BOULDER - Colorado assistant coaches Eric Bieniemy and Brian Cabral are dealing with the same dilemma after losing a starter each in last weekend's loss at Washington. But Bieniemy's choice of replacements at tailback is clearer cut than Cabral's at linebacker.
To replace leading rusher Rodney "Speedy" Stewart, Bieniemy will plug in redshirt freshman Tony Jones, whose play as Stewart's backup has increased over the past several weeks. In reserve, Bieniemy will have sophomore Josh Ford and true freshman Malcolm Creer.
But Cabral was unsure on Monday who would step in for leading tackler Doug Rippy, who, like Stewart, suffered a knee injury in CU's 52-24 loss to UW. However, while Stewart is expected to be out from two to four weeks, Rippy is finished for the season.
Cabral's options involve shifting junior Jon Major from the "sam" (outside) position into Rippy's middle linebacker spot; elevating true freshman Brady Daigh, Rippy's backup, to a starting role; or possibly shifting sophomore Derrick Webb from the "will" inside position to the middle - a spot Webb has played.
"I can move Major anywhere I need him," Cabral said. "I just don't know right now what our plan of attack is for Oregon and what I need to do to adjust my guys. I'm going to get the best guys out there . . . I've got to see who my best three are and go from there."
CU (1-6, 0-3) faces No. 9 Oregon (5-1, 3-0) Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (Root Sports) at Folsom Field. The Ducks present another formidable challenge for a Buffs defense that has allowed an average of 557 yards in total offense and 50 points in its past two games.
Cabral said Daigh is "coming along. I like his progress, there's a long, long way to go but there's a reason why he's playing as a freshman."
Head Coach Jon Embree said Daigh, a 6-2, 235-pounder, "has to be real ready . . . just add water and it's instant oatmeal, right? We'll play him and get him going, see how he does. He comes from a good high school program (Mullen), so we know he's been coached. He's been preparing well all year and he picks things up, so there you go."
Cabral was hopeful that his position could stay free of the injury epidemic that has broadsided the Buffs.
"I was hoping I wouldn't have to go through what everyone else is going through," he said. "That was really hard to lose Rippy and then a player like Rippy. He was playing so well, so very well. He was finally coming into his own."
Rippy's spirits, said Cabral, have remained "pretty good initially. (But) I think he's in shock . . . when the reality of surgery and Saturday come, that's probably when it'll hit him the most - not being out there."
Subbing for Stewart, Jones played about 21/2 quarters last Saturday and rushed for 49 yards on 14 carries. He scored on runs of two and one yards, impressing Embree with his hard running at the goal line and "not just sticking the ball out. He's finishing the run and sticking it out late to make sure he broke the plane. A lot of times young guys start sticking it out early and that's when you get turnovers. But I thought he ran well."
Creer - at 5-11, 205 the biggest of CU's current tailbacks - made the trip to Seattle last weekend as a reward for his work on the scout team in preparation for the Huskies. Embree was determined to keep Creer in a redshirt, but that's changed."
"He'll be up practicing with us and be ready to go," Embree said. "He's next in line, him and Josh Ford."
Bieniemy called Creer "a smart kid . . . and he brings a different dimension because of his size. I've told him, 'You have an opportunity to play, to start your clock right now, why not make the most of it?' He's excited, looking forward to the challenge."
Ditto for Jones, said Bieniemy, noting in the 5-7, 175-pound Jones' first career start he needs to be sounder in pass protection: "I've told him to just relax . . . don't panic. The calls haven't changed, be poised under pressure and do the job. He's going to be all right. He's going to make the most of this opportunity. I'm looking forward to watching him play.
"We're going to coach each and every kid the same. I always tell kids when we start camp - I tell the starter I'm coaching him not to allow those guys to take his job. I tell those other guys I'm coaching you to take his job. Now they have an opportunity to go out and prove what they can do."
Football's violent nature breeds injuries, but Embree said, "You don't ever think of it being as this magnitude . . . I just look on the bright side. There's going to be a year when we go through unscathed. I guess we're going to get them all out this year. But it's unfortunate; it's a violent game. Stuff happens and the other side of it is that you get an opportunity to develop depth . . . an opportunity to get some young guys going and playing."
ON REIGNING IN THE DUCKS: Oregon leads the Pac-12 in total offense (539.0 yards a game) and scoring offense (48.7 points). CU won't face a faster attack - either in collective speed or in the overall offensive tempo.
How to dial down the Ducks' speed? California created a controversy in last season's 15-13 loss to Oregon by allegedly faking injuries to slow the speed of the game.
In light of his team's injury epidemic, Embree laughed about Cal's alleged tactic Monday. "You don't have to worry about us faking injuries," he said. "We don't have to do that - when somebody's down, they're down. That's for sure."
On slowing the Ducks, Embree said, "You have to ask Chip (Kelly, Oregon coach). Chip knows the secret of slowing them down, you've got to get it out of him."
BUFF BITS: Embree is hopeful of getting top receiver Paul Richardson back at least by USC's visit (Nov. 4) or hopefully for the Arizona State trip (Oct. 29) . . . . Cornerback Travis Sandersfeld (fractured fibula) ran on Monday to determine whether he might return this week. A decision is expected later in the week . . . . Embree said freshman Stephane Nembot is adjusting well to offensive tackle and will stay at that position . . . . Oregon's offensive coordinator is Mark Helfrich, who spent one season at CU in the same capacity on former coach Dan Hawkins' staff . . . . Former offensive tackle Jim Hansen, CU's most recent Rhodes Scholar and an All-Big Eight selection and team captain in the early 1990s, addressed the Buffs at the conclusion of Monday's practice.