Yuri Wright has exited the Colorado locker room for the past two Saturdays not really sure of what he was feeling. Despair is too strong a word, but let's just say that a pair of losses in the Buffs' first two games planted him squarely on unfamiliar, undesirable turf.
"I haven't lost a lot in my career," said Wright, a freshman CU cornerback. "I've been undefeated since like the sixth grade. I don't really know . . . it hurt; it's just a new feeling to lose. I haven't lost in a long time."
In fact, CU's 22-17 season-opening loss to Colorado State marked the first football defeat Wright had experienced in at least two-plus years, probbly longer. His New Jersey high school team, Don Bosco Prep, went undefeated in his junior (12-0) and senior (11-0) seasons - the only two he played.
Those glory days are in the distant past. Wright's new team needs a quick tutorial in holding leads, finishing and winning. The next opportunity comes Saturday night (6 p.m. MDT, CBS-Sports Net) at Fresno State, which features the best quarterback and offense that Wright & Co. will have seen so far this season.
Fresno State's Derek Carr is the younger brother of David Carr, a former QB who directed the Bulldogs' 24-22 win against the Buffs in the 2001 season-opener in Boulder. Tracing the Carr lineage doesn't mean much to Wright, who will open at right corner, or fellow freshman Kenneth Crawley, who will open on the left side.
Wright and Crawley were 9-year-olds when the older of the Carrs went to work on the Buffs in Folsom Field. CU defensive coordinator/secondary coach Greg Brown obviously had briefed his players on the Brothers Carr, but particularly about Derek.
"But the other one . . . what's his name again?" Wright asked with a sheepish grin.
Doesn't really matter that the brief history lesson didn't take; all Wright, Crawley and the other members of Brown's defense need to remember is that Derek Carr, in Brown's words, "throws it all over the place."
Pretty well, too. Moreover, he'll be chucking it against a CU defense that's minus three starters - safety Ray Polk, cornerback Greg Henderson, middle linebacker Doug Rippy - and starting at least three true freshmen - Wright, Crawley and probably Marques Mosley at nickel back. The defense's true freshman total could go to four if Josh Tupou opens at tackle, as expected.
The Bulldogs, 1-1 after losing 42-25 last week at No. 4 Oregon, use much of the same zone-read option offense that the Buffs frequently found confusing last Saturday in their head-scratching, mind-numbing 30-28 loss to Sacramento State. Plus, Carr, a 6-3, 210-pound junior, is a more efficient quarterback than Sac State's Garrett Safron and has better weapons in receiver Davante Adams, a 6-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman, and running back Robbie Rouse, a 5-7, 190-pound senior.
In two games this season, Carr is 49-of-72 passing for 532 yards and three touchdowns (no interceptions), while Adams has caught 19 passes for 210 yards and two TDs. (Crawley and Wright know him as "No. 15 . . . he can run; looks like their go-guy," Crawley said.) Rouse has averaged 119 rushing yards so far and needs only 79 more to become Fresno State's career rushing leader.
Fresno State is averaging 266 passing yards a game, CU is allowing 242.5. The Buffs are still looking for their first interception of the season.
Brown knew in August that Fresno State would be the first of several upcoming offenses to pose coverage problems with three- and four-receiver sets - and that was before his secondary lost Polk and Henderson. Brown was counting on incoming players such as Wright, Crawley and Mosley being utilized in nickel and dime packages as his extra defensive backs. Having them all start in the third week of the season wasn't in the forecast.
Now, as it was for most of last season, depth once again is an issue against the Fresno State offense and those in the Pac-12 that "force your hand because of their personnel groupings," Brown said. "We miss (Polk and Henderson). But when we say that, we're not making excuses. It is what it is; whoever's on the field is a Buff and has to represent us - which we did not do (last week)."
Against Sacramento State, the Buffs allowed a 72-yard drive in the final 2:26 that culminated in a game-winning field goal on the final play. Of that drive's nine plays, seven were passes (four completions, two pass interference calls) that moved the Hornets from their own 15 to the Buffs' 17.
"I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus; I'm not going to say names other than saying we did not get the job done," Brown said. "We did not answer the bell. They went down there and kicked the game winner. Wow . . . that's a hard, hard loss. It is what it is. Hats off to Sac State; they did a good job and we did a poor job."
Brown is expected to start Wright and Crawley at the corners, with juniors Terrel Smith and Parker Orms at the safety spots. Mosley will be the nickel back, with freshman Jeffrey Hall and sophomore Jered Bell also available for dime work.
With a mere two games on his freshmen's resumes, CU coach Jon Embree still is hoping for weekly growth "on some technique issues, alignment things. I just want them to continue to make strides. I thought (Wright and Crawley) both handled some of the situations well and were aware. Now it's just a matter of them continuing to get comfortable and being a little more aggressive, maybe on some passes and get some PBUs (passes broken up) or some picks."
Crawley opened the season at left corner while Wright moved into the starting lineup when Henderson was injured. Crawley's emphasis in week three is sharpening his man-to-man coverage and recapturing "the same energy I had coming out in that first game," he said. Wright is "still learning the defense and getting everything down pat . . . it's different from week to week; you just have to keep on getting good at that," he said.
Offensively, CU is hoping for more efficient play from starting QB Jordan Webb, who is 34-of-65 (52.3 percent) passing for 347 yards and three TDs (no interceptions). Searching for more of a ground game than was shown in the opener (58 yards), CU got 147 yards rushing and three TDs from freshman fullback-turned-tailback Christian Powell against Sac State. The offense will be minus starting center Gus Handler (ankle) on Saturday night, with either Brad Cotner or Daniel Munyer expected to step in. Also, tailback Tony Jones (shoulder, ankle) did not make the trip.
The Buffs are on a modest one-game road winning streak, having upset Utah 17-14 in the last season's final game to break a 24-game out-of-state losing streak. Embree and his staff stressed capitalizing on that win throughout off-season conditioning work and into August camp. But any carryover crashed down in the first two games, leaving the Buffs desperate for a breakthrough 'W' in only the season's third week.
"Yeah, I feel like we can get it," Crawley said. "I feel like we've just got to improve more on details. We're there, but we have to take care of the details in our game."
Webb called the chance to win a road game "a huge way to turn the season around. Fresno is a very tough environment to play in, but our coaches are preparing us for it very well. We're going to come in prepared to play our best game."
The Buffs were favorites in their first two games, but the pair of embarrassing losses has contributed to them being two-touchdown underdogs on Saturday night. It's a sobering scenario, but maybe being overlooked has become CU's ace-in-the-hole.
"We can't focus on what happened in the past," Webb said. "It's about moving forward and keeping on pace. Everybody loves an underdog story. It can fun to be that underdog (and win), but we just have to keep playing."