Win No. 1 was well received and desperately needed. But in a number of ways, the way it transpired might have made it even better than first imagined, according to Colorado coach Jon Embree.
In reflecting on the Buffaloes' come-from-way-behind one-point victory on Saturday at Washington State, Embree said perhaps most beneficial for the Buffaloes - especially his horde of young ones - was their realization that when stuff happens, stuff can be overcome.
"It showed the kids that you have to strain to win; you've got to play four quarters, keep pushing and grinding," Embree said Monday. "Games are long - all the TV timeouts, all the things that go back and forth from a momentum standpoint, from good plays to bad plays . . . it's about your ability to focus on that next play that we have to continue to be better at."
At halftime of their Pac-12 Conference opener, the Buffs trailed the Cougars by two touchdowns (21-7). It wasn't the greatest of positions, but it wasn't close to the worst of positions. They sampled that the previous weekend at Fresno State, trailing 55-7 at the half and having virtually no chance to climb out of that hole.
But last Saturday was different - mainly because the Buffs believed it could be. Rallying from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit with three touchdowns in the final 7:06, the Buffs won 35-34 and went to 1-3 overall and 1-0 in the Pac-12. The chance at 2-0 comes Saturday afternoon (4 p.m., Pac-12 Network) at Folsom Field against UCLA (3-1, 0-1).
"We knew we had enough life . . . we believed in our hearts we could do it," freshman fullback Christian Powell said of the comeback at Wazzu.
"It was strong in our minds that we were not giving up," added senior tight end Nick Kasa, who scored his first career touchdown on a 70-yard pass reception to start CU's fourth-quarter rally. "People were saying we gave up (at Fresno State); that one just got out of hand. We didn't want it to happen again and we weren't going to let it happen again."
Junior defensive back Parker Orms echoed that. CU's leading tackler at WSU with a dozen (eight unassisted), said a valuable lesson was reaffirmed for the Buffs: "It's us out there, not our families, just us out there. We have to learn that the guy next to us has our backs. We went in there and everyone played well. We had talked about if we're going to win, it's going to have to be the offense and defense - both sides. And that's what happened. It really was shoulder-to-shoulder."
Embree said the momentum created by CU's second consecutive Pac-12 road win (the first closed the 2011 season at Utah) would help raise the intensity "of the work the kids put in this week."
Another benefit: The validation of much of what Embree spoke with his players about during individual 10-minute sessions preceding the trip to Washington State. "Those are the things we need to keep in mind as we move forward," he said. "It definitely creates some momentum, and it was good to have to win a game in that manner.
"Those young kids - a lot of them aren't used to having something bad happen. They're used to dominating. So for them, this was good to show them that you don't have to play perfect to win. And that's what they have to realize. The other team is going to make plays; it's OK. We're going to make plays. When you're back out there, it's about responding when it doesn't go your way. It's good to have all those young guys learning that."
REVIEWING THE 'EB' MOVE DOWNSTAIRS: Last Saturday marked the first game since the 2011 opener at Hawai'i that offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy worked from the sidelines rather than the coaches' booth. Bieniemy worked in conjunction with passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer, who remained in the box and offered Bieniemy a bigger picture on defensive sets and personnel.
Embree said the transition "was good for the most part." The exceptions were a first-half timeout that Embree thought was wasted and later "a formation issue - a guy not getting lined up" that he believe should not have occurred.
"Those are minor things; they drive me crazy," Embree said. "But they're minor in the big scheme of things . . . that's two out of 80 plays when you look at it that way. That stuff drives me nuts, but it was good. We'll get that cleaned up. I'm sure we'll have a couple of more incidents like that, but I expect it as we go on to be seamless like we've been for the most part all year."
Embree said he believed there was a good flow of communication from Scherer to Bieniemy: "It seemed like it. I'm not always on the offensive line (headset). I could be talking to the defense while the offense is out there . . . but when I was on that side, it felt like it was pretty good."
Among the proposed advantages of having "EB" on the sidelines was his motivational ability. Embree said the fire was there: "Yeah, it think it was. It helps the offensive side when the defense is out there, just having someone down there getting them going, keeping them going, keeping them in the game . . . I thought our sideline was great in general."
Also, Embree said the move was beneficial to him because it allowed more sideline time with the defense instead of having to divide his time with the offense. "I thought on both sides, when the offense was out, the defensive coaches did a good job of getting adjustments done and then getting the defense up to help cheer on the offense," he added.
NEMBOT SEIZES THE MOMENT: Offensive tackle Stephane Nembot's first college start went well, said Embree. "He played a decent amount in the Fresno game, but he's been waiting for his chance to start and he did good," Embree said of the 6-8, 305-pound redshirt freshman.
Nembot was flagged for a personal foul - a late hit - that Embree explained like this: "He came to the sideline and said the whistle didn't blow. And he's right. But there's a new rule in about protecting 'defenseless' players, which he didn't know. He was just playing because there was no whistle . . . you should have seen him sprinting down the field to go hit that guy. He was flying. He's going to be a good player for us. I was happy for him."
INJURY REPORT: Safety Ray Polk (ankle), middle linebacker Doug Rippy (knee), center Gus Handler (ankle) and quarterback Connor Wood (sternum) did not play at WSU. Embree said the status of Polk, Rippy and Handler would be determined later in the week, but that he expects Wood to return as Jordan Webb's backup this week.
BUFF BITS: UCLA's Jonathan Franklin remains the conference's leading rusher (146.5 average), but Oregon State limited him to 45 on Saturday in the Beavers' 27-20 victory. Franklin entered the game averaging 180 yards rushing and 8.2 yards a carry. The Beavers held him to 3.8 as the Bruins managed only 72 yards on the ground . . . . Saturday's total offensive output (531 yards) against the Cougars elevated the Buffs statistically in the Pac-12. They're now No. 10 in total offense (350 yards a game). FYI: UCLA is No. 1 at 577.5, with Oregon No. 2 at 571 . . . . CU remains last in scoring defense (38.8 points a game) and is No. 11 in total defense (470 yards a game) . . . . The Buffs are No. 8 in QB sacks (eight) and No. 12 in sacks allowed (18) . . . . The Parade of Buffs is set for Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield. The event will feature Embree, former CU coach Bill McCartney, Butkus Award-winning linebacker Matt Russell, the CU Pep Band, Chip, and many more current and former CU athletes.