Colorado fans must be patient.
Obviously, that’s a difficult assignment, given that’s all you’ve been told for the past six seasons, going back to Dan Hawkins’ first in 2006. But the coaching staff as presently constituted is savvy, intelligent and, most importantly, has put a high priority on accountability.
It was a Hawkinsian performance turned in by the Buffaloes and their coaching staff on Saturday. But you can bet that the response to CU’s failure in Columbus on the part of the coaching staff will be radically different than that of the previous regime. Therein lies the greatest difference between Jon Embree and Hawkins. Embree will have one look at the game tape from Ohio State and undoubtedly take responsibility for the laundry list of mistakes the Buffs made. He will hold his players, his staff and, most importantly, himself accountable for their actions on and off the field. It would be truly a surprise to see Rodney Stewart keep his punt return duties after fielding two punts inside the CU five yard line and dropping one of them, handing Ohio State three free points. If he is returning against Washington State, you can be sure that he will not go near another punt inside the 10.
In a game that induced migraine after migraine, one fun moment came after wide receiver Keenan Canty committed an illegal procedure penalty. Embree walked over to Canty and receivers Bobby Kennedy, removed his headset and proceeded to give Canty a piece of his mind. It was a cathartic moment for CU fans, because, finally, after five years, mistakes are accompanied with consequences.
It’s that kind of thirst and demand for perfection that makes Embree a perfect fit at his alma mater. Unfortunately for the staff and the upperclassmen, failure will rear its ugly head this year. The difference is that Embree’s Buffs might just refuse to accept it, and this attitude will make CU successful in the near future.
Losing by more than 20 points on the road at Ohio State in Jon Embree’s fourth game shouldn’t sound the alarm system for Buffs backers. If the Buffs struggle to stay competitive against borderline top-25 opponents in Embree’s fourth season, then concern would certainly be justifiable.
The sense of post-Ohio State panic comes from the sloppiness the Buffs exhibited on Saturday. On the laundry list of mistakes are: a botched handoff from Tyler Hansen to Rodney Stewart; a poorly executed, left-footed rugby-style punt from Darragh O’Neill that went a little more than 20 yards; and a dropped punt from Stewart right before halftime that effectively punctured the fledgling balloon that was CU’s momentum going into the locker room.
But this is where the patience comes in — it takes time to correct old habits. The O’Neill punt notwithstanding, Colorado’s mistakes were straight out of a Dan Hawkins coached game. Each and every miscue displayed on Saturday, CU fans have seen before. Colorado’s performance in Columbus was the same recurring nightmare from the past five years.
The three games that preceded the OSU debacle were the three best-coached games in recent memory.
Embree and his offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, script the first 15 plays of the game, something the previous staff would never have done. There were certainly mistakes, but adjustments were made, and CU always ended the game stronger than they started.
That said, a win on Saturday against Washington State is necessary to keep confidence levels high. The Cougars have been one of the weakest teams in the Pac-10 in the past several years, but the most important factor comes geographically. Colorado is a far different (and better) team when they are at Folsom Field, which they are this weekend. Should CU lose, they may have a difficult time coming up with a win in their remaining eight conference games. But even if this happens the message wouldn’t change.
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