If he's healthy enough physically, Greg Henderson hopes to take a mental health day Saturday afternoon in Pullman, Wash.
Try as he might, the Colorado cornerback has had a difficult time erasing the memory of CU's 31-27 last-minute loss last season to Washington State at Folsom Field. If he's sufficiently recovered from an ankle sprain that has sidelined him for the past two games, Henderson is viewing a rematch against the Cougars and receiver Marquess Wilson as therapeutic.
"I really want to get back out there - especially after last season and the mistake I made at the end of the game," Henderson said.
At the time, Henderson, who had earned the starting right corner job in August camp, was playing in only his fifth college game. He "bit" on a double move by Wilson, who caught a 63-yard touchdown pass to doom the Buffs. Just over a minute before, the Cougars had crept to within 27-24 on another TD pass, but Henderson is haunted only by the second one.
"I think about it all the time," he said. "Every time they run 'triangle' (a three-receiver set) I make sure I get back there and do my job, do what I'm supposed to do. It's a horrible feeling giving up the game, especially when you have it in reach like that."
The loss hurt, but there were no fingers pointed by Henderson's position coach, Greg Brown, or any of Henderson's teammates. "They weren't blaming me or anybody (specifically)," he said. "It was a team thing. They were really compassionate about it."
Nonetheless, compassion carried him only so far. The angst remains.
Henderson had made 12 consecutive starts before missing CU's second game this season. During his freshman year, he was known for his durability - a trait that followed him to Boulder from Norco High School in Corona, Calif. He never missed a high school game, and sitting out the last two has been torture.
"I want to be out there so bad to help the team out," he said. "I've been going to the trainers morning, noon, night just to get better."
Henderson hasn't been the secondary's only missing starter. Senior safety Ray Polk suffered a high ankle sprain (Henderson's sprain was lower) and hasn't played since the first quarter of the season opener. He won't play again this week and no timeline has been established for his return.
After taking an early hit from injuries last season, Brown had hoped another epidemic could be avoided. It hasn't been. In addition to Polk, Henderson's replacement on the right side - freshman Yuri Wright - left last weekend's blowout at Fresno State in the second quarter with an ankle sprain. Wright's replacement, freshman Jeff Hall, also left the game with an injury. And safety/nickel back Marques Mosley, also a freshman, tweaked a knee and was sidelined for most of the second half after he attempted to play on it.
It might be wishful thinking, but that trio - Wright, Hall and Mosley - is expected to be able to play in CU's Pac-12 Conference opener. Still, Brown's defense will be minus a pair of starters (Polk, middle linebacker Doug Rippy).
"It's really similar to last year," Brown said. "We're running out of bodies. But it is what it is; nobody's going to feel sorry for you - especially Mike Leach."
Leach is the Cougars' first-year head coach, having succeeded Paul Wulff last winter. Leach's calling cards at his last coaching stop - Texas Tech - were record-setting quarterbacks and insanely productive spread formation offenses.
"He has a tremendously gifted offensive mind," Brown said. "His record speaks for itself. What he did at Texas Tech in the Big 12 South was unparalleled; for him to take Texas Tech and compete annually at a high, high level against Oklahoma, Texas and A&M is spectacular. His record and resume speaks for itself."
Leach's quarterbacks at WSU have been senior Jeff Tuel and redshirt sophomore Connor Halliday. Tuel missed last week's 35-27 win against UNLV with a leg injury, but Halliday stepped up with a 378-yard, four touchdown performance. Tuel apparently has recovered, but Leach is playing it Coy about this week's starter.
"I'm not a guy who tells people the end of a movie if they haven't seen it, so I'm not going to share it (the QB decision) with you," he said. "If you want to see how it turns out, you've got to come see the movie."
The movie's marquee player doesn't matter much to Brown. "Both of them are guys who can throw the rock, they can sling it," he said. "It looks like they understand his system. It's hard to contend with as a defense."
Brown had success against Leach's Red Raiders offense when CU was in the Big 12, but that happened with an experienced and healthy Buffs secondary. Brown expects the Cougars to stay mostly in their spread offense, but added, "They'll get in some tighter formations from time to time. There's a lot of one-back spread, but there's a lot of three-receiver, two-back looks, too."
The 6-4, 185-pound Wilson is the headliner among WSU's receivers. He's the Pac-12's active career leader, with 2,612 receiving yards. His 2011 total (1,388) was the 12th highest in conference history.
"We know up close and personal what No. 86 (Wilson) did to us last year," Brown said. "He's quite the talent. They've got guys, skilled guys. They're big and can run and they fit well into that system. I'm sure those receivers and quarterbacks, as soon as they saw (WSU) was hiring Mike Leach they were ecstatic."
WSU might have changed coaches, but Henderson hasn't noticed a marked difference in the Cougars' approach. "They like to pass - just like last season," he said. "But they have really good receivers all across the board now, that's probably the major improvement."
Watching his teammates struggle for the past two weeks has been difficult and surprising for Henderson, who was confident of improvement in August.
"We've had games won, games within our reach," he said. "But stuff happens; we have to stay together and keep getting better."
BUFF BITS: The season's first "Buff Bowl" - a short scrimmage matching the scout offense and defense - was conducted following Wednesday's practice. Coach Jon Embree said he liked the enthusiasm of both scout squads. "They do a lot of work for us," he said. "It's good for them to get to play football." . . . . Embree also said the overall tenor of Wednesday's work was good . . . . If Leach is refraining from naming his starting QB for Saturday's game, Embree is expecting to see sophomore Connor Halliday first. But he also expects he'll see some of senior Jeff Tuel. From watching WSU tape, Embree believes the difference between the two is minimal.