He showed his players and assistant coaches a way through the malaise to a brighter Sunday morning.
Throughout the week, Embree met with every player on his roster to make sure their minds were right following a disastrous loss at Fresno State. He practiced them hard but also reminded them they are supposed to be having the time of their lives.
Finally, on Friday night in a hotel ballroom in Spokane, Wash., about 80 miles from Martin Stadium on the Washington State campus, Embree showed his team a video in which legendary players from the great CU teams of the 1990s delivered a message.
The former players wanted the current players to know they believe in them and expect them to uphold the standard they set. More than a few Buffs had that message on their minds as they fought back to overcome a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit and beat Washington State 35-34 in the final seconds.
"They really kind of picked us up," tight end Nick Kasa said. "We were in a pretty bad place."
Kasa was just one of the heroes Saturday, coming through with a 70-yard touchdown catch to start the rally and a clutch fumble recovery on the final drive. Quarterback Jordan Webb threw him the ball and later scored the game-tying touchdown on a gut-check quarterback draw call on fourth down at the 4-yard line with 11 seconds remaining.
In between those two plays was, perhaps, the play of the game.Webb had the wind knocked out of him on a first-down play deep in CU territory. He was helped off the field and sophomore Nick Hirschman came in. Hirschman handed the ball to tailback Tony Jones, who raced around right end for an 84-yard score, the eighth longest rushing touchdown in program history.
The score cut Washington State's lead to three and completely changed the atmosphere in the stadium from anticipating a victory celebration to trepidation. It's likely more than a few fans had the Cougars' come-from-behind win in Boulder last season in mind while watching the Buffs rally.
"It's a tremendous testament to them," Embree said of his players. "We talked all week about the heart of a Buffalo. In our player meetings that I had with the guys, I just talked to them about what our resolve needs to be and about that I still believe in them. I knew we could do some good things still.
"It was a great team effort."
Colorado has now won two of its past three road games after losing 24 straight from 2007 to the season finale last year.
The air was thick with smoke from nearby wildfires on homecoming and the Cougars were well on their way to adding to the party, but CU just wouldn't go away. The Buffs overcame a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit and scored three touchdowns in the final 7 minutes, 6 seconds to earn their first victory in 2012.
Washington State was favored by 20 points. It was only the third time since 2007 the Cougars were favored in a conference game. They lost the previous two to Oregon State.
Webb started once again at quarterback for the Buffs and was not forced to share time as he did last week with sophomore Connor Wood.
Webb played well at times and not so well at others, continuing the story of his first season in black and gold. He threw a touchdown pass in the first quarter to Nelson Spruce and ran one yard for a touchdown in the third quarter, but he struggled to move the offense consistently and once again paid the price for protection breakdowns in front of him.
But all of that seemed to change during the fourth-quarter rally. The Buffs suddenly found their running game and Webb made plays when they were needed but didn't try to do too much.
"I like to sling the ball around and every once in awhile I make a bad play, But I like to think I'll come back and fix it," Webb said.
Webb completed 29 of 42 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also ended a personal 13-game losing streak that stretched back through his final 10 games at Kansas last season before transferring to CU.
Meanwhile, Connor Halliday started under center for the Cougars and threw for 401 yards and four touchdown passes against a CU defense that showed improvement but still looks lost at times with players out of position.
Put simply, it was another day of tough lessons and growing pains for a slew of young defenders, but the CU defense also made plays down the stretch. The Buffs picked off Halliday twice in the redzone and sacked him three times.
Embree said Saturday's performance was the first by his team on a game day that looked like what he has seen at times in practices.
"I always felt like we were better than what we've been showing in all three games," Embree said. "I never wanted to come out and say it, 'Hey, we're close. We're better than this.' Cause I know as a fan and former player, that's not what you want to hear.
"In my heart I felt like this team could do some things. I felt like this team could play better. ... It was definitely a different team this week."
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