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The Long Road Back

Discussion in 'CU Buffs Newsroom' started by RSSBot, Nov 19, 2011.

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    By Stuart

    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, he became very familiar with playing 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 several touchdowns to good teams, but 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).
    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 until the final moments of the fourth quarter).
    That would leave the Buffs – and their fans – to live with the losing streak into 2012. The Fresno State will become – as was the Hawai’i game back in September – the “brick game”. The game against the Bulldogs (3-7 before a late night game against, ironically enough, Hawai’i), looks like a good chance at a victory … and will for the next nine months, as Buff fans attempt to deflect criticism concerning their inept home team.
    Colorado walked off the Rose Bowl floor 45-6 losers, aware of their losing streak, cognizant that the Bruins had scored all the points they needed to win in the first two 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 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.


    Originally posted by CU At the Game
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