Jon Embree during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Mile High Stadium on Sept. 17, 2011. (CU Independent/James Bradbury)
Two straight losses were never part of his plan. When Jon Embree returned to Boulder as head coach, he talked a big game of restoring confidence.
Finally, his program has a base to build upon. His staff and his boys, as he speaks with the inflection of a proud papa, defeated Front Range rival CSU by fighting back when down and finishing when ahead.
“Obviously all those people stepped up and refused to let it go away without a fight,” Embree said. “We put in too much work to let it just go away without fighting.”
Fresh off an overtime loss to Cal, his Buffs were desperate to climb from the ranks of the defeated. His intensity lit an underachieving team to an emotional—and needed—victory.
“It’s easy to come out and work hard when you’re undefeated,” Embree said. “But what do you do when you’re 0-2? What do you do when they question you? It doesn’t look good when it looks like everything you wanted to achieve is going to go out the window and slip out of your grasp.”
Early on during their eventual win over CSU, the Buffs looked like a tattered collection of stuffed animals, playing slow and unconsciouss.
By the first quarter’s conclusion, they amounted more penalty yards (40) than total offense (ten yards in eight plays). With last week’s distressing overtime loss still hanging behind their eyes, the offense’s energy was spent and the defense overwhelmed itself with personal fouls.
“We’re a team that has to play on passion and emotion,” Embree said. “It felt too business like early on.”
Once the offense stressed its focus in Rodney Stewart they moved the ball in easy rhythm, allowing quarterback Tyler Hansen to throw two touchdowns and run for another two.
The 5 ft., 6in., senior gained nearly 200 total yards by himself, including a team-high seven catches for 93 yards. Stewart, playing with an injury, had an all-over performance to compliment the tough philosophies of his coach.
“I have a shoulder bruise, I have a lot of things [hurting],” said Stewart with a laugh. “But I have to come in and be a leader for my team.”
The usually composed Embree cracked a tear while talking to reporters about his special opportunity to head his Alma matter. He raised his voice when recalling his group’s effort.
“I’m just proud because I can tell they’re listening,” Embree said. “You say certain things and you practice certain things but you never know until you get on the field. I’m proud of them.”
Unique to past seasons, this team seems motivated to justify their coach’s toil, obsessed to reflect his pride onto the field. Senior captain and quarterback Tyler Hansen claimed the win belonged to his mentor on the sidelines.
“It means a lot [because] we love Coach Embree,” Hansen said. “It was really important for us to get that first win.”
Though they won by two touchdowns, the Buffs struggled to maintain drives because they put themselves behind yardage and let the Rams offense off the hook with personal fouls. Embree said afterwards that he “took the leash” off his defense and even stepped up to take the blame for his players’ fouls.
CU can get away with ten penalties against little brother CSU. But when they travel to the Horseshoe to face Ohio State, or when they host Oregon, a continued scene of flying yellow flags will prove to be nightmarish for the coaches.
“As our schedule goes on, its going to do nothing but get harder,” Embree said. “So we have to continue to find a way to start better.”
His no-nonsense, winner-take-all outlook has the Buffs rejuvenated. For now. Next step: end the eighteen game road losing streak and return that pride.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Michael Krumholtz at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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