Brooks: Buffs Find Another Route To Heartache
BOULDER - A loss is a loss is a loss, but don't believe anyone who suggests there aren't bad losses, incredibly bad losses and losses that rip open the chest cavity and bust a break dance on the heart.
The Colorado Buffaloes opened themselves up to one of those in September - and apparently it wasn't sufficient. So they ushered in October (and their Pac-12 Conference membership) in the same unthinkable, torturous way.
The utter dejection of last month's overtime loss to California - remember first-and-30 in OT and a 32-yard Cal completion on the next play? - was one-upped by what happened Saturday against Washington State. After taking a 10-point lead with 5:11 to play, CU allowed WSU a pair of touchdown passes - the last with 1:10 remaining - and lost 31-27.
Of the Cougars' 455 yards in total offense, 167 of it was gained in the two fourth-quarter touchdown marches that enabled them to win for only the second time in 21 road trips. WSU's winning TD drive was of the blink-and-you-missed-it variety: five plays, 40 seconds, 90 yards. Hello...anybody home?
The Buffs now are 1-4 overall and by all accounts not in a very good place. Believe it or not, the schedule toughens up considerably from here. Trips to No. 6 Stanford (next Saturday) and Washington (Oct. 15) await, and CU has this thing - 20 consecutive losses - about playing on the road. And when the Buffs return next to Folsom Field, it will be to face No. 9 Oregon (Oct. 22).
But we're getting ahead of ourselves, which after Saturday's devastating loss seems almost impossible to do. Giving up the touchdown pass that permitted the Cougars to pull to within 27-24 with 2:35 left tensed up the Buffs and the 51,928 watching, but it couldn't happen again in one afternoon...could it?
It did, and here's how:
Lined up on the left side of the formation, WSU receiver Marquess Wilson - he entered the game averaging a FBS-leading 143 receiving yards a contest - put a "double move" on freshman CU cornerback Greg Henderson. Wilson ran about 10 yards, made a hard cut he hoped would draw the corner up, then broke downfield - the "double move."
The only other CU defender in the general vicinity was senior safety Anthony Perkins, but by the time he saw what was happening, Wilson was at least 10 yards behind anyone in a Buffs jersey. Quarterback Marshall Lobbestael lobbed the ball, Wilson slowed a bit to catch it, then completed the 63-yard scoring play with 1:10 remaining.
"I don't know if I've ever felt like this in 30 years (of coaching)," CU defensive coordinator/secondary coach Greg Brown said. "Tough pill to swallow...tough pill to swallow. It shouldn't have come to that, but it did and we lost the game."
Despite a patchwork secondary that included a pair of recent offensive transfers - Jason Espinoza and Brian Lockridge - working at left corner, the Buffs had done a commendable job on the 6-4 Wilson, who was averaging five catches (28.6 yards per) a game. He finished the afternoon with six for 121, but the last was for more than half his total and he let another probable scoring catch trickle off of his fingertips earlier in the half.
But the Big One didn't get away, leaving Brown and his group gut-shot.
This was as expansive as Perkins would get about the play: "They ran a double move and we got beat. Technically, it was... we got beat. I'll leave it at that - we got beat. It was a double move and we got beat...we lost the game."
Neither would Brown assign blame: "I don't want to throw anybody under the bus. We were playing 'three-over-two' on that side ... they ran a little bit of a double move and we didn't get the job done. I'm not about to mention any names or throw anybody under the bus.
"They're good...let's tip our hats to Washington State. They've got some guys who can throw and catch the ball. They've got a good team. They came in here and whipped us."
Not a bad whipping, mind you, but the kind that still leaves the ugliest scars. After he trotted across the field to shake hands with WSU Coach Paul Wulff, first-year CU Coach Jon Embree turned and stepped up his pace, bolting for the locker room.
He also began his postgame press conference at a relatively low volume before eventually thumbing it up. Asked about his message to his players, Embree said - volume rising - "I asked them, 'When is it going to be enough? When is enough enough? You put in all this work, you do all of this stuff that you have done from spring ball to training camp for this? This is what we did the work for? So when is it enough?'
"When are they going to get tired of losing? When are they going to get tired of finding a way to lose, because you know what? This staff, we've been here for five weeks and I'm tired of it. So if you've been here for five years, you've got to be tired of it too."
As dejected as Brown and his bunch were over WSU's final possession, had CU's offense been able to generate a couple of first downs when it got possession with 2:30 to play, there would have been no "double moves" and triple doses of dejection.
Quarterback Tyler Hansen and his unit made only one first down - courtesy of a pass interference penalty - but couldn't manage another and punted. WSU, out of time outs, moved from its 10-yard line with little difficulty.
Said Hansen: "We had opportunities to take the game and we can't make that one play, we can't get that first down. I'm frustrated and disappointed; we constantly find ways to lose the game."
Senior outside linebacker Josh Hartigan mildly disputed that, saying the Buffs simply did what they've grown accustomed to doing: making huge mistakes that negate whatever else they do right.
"It's just mistakes here and there," Hartigan said. "We can't give up big plays, big runs - any big plays. We should have been able to stop these guys. They hadn't had a big play on us all day - then giving up the last play...all the credit to them; it was a good play call. They scored and got the win. It definitely hurts."
Hartigan contended some of his younger teammates "could care less right now. They are kids and are thinking, 'I'll be here for another couple of years and things will get better.' But you know, for a lot of us, this is the last time playing football."
What would he say to redirect some of those underclassmen's thoughts?
"Talk is cheap right now...there's no words for everything that's going on right now," Hartigan said. "You can obviously try and get in those younger guys heads, but I mean there's not much point in talking right now...I'm hurting."
He wasn't alone, merely one of many in a locker room that needs a crash course on how to win - before a season comes crashing down.