FRESNO, Calif. - Simpler was supposed to be better. Instead, it turned into simply bad here Saturday night.
After consecutive losses to opponents they were favored to beat, the Colorado Buffaloes shrunk their offensive and defensive game plans for Fresno State. The theory, said CU coach Jon Embree and his coordinators, was to mentally free up their players - particularly the younger ones - with fewer sets and assignments.
An adage in football is to do a handful of things well rather than try to do too much and succeed at nothing - and success had clearly eluded CU in the season's first two weeks. This week's goal, Embree said, was "to give our guys fewer things to think about and let them play faster."
Coordinator Eric Bieniemy said his offense went into Saturday's game with about 50 percent of what was made available in the first two games. The running game, which went from 58 yards in the opener to 153 last week, remained his priority. But, Bieniemy added, no matter how simple a game plan becomes, sloppy execution will kill it.
Defensively, coordinator Greg Brown said what his players practiced last week was reduced considerably, with the objective to remain in their base defense and work in various blitzes when called for. The onus remained on the D-line to produce pressure on Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, and on CU's "Baby Buff" secondary - freshmen corners Yuri Wright and Kenneth Crawley, and safety/nickel back Marques Mosley - to cover.
But on this night, simplification didn't work. Nothing did. And Fresno State did whatever it wanted . . . with ease. Anything simple or elaborate CU had in mind drifted out of Bulldogs Stadium after the Buffs fell behind 35-0 in the first quarter. They left dizzied by allowing 69 points while scoring only 14. Fresno State practically rewrote CU's football record book, with all the revisions in the worst possible context for the slumping Buffs.
"At the end of the day we have to help ourselves by making plays . . . we didn't make the plays," junior linebacker Derrick Webb said. "The coaches did their jobs by making it simpler, but the players, we have to step up and do our jobs."
CU's deplorable first quarter offered reason to flash back to an afternoon in Lawrence, Kan., three seasons ago when the Buffs allowed that many fourth-quarter points in a meltdown loss to Kansas. Embree wasn't there for that one, but some of his players were.
Derrick Webb was among them. "It's a loss," he said. "Kansas was bad, today is bad. I don't know if it gets too much worse than those two games right there. A loss like this should motivate you. If it doesn't, that's another issue.
"All I can do is try to take this loss and turn it into a positive. That sounds crazy (because) we came out here and got our butts kicked. If you have any pride at all you're going to find a way. That's going to be our next challenge - to find a way."
Webb said he had "never been a part of anything like this. The way we played the first half - all the points, all the yards we gave up . . . that was a first for me."
The question is, what's to be done about it? And answers weren't readily available before Embree, his staff and players boarded their charter for a somber return to Colorado.
Embree still insists that his second CU team is better than his first, which finished 3-10, although this team's 0-3 record doesn't reflect it. "I just know what I see for the most part every day," he said. "I still believe in this team; I still do."
As Webb did earlier in the week in a players-only meeting, junior offensive tackle David Bakhtiari stood and addressed the Buffs Saturday in their stunned locker room. Bakhtiari asked his teammates "what they play for" and told them "these coaches know how to win - they're the best I've played for. I'm completely distraught to see how we can't execute what they've set out for us. I told them if they're not willing to give them 100 percent and do what they tell you, buy into this program, be a Buffalo, I don't want you coming to practice or suiting up.
"If I had an answer, I'd love to tell you . . . there's something in the turbine that's not letting it spin. I don't know what is going on exactly. I wish I knew so I could tell the team. But whatever it is it needs to go away, I'm sick of it. I don't like it, I want it to change."
Other players also stood up for the staff and their position coaches. Senior linebacker Jon Major said the coaches "haven't gotten what they deserve. It's going to fall a lot on us players (to accomplish that). The amount of respect we all have for them, the work they put in. it's not exaggerating when they put in 16 hours a day at some points. They're some of the best coaches we've ever had. It's sad; if the players can't put something together, something has to happen . . . when they get 69 against you something has to happen. We'll see what they come up with and what we can do as players."
Embree blamed "breakdowns" on both sides of the ball for the Buffs' horrific first quarter, which saw his defense yield 322 yards of total offense and scoring plays of 97 and 94 yards. "Sometimes when we're eager to make plays we give up plays," he said. "We have to do our assignments, particularly on defense. It just takes one guy . . ."
Embree also said the starting quarterback job was due for "reassessment sometime next week." Jordan Webb started the game, Connor Wood opened the second half and Nick Hirschman finished. Combined they were 11-of-30 for 173 yards, with one TD and four interceptions. Webb and Wood threw two each, with each having a pick that was returned for a Fresno State touchdown.
Said Jordan Webb: "Everything went wrong as far as I'm concerned. We don't get beat by that much if just one thing went wrong. I've got to take responsibility for myself; I made mistakes and I have to fix those. That's where I'll start."
The running game that featured freshman fullback-turned-tailback Christian Powell last week (147 yards, three TDs) was a non-starter and non-factor, mainly because "we were down 21-0 before we knew what happened," Embree said. "That took us out of what we wanted to do (running)." Powell carried 17 times for 49 yards.
Embree said his team has "no choice but to come back, no choice. The clock doesn't stop. We've got to keep going, grinding, find a way. We'll see what happens with our leadership, how we respond as coaches. It's on all of us; we have to come back on Monday and find a way to fix whatever it is that's ailing us and keep moving forward."
Added Derrick Webb: "It's three games into the season and we've dug ourselves a great hole. It's going to be a challenge. I'm willing to take up that challenge and help bring my teammates up with me. I know we're better every day than what we play. That's the biggest disappointment."
An even bigger disappointment is that it's happened now for three consecutive Saturdays, and next Saturday brings the Pac-12 Conference opener at Washington State. The Buffs' September grace period is gone, and unless they right themselves quickly their season will follow.