In the tunnels beneath Husky Stadium last week in Seattle, Colorado coach Jon Embree stood surrounded by a small group of reporters explaining his team's latest loss, a blowout at Washington.

During the conversation, and based on the way his defense performed, Embree was asked whether he believed all the players in his locker room were still giving their best and bought into his way of doing things.

Embree said he believes without question they are.


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The topic came up again this week as CU prepares to host another one of the Pac-12 Conference's elite teams, the ninth-ranked Oregon Ducks.

"I don't feel like I have to appeal to my team's pride," Embree said in regard to motivating his team to play its best in what appears to be another lost season. "I feel that they have enough pride in what they do. They have enough professionalism, so to speak, to understand that they have to show up and compete.

"When you are a competitor, it doesn't matter, you go there and do the best you can and you do it at the maximum effort. That is what you do as a competitor, that is what you do when you have pride in the fact that you're representing a program that your family is watching, your friends are watching. If you don't have enough in you to go and compete, then shame on me for letting you stay on this team."

While many supporters of the CU program already are turning their attention to recruiting and what they hope is a brighter future, Embree and his assistants continue to coach their players hard. The first-year head coach said he continues to see small examples of improvement, even if it the scoreboard doesn't demonstrate it on Saturdays.

University of Colorado Head Football Coach Jon Embree speaks to the media during his weekly press conference at the Dal Ward Center on the CU Boulder
University of Colorado Head Football Coach Jon Embree speaks to the media during his weekly press conference at the Dal Ward Center on the CU Boulder Campus on September 20, 2011. Photo by Paul Aiken ( PAUL AIKEN )

Embree said he sees hints and glimpses from the offense that players are beginning to feel increasingly comfortable in the system and the style of play.

The Buffs have been one of the most penalized teams all season, but they have produced the fewest number of flags in their two most recent games.

The Buffs also are coming off what was probably their best game in the kicking game. CU made no major blunders on special teams against Washington.

"There are small -- I don't want to say victories -- but there are weekly improvements, there are," Embree said.

The defense is where CU needs the most improvement this week and going forward.

The Buffs have fallen to 113th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 36 points a game.

They rank 96th in passing defense and 112th in third-down defense. Opponents are converting third downs 51 percent of the time.

None of those are good numbers with one of the most dynamic offenses in the nation coming to town.

"We have to be better technique wise, and again, just turn it loose," Embree said. "I think sometimes you get to where you don't want to make a mistake. You are never going to play a perfect game. You are going to make mistakes and you can still have success, so let's do if full speed ahead instead of making mistakes going at half speed."