you walk around campus you constantly have people bugging you saying ‘Oh, what happened in the game?’”
A team riddled by another heartbreak loss has some issues to mend. Especially in the secondary, as they travel to play undefeated Stanford. Cardinal Quarterback Andrew Luck awaits CU’s hobbled defenders with the motivation of title dreams.
On the opposite side will be senior safety Anthony Perkins, who has experienced tough times in with CU. None may be worse than Saturday’s defensive collapse.
Four years into his CU career, he, along with his fellow seniors, starts back at ground zero.
“We don’t have a choice – we have to come back strong,” Perkins said. “After a game like this, there can only be one place to go, and we have to make sure we go up.”
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Michael Krumholtz at Michael.email@example.com