The Colorado Buffaloes' struggling offense could get a boost this week with the expected return of top playmakers Rodney "Speedy" Stewart and Paul Richardson.
CU coach Jon Embree answered in the affirmative Monday afternoon when asked if he expected that duo to be available for Friday night's game against Southern California at Folsom Field (7 p.m., ESPN).
"Yeah, they both practiced," Embree said. "(Richardson) was practicing some last week and 'Speedy' went some (Monday) . . . . Not to sound like a broken record, but you'll have to see how sore they are, if there's swelling, after they've practiced. That's just unfortunately how it is with knees and dealing with the injuries they have."
Richardson, the Buffs' top receiver, has missed four games, while Stewart, the team's No. 1 tailback and leading rusher, has missed the last two.
Stewart said he hoped to be 100 percent by Friday and called being relegated to a spectator's role for the past two weeks "very difficult. Being a leader on this team . . . it was just sad not being a part of things."
CU's offense is last or next-to-last in the Pac-12 Conference in three of the four major categories - scoring (12th, 18.8 points a game), total offense (11th, 335.1 yards a game) and rushing (12th, 90.0 yards a game.) The Buffs are ninth in passing offense (245.1 yards a game).
Stewart said the offense "needs some big plays . . . if we get those and get going, it'll be hard to stop us. Every man on the offense just has to do his job. That's basically it."
Stewart, who was injured in the first half of the Washington game on Oct. 15, missed the lopsided losses to Oregon and Arizona State. At time of his knee injury, he had run for 473 yards and one touchdown on 113 carries and made 28 receptions for 435 yards. He also had returned five punts for 22 yards and 11 kickoffs for 239 yards, giving him a team-high 1,169 all-purpose yards.
He ranks first in the country in receiving yards by a running back, averaging 62.14 a game. His receiving total (435) is a seasonal school record by a running back.
Stewart has had one 100-yard rushing performance this season (132 vs. Washington State), giving him 15 for his career. He trails only his position coach, Eric Bieniemy (22), in that CU category. And Stewart is only 40 yards behind Bieniemy (4,351 to 4,311) in career all-purpose yards at CU.
Richardson has missed the past four games, also with a knee injury. But his five-game total of 29 receptions for 474 yards and five TDs still lead the Buffs in all three categories, with Stewart still at No. 2 in receptions and receiving yards.
At the time of his injury, "P-Rich" was CU's most consistent vertical threat, with his 11 catches for 284 yards against Cal the NCAA's highest single-game yardage total this season. Prior to his injury, he was 23rd in the nation in receiving yards.
CORNERS ORMS, VIGO REINSTATED: Sophomore cornerbacks Parker Orms and Paul Vigo returned to practice Monday after serving four-game suspensions, but neither will be available for Friday night's game.
"They'll practice this week and we'll see what happens after that," Embree said, adding that getting back in playing shape will keep both sidelined for a fifth game. "Conditioning is the question . . . we'll see this week where that's at."
Embree said Orms and Vigo "went above and beyond, they really did, in doing what was asked" to gain reinstatement. "So they earned their way back."
They were among five players - four of them defensive backs - suspended by Embree on Oct. 6, two days before the Buffs played at Stanford. The other three were sophomore corner Ayodeji Olatoye, redshirt freshman corner Josh Moten and sophomore outside linebacker Liloa Nobriga.
Moten, of Carson, Calif., was reinstated two weeks ago and made his first career start last weekend at Arizona State. He accounted for CU's first touchdown, picking up a fumble and scoring on a 16-yard run in the second quarter that cut ASU's lead to 24-7. The Sun Devils won 48-14.
As for Nobriga and Olatoye, Embree said there was "nothing on the horizon for those guys" in regards to a possible reinstatement.
At the time of his suspension, Orms, a former Wheat Ridge High School standout, was nursing a leg/knee injury and was not expected to play against the Cardinal, which overpowered the Buffs 48-7 and since has climbed to No. 4 in this week's AP Top 25.
In CU's first four games, Orms had recorded a team-high 31 tackles (7.8 average), one quarterback sack, another tackle for a loss, five third-down stops, a QB pressure and two passes broken up. Vigo, of New Brunswick, N.J., did not have any defensive statistics at the time of his suspension.
Both Orms and Vigo were contrite Monday, offering post-practice apologies to their teammates.
"I was allowed a second chance and I'm definitely not going to take it for granted," Orms said. "I can't make the same mistakes I made before and have to move on and help my teammates out, get some wins this year and next year and the year after that."
Orms said the punishment "definitely" was justified: "We deserved what we got and that made me a stronger person . . . I'm just happy that (Embree) brought me back and gave me another opportunity."
Returning to playing condition quickly remains a barrier for Orms and Vigo. "I've just got to get my legs underneath me," Orms said, adding that his unplanned absence might benefit the hamstring/knee ailments that plagued him early in the season. "But it just feels good to be out here practicing."
Watching his unit struggle for much of the past month has been difficult, Orms said: "We've had a lot of injuries, and it just kills me watching people go down week after week. I definitely think the effort is there. We just need to go in and watch some more film and work harder off the field. Hopefully that helps us off the field."
Vigo called his suspension "everything I needed it to be. It allowed me to evaluate some things, set my priorities straight and figure out what's important to me in life and football and after football. It was necessary for me so I can get back on my feet.
"I had a lot of time on my hands. Outside of football I've never really had much going on for me in Boulder. Not being around my teammates was difficult. Now I get to be around them, socialize with them . . . football is important to me and should be important to all of them."
Vigo said he told his teammates he "let them down. I told them we had to prepare, we all have to have each other's back. No more losing. We're playing for pride and playing for our seniors. We have to lay it all out on the field."
ASSESSING HIRSCHMAN'S FIRST START: Redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman made his first start at quarterback against ASU, replacing senior Tyler Hansen.
But Hansen, who was cleared to play late in the week after suffering a concussion in the previous game, spelled Hirschman after only two series and finished the game.
Embree said Hirschman needs to adjust to "the speed of the game . . . it has to happen now, you can't wait to be sure when you're throwing it. You've got to throw it on time, and just the overall speed of everyone moving around . . . it's different when you're starting than coming in at the halfway point. Hopefully he has a better feel for things now."
Embree said he let QB coach Rip Scherer speak with Hirschman about the player's performance and where he expects improvement. "Rip and I are on the same page on that," Embree said.
HANGOVER FROM THAT OT LOSS? Embree doesn't expect it from USC, which lost 56-48 in triple overtime to Stanford last Saturday night. The Trojans are ineligible for postseason play, which Embree says makes "every game a big game for them. I know they still want to win the South, even though they can't participate (in a bowl game).
"There's something for them to say they went out and did it and won. They've got great players - (QB Matt) Barkley and (WR Robert) Woods . . . . They're a competitive bunch. They've dealt with a tough loss like that and come back and responded well. The USC Trojans are coming to town."
Embree said he knows a handful of coaches on the USC staff, including former CU assistants Kennedy Pola and Ted Gilmore. Also, former Fairview High School linebacker Joe Barry, the son of ex-CU offensive line coach Mike Barry, coaches USC's linebackers.
"Knowing those guys, they'll be ready," Embree said.
BUFF BITS: Embree said following the ASU loss that complacency has been present among some players during CU's six-game losing streak. And Hansen backed up his coach. In the aftermath of their remarks, Embree contended there have been no repercussions among his players. He said the team's mood Monday was good: "The players are fine with it; they've talked with each other about it." . . . . In trying to find an effective kick returner during its injury epidemic, CU has experimented with 13 players on kickoff returns. The Buffs are last in the Pac-12 in that category, averaging 18.5 yards a return. Embree called the position "unique . . . you're asking a guy to run 20 yards, the hole is going to be open for a split second and trust it. Guys get up there and all of a sudden decide to hit the brakes or cut back. Kick returning is a special skill. Unfortunately we haven't found anyone yet who has that skill." . . . . Senior Brian Lockridge, who has seen duty at KOR and in the secondary after making the switch from offense last month, continues to nurse an ankle injury. Said Embree: "He runs around, but some days it's good, some days it's bad with him." . . . . Preparing for a Friday night game means a shorter work week, forcing the Buffs to "blend" their days and practices. The Buffs did not hit Monday, but will on Tuesday. However, contact overall has been reduced. "We have to get to the game," Embree said. "We're running out of bodies."