BOULDER - As loud and nasty as the noise has been on the outside after two bad losses, it hasn't penetrated the inside. Not much of it anyway. The Colorado football program is hardly immune to criticism these days, but Derrick Webb and most of his Buffs teammates have done an admirable job of avoiding the anonymous incoming flak.
"I don't know what's being said and I don't care," senior defensive lineman Will Pericak said. "I've never looked at or listened to any of that stuff . . . I tune it out."
So has Webb, a junior inside linebacker. But "D-Webb" is in tune with his team, and he's not liking what he's seen and felt during and after debilitating losses to Colorado State (22-17) and Sacramento State (30-28).
Following Monday afternoon's practice, he called a players' only meeting in the Dal Ward Athletic Center auditorium. It was a career first for Webb. He was nervous, but he knew he couldn't remain silent for another week.
Webb reminded the Buffs of "where we are right now as a team, sitting at 0-2, and the possible directions we can go," he said. "One direction, worst-case scenario, is straight down. Two losses and now our schedule is getting harder . . .
"Something needs to change in this room. The coaches can give us all the help they want but unless something changes in our attitudes and minds as a team, unless we do something about it ourselves, we're going to find ourselves in a similar situation as last year, where one loss turns to two, two losses turn to a losing streak."
Webb had considered addressing the team since leaving a funereal locker room last Saturday afternoon. "I've been around a couple of years and seen teams fall into this pattern of thinking, 'We're OK because it's only two games,'" he said.
"Then halfway through the season, it's like, 'Let's go; we need to win six games to get to a bowl game.' People like to wait until we've got six games left. I just wanted to say, 'hey, let's get ahead of that and nip it in the bud. Let's go right now.'"
Proof will come Saturday night at Fresno State, but he believes his teammates took him seriously. "I didn't expect it to be like when coach (Jon) Embree talks: you can hear a pin drop in there," he said. "But everybody was totally attentive and looking me in the eyes; you could tell they were really thinking about it."
Count junior defensive back Parker Orms among those who were focused. Said Orms: "He let us know how he feels. He let us know he's focused this week. Everyone looks up to him . . . we want to follow him."
If a meeting like that is what it takes to put the Buffs' minds right in a season that's started with a whimper, the coaching staff is all for it. Embree said at his weekly media luncheon that he senses players - guys like Webb and others - taking as much ownership in the back-to-back losses as him and his assistant coaches.
"We're going to keep being competitive, we're going to keep grinding and fighting," Embree said. "It's who I am as a person and it's what my staff is comprised of - a lot of competitors and guys who will fight. We're spreading that attitude to the team."
Make no mistake, Embree is frustrated. He didn't walk away from a budding NFL career to step into quicksand at his alma mater. Neither did offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and other CU staffers. Although his record (3-10 last season, 0-2 in this one) is no reflection, Embree insists progress is being made.
"I do believe we've gotten better, our record doesn't show it, but we are better than what we were in the past," he said. "I just look at our players, how they've changed . . . I see a significant change in our team from what we were a year ago."
Orms agreed: "You can either let bad times destroy you, define you or make you better . . . I think for a long time we've let that destroy us and define us a little bit. This time we've got to use that to strengthen us and use it as motivation and don't let what previously happened happen (now)."
By Embree's count, eight plays that went unmade cost the Buffs their first two games. "Any one of eight made on either side of the ball and we win the game," he said. "Last year our games weren't like that . . . we had leads of 11 points (vs. CSU) and 14 points (vs. Sac State). We have to learn how to finish."
Embree has fielded "hang in there" phone calls from longtime friends, former coaches and teammates, as well as others who understand his challenge. CU basketball coach Tad Boyle dropped by Embree's home and stayed for over an hour on Sunday afternoon, "just talking about different things . . . him going through things at different stops . . . sharing some things that helped him get through it," Embree said. "I've heard from a lot of people in the coaching business."
And on Monday morning, Paul Richardson, the Buffs' bona fide deep threat who is using his redshirt season to continue his knee rehabilitation, spent more than an hour in Embree's office. "P-Rich" asked his coach what more he could do in his inactive role and offered Embree observations about the wide receiver position and the offense. Don't believe for a second that because Richardson isn't in uniform he's detached from this team. And don't think he's not feeling the pain.
This was among Richardson's observations: The Buffs have to learn to punch back. They've demonstrated the ability to start a fight, but counterpunching and finishing are problems. Embree picked up on that theme during Tuesday's media conference.
"We have to understand the other team is going to come back, fight back, and we have to keep our foot on the gas and keep doing the things we have in the previous drives to keep putting pressure on the other team," he said.
"Sometimes when you're young you don't understand that. We have to be better at when momentum swings, gaining it back. I thought we were better at it Saturday, but obviously when we seize it we have to be better about extending leads." (The Buffs have held 14-3 and 14-0 first-half leads, but have scored only 10 second-half points in the two losses.)
Embree is a target but he's not close to being embattled, yet unlike his players, tuning out the negativity hasn't been as easy for him. He dropped his university twitter account because of "some inappropriate stuff . . . and that's fine. It is what it is with that," he said. The account served more as a recruiting tool and "a way for me to stay in contact with my kids and see how they're doing. I'll find other ways."
The past two weeks have been enlightening in other ways, too. He has reminded his players that their true friends will become evident, as will "the handful of people that really believe in you. When you go through hard times you find out who those people are. The good news about is, you only need a handful of people to believe in you if you believe in yourself and trust the process, the direction and how you need to do it to be successful. You're always going to have challenges, you're always going to have people waiting to say, 'I told you so.'"
Embree recounted that landing in his current job wasn't easy, just as it hasn't been easy for some of his players to land at CU. "You'll always have struggles, conflicts and issues; you've got to know that from the jump," he said. "I knew when I took this job and when these coaches came in that it doesn't happen overnight. You want it to, but it doesn't. But you don't stop working . . .
"It's going to turn. You're doing it the right way; you keep grinding and pushing and fighting through it. A lot of times, I told the players, the closer you get to something, the harder it is. Whether we're being tested about how strongly we believe in what we're doing or what we believe, or whether we're being tested about our abilities, that's when you have hunker down more and get in it."
BUFF BITS: Richardson said has been cleared by CU's medical personnel and has been given Embree's blessing to run track. Richardson, who was to have met Tuesday afternoon with CU sprint coach Drew Morano, said he expects to compete outdoors in the 100 meters, the 4x100m relay and the open 200m . . . . Pericak, who has 16 tackles in two games, said his move from defensive tackle to an outside position is permanent. The shift is part of an attempt to get the best D-linemen on the field . . . . Fresno State is quarterbacked by Derek Carr, whose older brother David led the Bulldogs past the Buffs 24-22 in their 2001 season opener. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Embree said. "I don't know if it's their mother or their father, but somebody's got a good arm in the family." . . . . The 2001 CU-Fresno State game in Boulder marked the first game for Miguel Rueda as the Bulldogs' director of sports medicine. Rueda returned to Boulder in 2006 as CU's head athletic trainer . . . . Fresno State was picked to finish third in a preseason MWC poll. For the record, CSU was picked to finish eighth . . . . The Bulldogs lost 42-25 last weekend at No. 4 Oregon but forced three Ducks turnovers, registered three QB sacks and had 11 tackles for loss . . . . That's exactly the MO of Fresno State's first-year head coach. He's former Air Force defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who spent the past two seasons as Texas A&M's defensive coordinator.