Jon Embree and the rest of the CU coaching staff knew there was only one option after the team lost to Hawaii in the season opener: to move forward and continue to improve.
“Kids are resilient,” Embree says. “I’ve put it behind me, and I’m ready to get going against Cal.”
Colorado hosts California on Saturday, a matchup between two Pac-12 teams that won’t count towards each team’s conference record. CU scheduled the game when the team was still part of the Big 12 conference, so Colorado’s move to the Pac-12 puts the Buffs and the Bears in the unusual situation of playing a non-conference game against a conference opponent.
The Golden Bears bring in an offense with a solid receiving core, featuring sophomore Keenan Allen, and senior Marvin Jones. Their running game is inexperienced, with first year starter Isi Sofele getting the nod at tailback. CU struggled defending the running game of Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz, traditionally not a running quarterback, giving up 121 yards and two touchdowns. Come Saturday, the Buffs should be more prepared to deal with Cal’s dual-threat quarterback, Zach Maynard.
“Maynard does a good job in getting on to the edge,” says Embree. “He is more deceptive because of his long stride. Once he gets it going, he takes off. He had a run against Fresno — I think it was about a 50-yarder — and that was pretty impressive to watch him go.”
As if Embree’s Buffs didn’t already have enough to prove, CU carries the added motivation of being recently shellacked by the Golden Bears. Playing in Berkeley in 2010, Cal ran, threw and stomped all over the unprepared and bumbling Buffaloes, destroying them by a score of 52-7.
“Lack of effort — that disturbed me the most,” Embree says, assessing the debacle in 2010. “I don’t feel that we competed very well last year. I felt like we were just hoping for the clock to run out so we could get off the field.”
Colorado does have some positives to build off of from the opener. After falling flat in the first half and failing to put points on the board, CU responded by putting two impressive drives together in the third quarter, both culminating in Tyler Hansen to Paul Richardson touchdown passes. Another bright spot is the performance of the special teams.
Freshman Will Oliver connected on his only field goal of the night from 34 yards, and freshman walk-on punter Darragh O’Neill delivered the most striking display of punting seen by Buffs fans in recent memory, averaging 44.9 yards on his seven punts.
Defensively, the Buffs were mostly solid, reaching Moniz for seven sacks. Missed opportunities tarnished what would have been a relatively golden night, as a dropped interception by Travis Sandersfeld in the fourth quarter would have given CU a chance to drive down the field and tie the game.
Teaching points are certainly easy to come by for Embree’s staff. The Buffs committed seven penalties on the evening, costing them 58 yards. The offense struggled mightily in the first half of play, gaining less than 100 yards. The pass protection wore down as the game progressed, allowing five sacks for 30 yards of damage. While the blame would instinctually be placed on the offensive line, Embree suggests that Hansen should shoulder some of the responsibility.
“Unfortunately, the offensive line gets a lot of blame when the quarterback gets sacked, but sometimes it is not their fault and not their issue,” said Embree. “The quarterback has to get rid of the ball.”
CU is heading into one of their few relatively winnable games. Adrenaline will be running wild for the home opener. Should the Buffs come out on top, reaching a bowl becomes much more of a possibility. Lose, and winning more than three games suddenly becomes a significant challenge.