DENVER - On Thursday night, Jon Embree did a calendar check for his Colorado football team. He believed it would serve as a reality check come Saturday afternoon in the Buffaloes' season-opener.

Didn't work out that way.

Assembled in the auditorium of the Dal Ward Athletic Center, the Buffs listened intently as their second-year coach reminded them that 280 days had passed since they left the field last November in Salt Lake City with a 17-14 upset of Utah.

The goal of Embree and his staff was to somehow keep all elements of that momentum intact for CU's season-opener against Colorado State. The Buffs couldn't maintain it, and something else Embree tossed out for his team Thursday night quickly turned stale with its 22-17 loss to the Rams.

The Buffs have five games in September - "Almost half of our schedule," Embree emphatically pointed out. "We can't afford to come out and (BS) around, mess around in the first quarter . . . five games in September; we've got to get going early."

A day and a half later, with Denver's Sept. 1 temperature hitting 94, Embree's words on Thursday night had apparently dried up and blown elsewhere. CU went three-and-out on its first two series, fell behind 3-0 and looked nothing like what Embree and his offensive staff watched in August.

The second quarter was another story as transfer quarterback Jordan Webb and his receivers got in sync and scored back-to-back touchdowns to take a 14-3 lead. But only 43 seconds before halftime, the Buffs hit the wall.

After a timeout to talk strategy and get its "punt safe" returner - D.D. Goodson - in place, Goodson muffed the punt and gave CSU a first down at the CU 20. First play, Garrett Grayson hit Dominique Vinson for a touchdown. The PAT was blocked, but CU's 14-3 advantage was now 14-9 - and the Buffs' edge was dulling.

Goodson explained the muff like this: "I was back there - it was punt safe. I was supposed to secure it, look it in, make sure that I caught it. Instead, I tried to catch it and run."

Embree said that play and CSU's immediate score "didn't deflate our team . . . we had a good mindset coming into halftime."

But know this: It took a disastrous toll. It was exactly what the Rams needed after the Buffs had showed what turned out to be false signs of running away with this one.

Redshirt freshman receiver Nelson Spruce called the muffed punt that led to the Rams' TD before intermission "huge . . . (CSU) made big plays when they had to (and) that just kind of swung the momentum. And ultimately that's what won the game for them."

Senior linebacker Doug Rippy said he didn't believe that late first-half sequence would energize the Rams for the second half, "But obviously it did."

Embree has enough other first-game issues to try and correct without spending too much time on that sequence. The physical running game he and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy have been searching for still is out there . . . somewhere. The Buffs netted just 58 yards rushing Saturday, with Tony Jones carrying 16 times for 43 yards before leaving the game with what apparently was a slight shoulder injury.

"I don't know what it is, and that's a bothersome issue," Embree said about his team's running woes. "You have to be able to run the ball, so we need to take a look at what we're doing and get it figured out."

CU's offensive line also had issues in protecting Webb; he was sacked five times and pressured at least that many more. Junior left tackle David Bakhtiari suggested blocking calls at the line of scrimmage involving the O-line and running backs occasionally weren't loud enough.

Said Bakhtiari: "We've got to be louder and more demonstrative and let the backs know our calls."

Because of injuries to free safety Ray Polk (ankle in the first quarter) and corner Greg Henderson (ankle in the fourth quarter), CU finished the game with an almost all-freshman secondary - corners Kenneth Crawley and Yuri Wright, safety Marques Mosley.

Their play, said Embree, wasn't on his list of reasons for the opening day defeat: "We recruited them here for a reason; these guys played well . . . . We'll just keep feeding them to the fire."

At his team meeting Thursday night, Embree called all of his freshmen to the front of the auditorium and had them face their teammates. "Look back up there . . . these guys have been in first games before. They have your backs," Embree said. "Just go out there and be you."

For the most part, the young Buffs did exactly that. Freshman receiver Gerald Thomas (three catches, 26 yards) believes he and his classmates "will all do better . . . this game helped us settle in."

Maybe it also will help the Buffs settle down. One of Embree's motives in reminding his team of its five September games and the need for a successful start was how that relates to CU's ultimate goal: reaching a bowl for the first time since 2007.

"I'm still hoping for one," he said. "Why not? Last year our goal was to win on the road. We have eleven games left . . . we have a lot of work. We have to keep pushing and striving to try and obtain that goal."

Defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, who made two sacks and three tackles for loss, said the Buffs "still feel very strong about this team and about our chances of making it to a bowl game. This is a minor setback; I still feel like we can get there."

But here's September's calendar check: one opportunity missed, four remaining. If football teams do indeed make their most significant progress between games one and two, the Buffs still can make something of the month and their season. If improvement is a month or more away . . . well, let's not go there.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU