No one inside the Colorado football program seems to be able to answer the question that might be the key to immediate improvement, long-term success and whether or not the current coaching staff remains employed.

Why can't the Buffs run the ball?

When he was hired in December 2010, coach Jon Embree said he needed to establish a mentality within his team for playing physical football on both sides of the ball.

"When this program has been at its best, it's had its guys come out on this field or go somewhere else and just line up and run you over," Embree said at the time. "On defense, we'll line up and hit you until you don't want to take it anymore. We have to be physical."

It clearly hasn't happened yet.

No one expected the Buffs to be a finished product 16 games into Embree's tenure, but no one expected them to be losing battles on the line of scrimmage and getting steamrolled by Fresno State, as was the case in a 69-14 loss last week.

CU travels to Washington State on Saturday where its beleaguered defense will face 60 passing plays from an offensive system coach Mike Leach used for a decade at Texas Tech. It's just the sort of game where a physical running game from the CU offense could counteract Leach's approach, give the CU defense rest and keep the Buffs in the game.

But Embree and his staff haven't been able to rely on their running game so far. It's inconsistent at best. For every good day the Buffs have had on the ground under this coaching staff, there have been two or three bad days.


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Colorado has rushed for 150 yards or more as a team in a game just three times so far under Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who is the program's all-time leading rusher. The offense has produced just three individual 100-yard rushing performances under Embree and Bieniemy as well.

In fairness to CU coaches, roughly half the games in Embree's tenure have been blowouts in which the CU offense needed to throw often to try to get back in the game. But it's also fair to ask whether coaches should have given up on the running game prematurely at times. Last week's game at Fresno State could be a good example of that.

When asked this week why he chose to go away from the running game so quickly against the Bulldogs, Embree said it was because the Buffs had fallen behind so quickly, he felt the best chance to get back in the game was passing the ball.

CU fell behind 21-0 midway through the first quarter and freshman running back Christian Powell, who had provided one of those 100-yard days a week earlier against Sacramento State, was suddenly a non-factor.

Considering it was still only the middle of the first quarter if the Buffs had persisted with the running game they might have been able to slow Fresno State's momentum and even turn it in their favor.

It doesn't help that CU will likely be without starting center Gus Handler again this week and that backup center Brad Cotner is out for 4-6 weeks with a toe injury. That means guard Daniel Munyer will likely start at center and will be relied on to make the calls in the trenches. Munyer did start the first three games of the 2011 season at center before suffering an injury.

There are indications that coaches recognize they need to establish consistency somewhere and branch out from there. Embree said coaches significantly simplified things for the Fresno State game with hopes that it would allow younger players to play faster and think less. Embree said he plans the same approach this week, which could mean sticking with the running game.

"Really right now, it is about playing better from the mistake and assignment standpoint," Embree said. "So adding new schemes and wrinkles will just make it worse. So we will continue to streamline and to get it to where we can play fast and better from a mistake standpoint."