BOULDER - Connor Wood is eager to get at least a series directing the Colorado offense on Saturday night. He's been the Buffs' backup quarterback for the first two games, but according to position coach Rip Scherer the No. 2 job will remain fluid and be determined on a weekly basis.
Wood entered last weekend's loss to Sacramento State for one play when starter Jordan Webb's helmet came off, forcing Webb to leave the game for a play per NCAA rules. On his first collegiate play, Wood, a sophomore who began his career at Texas, completed a screen pass to freshman receiver Gerald Thomas for a 28-yard gain.
After going into the opener against Colorado State as Webb's backup, it might have been widely assumed that Wood had locked down the No. 2 spot in his duel with fellow sophomore Nick Hirschman. But Scherer reiterated that's not the case.
"I guess all the focus is on Connor, but both of those guys (Wood and Hirschman) have made improvement," Scherer said. "Each week whoever practices the best goes into the game as No. 2. So it's a week-to-week thing.
"We'd like to get the second guy, whoever that is, to get some reps in a critical situation, so if we get a situation because of injury or whatever and a guy has to play early in the game he's got some experience under his belt. Right now, this week, whoever emerges as the No. 2 is the guy who's going to get the reps. It has been Connor the last couple of weeks."
And CU coach Jon Embree has indicated since last weekend that it would be Wood again on Saturday night when the Buffs play at Fresno State (6 p.m. MDT, CBS-Sports Network).
Wood deferred clarification of CU's weekly backup status to his coaches, but said he's been preparing himself for Fresno State just as he did in the three-way August competition that eventually saw Webb emerge as the starter. That experience, said Wood, "was very humbling" and contributed to him refocusing on what now has become the two-man duel for the backup job.
"You're so expectant of being the guy," Wood said. "It pushed me harder to prepare more. A lot of positive came out of that experience. I feel like I'm a better quarterback because of that."
"A lot of things have slowed down for me," Wood said. "I think just the offense, knowing the play calls . . . when I get a play call from coach (Eric) Bieniemy I'm better at picturing it and understanding what's going on instead of getting in the huddle and processing it (there). Processing it right away has slowed things down and really helped my game."
Something else that has contributed is Wood's film study. Embree said Wood has set the tone among CU's quarterbacks with his work ethic: "That says a lot about you, when you are not 'the guy,' that you are going to watch that much tape and you are going to prepare in that manner . . . that's great because it raises the bar in the room. All those quarterbacks have been like that, and I think a lot that has to do with him because they see how hard he works. And especially at that position, you better be a student of the game."
It's not a habit Wood developed in Boulder. "I've been doing that basically since high school; I've really taken ownership in film study," he said. "I learned that at an early age from my brother, who was a quarterback at Texas A&M (Jeff Wood II, 2006-09). He stressed that as one of the most important things we can do. I've carried that through my year at Texas and until now. It's become a part of what I do."
Wood's overall consistency at the position has improved, but Scherer added so has Hirschman's: "They kind of hit a lull in training camp where they weren't nearly as productive in doing the things they need to do, then they stepped it up, especially the last couple of weeks."
Embree said Wood "is better at taking what is out there instead of forcing things. I think he has gotten a lot better at that . . . just going through his progressions and reads. He has cleaned up that and some other things with his footwork; he is a very diligent kid about it."
If Wood gets a series or two Saturday night, "getting a shot, getting that experience, getting my feet wet will be a great opportunity to show the coaches what I can do in the game," he said.
In the meantime, Scherer's task is sharpening Webb to the point of having his game performances match his practice work. In two games, Webb has completed 52.3 percent of his passes (34-of-65) for 347 yards and three touchdowns (no interceptions, eight sacks). Webb earned the starting job quickly in August camp, mainly due to his decision-making and accuracy.
Scherer wants those traits to become more evident on Saturdays in the context of better execution. "As a quarterback you only get so many opportunities in a game to make plays," Scherer said. "Some games it's a lot, other games it's not many. (Against Sac State) we didn't ask a lot of the quarterback, but there at the end we had a chance on second down and third down to make a difference.
"On one play we threw a post deep to (Nelson) Spruce . . . there was the wrong read. Then we come back on third down and we're wide open and we miss the throw (to tight end Vincent Hobbs). A quarterback has to make those plays; those plays make a difference in a game. And you never know which plays are going to make a difference."
Webb had been making those throws in practice, Scherer said: "He's been doing it out here, but it doesn't count out here. It counts on the field on Saturday and that's where we stubbed our toes."
Webb isn't surprised by his coach's critique. His third-game challenge is "about sharpening it up and making sure I'm staying true to the offense and true to my reads," he said. "I missed a couple of throws on Saturday that I definitely normally don't miss. I just have to bounce back from that."
Webb started 19 games at Kansas and admitted he saw similarities in what he's experienced in CU's first two games. "Especially when you're down, you have to make sure you stay true to the reads, stay within the offense and not try to go outside to make things happen," he said.
Most of CU's offense - excluding Webb - is young enough to not have a recollection of Texas A&M's defense under former coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who's in his first season as Fresno State's head coach. Webb, however, faced DeRuyter's Aggies defense in each of the past two seasons and was a combined 28-of-45 for 223 yards (one TD, three interceptions) in the two KU losses (45-10 in 2010; 61-7 in 2011). Webb left the 2010 game with a second-quarter shoulder injury and was sacked six times in the 2011 contest.
Webb said while back-to-back losses to open the season have been disappointing, he doesn't sense despair among the Buffs. "The offense was really sharp on Tuesday, pushing the tempo," he said. "It's encouraging to see after two disappointing weeks, but I didn't expect anything different out of these guys."
BUFF BITS: Embree said center Gus Handler (ankle) will miss Saturday's game and called cornerback Greg Henderson (ankle) doubtful. Embree was unsure how the offensive line would be shuffled in Handler's absence, but said freshmen Yuri Wright and Kenneth Crawley would open again at cornerbacks. Options at center include Brad Cotner and Daniel Munyer. Already ruled out were safety Ray Polk (ankle) and linebacker Doug Rippy (knee) . . . . Wednesday's practice was conducted in cool temperatures and misting rain. The Buffs can forget the cool temps in Fresno; Saturday's high could flirt with 100 degrees - almost twice Wednesday's temperature in Boulder. Embree said working in the rain was good because it forced the Buffs to concentrate on handling the ball. As for the cool weather, that's another story. Said Embree: "I guess everyone can go home and crank their heater up."