An epic fourth-quarter collapse sealed the fate of Jon Embree's predecessor last fall. Now Colorado's new football coach has a late-game meltdown of his own to digest.
The Buffaloes managed to surrender a 10-point lead in the final 5 minutes, 4 seconds Saturday against Washington State and lost 31-27 at Folsom Field to a Cougars team that had won only one other time away from home under fourth-year coach Paul Wulff.
The loss left CU players and coaches devastated. It also left them with a 1-4 record and a road trip to No. 6 Stanford up next. In the moments after they self-destructed yet again, Embree had one question for his team.
"When is enough, enough?" Embree said. "You put in all this work. You do all the stuff that you've done from spring ball to coaches' week to training camp for this. This is what we did the work for. When is it enough? When are they going to get tired of losing?
"This staff, we've been here for five frickin' weeks and I'm tired of it. So if I've been here for five years, I got to be tired of it myself, too."
The game-winning play came with 1:10 remaining and the Buffs leading by three. Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael found wide receiver Marquess Wilson behind the CU defense and completed the 63-yard touchdown pass stunning the Buffs and their fans on a picturesque afternoon beneath the Flatirons.
Cornerback Greg Henderson appeared to release Wilson who ran a route with a double move. Safety Anthony Perkins charged up and Wilson blew by both Buffs. Washington State had used the same play on the first drive of the game and CU safety Ray Polk made an interception. But it worked to perfection approximately three hours later.
If wisps of smoke emerged from Embree's ears in his postgame meeting with media, it wouldn't have been a surprise. He admitted he hasn't been able to change the mentality of the players he inherited.
"We can't make a play on either side of the ball," Embree said. "I don't know what it is. We practice these situations until we're blue in the face. Just for these situations. We failed to execute on both sides of the ball. No excuse."
It was the second time this season the Buffs failed to finish off a Pac-12 opponent in Boulder. CU lost in overtime to Cal three weeks ago in a non-conference game it should have won.
Colorado's final chance ended quickly. Quarterback Tyler Hansen threw across the middle to wide receiver Paul Richardson, who made the catch and fumbled for the first time in his career. Washington State recovered with 55 seconds remaining and ran out the clock in the victory formation.
Washington State's final two drives in the last 5 minutes covered 77 and 90 yards and accounted for 37 percent of its offensive production for the day. A CU defense featuring a patchwork secondary had fared well against the nation's fourth-ranked passing offense up to that point.
CU used Jason Espinoza and Brian Lockridge as cornerbacks in the game. Both made plays and held their own despite having been on offense as a wide receiver and tailback respectively until recent practices. Neither player was involved in the decisive play.
Lobbestael completed 32-of-49 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns.
"When we win on the road and we're behind late, I think it says a lot about character, a lot about perseverance," Cougars head coach Paul Wulff said. "They've been working hard to get a road win. I think it says a lot."
The CU offense managed to keep the ball for only 40 seconds between the two WSU scores. The Buffs earned one first down and that came on a Cougars' penalty.
The loss spoiled a gritty performance from Colorado tailback Rodney Stewart who rushed for more than 100 yards for the 15th time in his career. Stewart finished the day with 278 all-purpose yards, 132 rushing, 34 receiving and 112 return yards. He also moved into second place on CU's career rushing chart passing Rashaan Salaam.
Stewart also scored the first rushing touchdown by a CU running back in 24 quarters of football, dating back to the Kansas State game in Boulder last fall. It was the last CU score of the day and gave the Buffs a 10-point lead.
CU players refused to say they relaxed believing they had won the game, but that appeared to be the case based on the ease with which WSU was suddenly moving the football late. Colorado players appeared more stunned in interviews afterward than in any game in recent years, including the 28-point fourth-quarter collapse at Kansas last season.
"I'm frustrated and disappointed," quarterback Tyler Hansen said. "We constantly find ways to lose the game."
Hansen's streak of 131 passes without an interception came to an end in the second quarter. He completed 15-of-23 passes for 175 yards and touchdown passes to Richardson and Toney Clemons. But he was rattled at times by the Washington State pass rush and was sacked three times.
When asked if the mentality of the program had changed from last season, Hansen said it has.
"Last year's guys would've gone through the motions, but this year we're still playing," he said. "We're going to get it. We've got to get it."