Head coach Jon Embree said that during Colorado's 70-14 loss at Oregon last week, he saw two players on the Buffs' defense that stood out.
"They were playing hard, they were where they were supposed to be and they ran to the ball and made plays when they had the opportunity, and that was Will Pericak and Parker Orms," he said.
The bad news -- other than the fact that only two players did what they were supposed to do -- is that one of them won't be playing again for a while. Orms suffered a concussion and will miss Saturday's game against Stanford. His status for the rest of the season is up in the air.
Just another blow for the CU Buffs (1-7, 1-4 Pac-12), who have arguably the worst defense in the country and are on pace to set school records for defensive futility.
For all the issues facing the CU offense -- and there are many -- it's the defense that has been the glaring weakness of the Buffaloes this season. No team in the Football Bowl Subdivision is allowing more points (46.0 per game) this year. In fact, just one FBS team in the past decade has allowed more points (North Texas, 47.6 in 2008).
Only three teams are allowing more yards (505.0) this year.
Every week, the Buffaloes cite missed assignments and missed tackles as the biggest reasons they struggle to stop the opposition. That was again the case against Oregon, as the Ducks had 617 yards in total offense. Oregon had three offensive plays of at least 40 yards. That doesn't even include De'Anthony Thomas' 73-yard punt return for touchdown.
"They're both big concerns," Embree said of the missed tackles and missed assignments. "We just can't have that stuff.
"It's hard enough when you're very talented to overcome those things and we're not very talented. We have some talent, but we're not very talented. When you're not very talented, you can't help beat yourself and that's what we've done."
Colorado opponents have lived off of big plays all year. CU has allowed 57 plays of at least 20 yards, an average of 7.13 per game.
"It's a matter of tackling and assignments, really," Embree said. "I think that's probably 75 percent of the big plays."
Senior linebacker Doug Rippy believes the defense has improved since the start of the season. Yet, the combination of playing freshmen in key spots and facing some of the top teams in the country in recent weeks has left the Buffs more exposed, he said.
"We have a lot of young guys playing on the defensive side, so missed assignments are going to happen, especially in the secondary and up front, too," he said.
Oregon and Southern Cal have both had field days against the Buffs in the past two weeks, but they aren't alone. Arizona State, UCLA and Fresno State all put up big numbers against the Buffs, too. So did Washington State (although CU won that game) and Sacramento State, a decent FCS team.
About the only team CU has stopped this year is Colorado State, but that was in Week 1 (and the Buffs still lost).
As head coach, Embree has the responsibility of fixing the defense, but with his hand in so many pots, his involvement in the weekly game planning on defense has been limited. He mostly leaves that task to defensive coordinator Greg Brown and the rest of the staff.
"I give them my opinion on some things here and there," he said. "But, it varies by week. You rely on those guys in that room."
Coming from an offensive background, Embree has spent a good deal of his time working with the Buffs' offense, especially in recent weeks.
"The last couple of weeks, we've started doing spread stuff, so I've been in there trying to help get that going," he said. "I really do believe some of the things we are doing offensively, we're getting closer."
Defensively, however, the Buffs seem to be regressing and with four games to go, there doesn't appear to be any relief in sight.
Stanford hasn't put up gaudy statistics, but the Cardinal have hit the 50-point mark twice. After that, the Buffs visit Arizona, which has the No. 2 scoring offense in the Pac-12 (39.1 points per game) and leads the conference in yards (553.6 per game). CU's last two opponents -- Washington and Utah -- rank near the bottom of the conference in offense, but will surely be licking their chops at the prospect of facing CU.
Embree is trying to remain positive, however. A positive outlook may be the Buffs' best asset on defense going forward.
"One of the first things that kinda happens, and it's happened to some of our guys, confidence isn't what it was in August," Embree said. "They start wondering. That's one thing I always tell our coaches about is you've got to be positive. You've got to keep helping them understand what they did right and build on that and not focus on what they didn't do right, and help them fix it as they continue to go through this process."
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