TUCSON, Ariz. - Colorado changed quarterbacks here Saturday in hopes of generating a little more offense - and the Buffaloes got a little more than in five previous Pac-12 Conference blowouts. Just a little 'D' was needed - but the Buffs delivered even less than that.
There are plenty of horrific stats being accumulated in CU's waning 2012 season, but what happened in Arizona Stadium offers an ugly encapsulation: Arizona's 574 yards in total offense was only the fourth-highest total by a CU opponent this fall. And the Wildcats' 56 points were only the third-most allowed by the Buffs. But it was the fifth time a 2012 opponent has put up 50 or more points on them.
CU's carnage by yards: Fresno State, 665; Oregon, 617; Arizona State, 593; Arizona, 574. The beatings by points: Oregon, 70; Fresno State, 69; Arizona, 56; ASU, 51; USC, 50.
CU's defense has forgotten how to spell S-T-O-P. And as for stopping the run, well, check with Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, who spent as much time in CU's secondary as the Buffs' DBs.
Carey on, Ka'Deem - and he did, rushing for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns. He turned in a career-long 71 yarder, a 64-yarder, and accounted for 14 of the Wildcats' 16 rushing first downs. When the Buffs closed their eyes Saturday night, they might have still seen Carey running past them.
And Arizona's numbers could have been uglier. Backup quarterback B.J. Denker started instead of Pac-12 total offense leader Matt Scott, who sat this one out with a concussion. Scott accounts for 357.4 yards a game, and his expected absence, according to CU defensive coordinator Greg Brown, had the Buffs focused on dealing with Carey.
Brown called Scott a "tremendous player . . . sure, you're looking at who might replace him. But we knew the whole issue was going to be (Carey). There was no secret. That was a big deal all week for us in our preparations. We had a certain goal to keep (Carey) contained and obviously didn't happen."
Brown said his unit had seen hours of tape demonstrating Carey's ability to "break-kick" out of tackles. "That was no surprise," he said. "Our defenders knew that going in. Coach (Rich) Rodriguez has implemented a great system and (Carey) fits that to a 'T.' With all those cutback runs, if you're not in your gap then he's going to hurt you. And he obviously hurt us to a huge extent."
The Buffs couldn't have slowed Carey with a restraining order, and the fact that they once again missed tackles and blew gap assignments compounded their long day of being run into the ground.
Junior linebacker Derrick Webb was at a loss to explain why he and his teammates continue to struggle against zone-read option offenses: "I couldn't tell you that," he said. "Every game plan we get we try to execute it. Coach Brown does a great job finding ways for us to combat the zone-read offense. It's just a tough deal . . . you can't do it nine out of ten times; that last time they'll hit you and hit you hard for a bunch of yards. We've got guys playing as hard as they can; we've just got to be sound."
On offense, it appeared they were getting sounder. The Buffs' 31 points were their second most this season, behind the 35 they scored in the conference-opening win at Washington State nearly two months ago. CU also totaled 437 yards Saturday, second to the 531 at Wazzu and 361 more than the output the previous weekend (76) against Stanford. And those 31 points were a very nice upgrade over the zero scored against the Cardinal.
But in the interest of full Pac-12 disclosure, Saturday's stats came against an Arizona defense that was allowing 497.3 yards and 35 points a game - ranking the Wildcats lower (No. 12) than the Buffs among the league's defensive units.
So when the Buffs touched down here Friday, they meant to hit the ground running and passing under new quarterback Nick Hirschman, who was effective until leaving the game in the third quarter with concussion symptoms. Actually, he should have left earlier than he did; CU allowed two sacks, one coming after a groggy Hirschman forgot the play he'd called and wound up spun to the turf, according to Buffs coach Jon Embree.
"That's how we start the third quarter," Embree said, noting that a delay of game penalty on CU also was the product of Hirschman being woozy. "Those issues with the clock . . . we didn't realize Hirschman had gotten dinged early in third."
Other than that and an interception that eventually led to an Arizona score, Embree said Hirschman "managed the offense and gave us a chance on that side. He handled checks well; he had his moments."
When Hirschman was sidelined, Connor Wood relieved him and also had his moments, although Embree said if Hirschman's health permits he likely will start next Saturday against Washington. Of Wood, Embree said, "He was fine when he got in there. It's just part of the growing pains with those guys . . . I'm pleased overall with how that position played this week. They did a lot better job of managing it, a lot better job of taking check downs. We had some plays downfield but weren't comfortable . . . so they didn't force it."
But the afternoon eventually came back to the CU defense and its inability to slow Carey. Arizona scored on seven consecutive possessions spanning the first and second halves and was forced to punt only twice. Said Embree of his defense: "It was not a good performance."
Webb pointed to "the same issues all season" surfacing again Saturday - pinpointing the Buffs allowing runners to hit the edge, successfully cut back and reel off large runs. Webb called Carey "a great back . . . he was able to cut it back. A couple of times guys could have been in gaps better (but) he found the gap and went for a long ways.
"The thing about the zone-read offense - it's all about being sound. You can have ten guys playing their butts off, but all it takes is one gap - and he was able to find that gap. He was able to hit it hard and it's off to the races."
Scoff if you want, but Brown believes his unit has made improvement during the course of this wearing, one-win season. But, he conceded, "It's hard to see . . . it's really hard on a day like to sit there and talk about that. There are young kids who are getting better. We started five freshmen on defense; they've got to get better. But it isn't just the freshmen; we've got to get better across the board. The accountability has to be there for all of us . . ."
Webb contended the Buffs' 'D' still has something left for the season's final two games - next Saturday vs. Washington, Nov. 23 vs. Utah, with both at Folsom Field. "We put it all out every game and that's what we're going to do these last two," he said. "We've got a lot more to give, especially after a game like this. We always want to come back and be strong for the next week.
"Yeah, we have been (gashed). It's been a tough season for us. As tough as it is, though, it only makes us stronger, as crazy as that may sound. We've been through a lot, but it's all about how you come back and play the next game."
After 10 mostly futile weeks, the 'D' has two more chances to improve. After that comes as long an off-season as CU has experienced. It isn't what anyone expected, but it's what is left of the remains.