Tag Archives: Jordan Webb

One more game until CU’s misery ends

On the bright side, the University of Colorado football team will play only one more game with its current crop of quarterbacks.

No personal offense intended to any of these young men, all of whom are trying their best, but 2012 might have seen the worst quarterback play in CU history. Are you nostalgic yet for Cody Hawkins?

OK, maybe not.

Take this to the bank: If he can walk, 6-foot-6-inch redshirt freshman Shane Dillon will be the Buffs’ signal caller next season, “a kid that we’re very excited about,” coach Jon Embree said recently.

Of the current crop, perhaps only junior-to-be Nick Hirschman will even be in the mix to compete with him for the job.

The Buffaloes lost again Saturday, 38-3, at home, to the University of Washington. They are now 1-10 for the first time since 1984, Bill McCartney’s third season. That record prompted McCartney to switch from a pro-style offense to the wishbone, which produced an immediate turnaround. The Buffs went 7-5 in 1985.

“Obviously, a poor showing offensively,” Embree said.

Asked about the quarterback play, Embree was as explicit as he could be with one game left on this season’s schedule:

“We’ve struggled at that position,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to fix it.”

Unless CU beats Utah on Friday in the season finale, this will be the first season since 1891, when they played only five games, in which the Buffs go winless at home.

Completing his second season, Embree has offered plenty of hints about the changes he will implement after the season. Like McCartney, for whom he played, Embree plans to overhaul his pro-style offensive scheme, installing some version of the spread formation read option.

Based on his comments and the performance of the current crop of quarterbacks, last year’s prize quarterback recruit will almost certainly get the first chance to run it. Dillon redshirted this season after undergoing shoulder surgery following his final high school basketball season.

Hirschman, who gave the Buffs their best half of quarterback play last week in Arizona before suffering a concussion, has the best chance to be given a chance to compete with Dillon for the job.

“Shane has a real good arm,” Embree said recently on the Dave Logan Show. “In the summer prior to his senior year (at Christian High School in El Cajon, Calif.), he was ranked seventh in the Elite 11 quarterback camp. They take all the best quarterbacks from around the country and he came in seventh.

“He hurt his shoulder in the championship game, so he had surgery after basketball season. He’s a very good basketball player, plays on those travel teams and all that. So that tells you what kind of athlete he is. He can play point, he can shoot it, he runs the floor. As we talk about versions of the spread and the things we want to do to the offense, he’s a kid that can run. He’s got some shake to him.

“He’s a vocal leader. You watch him with the guys on the scout team, he knows when to get on ’em, he knows when to encourage ’em. He’s a kid that we’re very excited about. We do a lot of work with our young kids after practice. We’ll stay out and do things, whether it’s seven-on-seven or one-on-one. He makes some good throws. He’s shown his accuracy. That’s probably the one thing that separates him from these other guys right now is he’s an accurate kid, he’s a pretty naturally accurate kid.”

Another advantage Dillon will bring is that he’s been working on the scout team in practice with redshirt receiver Paul Richardson, the Buffs’ best offensive player.

Embree has played four quarterbacks this season — junior transfer Jordan Webb, Hirschman, sophomore transfer Connor Wood and walk-on freshman John Schrock.

Webb was consistently the best quarterback in practice, but you couldn’t tell from his play in games. He started the first nine, going 1-8. Hirschman started last week in Tucson, completing 12 of 13 passes for 123 yards and one interception before being knocked out of the game with a concussion.

With Hirschman unavailable this week, Wood started against Washington and threw two early interceptions. Webb replaced him and completed six of 16 passes for 33 yards, an average of 2.1 yards per attempt. In a sign of exasperation, Embree allowed Schrock to finish up.

Asked 10 days ago about the quarterback competition next year, Embree said this:

“For (Dillon), it’s just getting the reps. As we go through this season, we’ll figure out who he’ll be competing with, whether it’s one or two of those guys. Let those guys who aren’t going to be involved in the competition, let them know that. And then let those guys go compete.”

Based on their performances this season, I’m guessing Webb and Wood will be told they are not in the mix to start in 2013. That’s pure speculation; I could be wrong. Both have already transferred once — Webb from Kansas, Wood from Texas — so their options are limited.

But considering the hints Embree has dropped, it looks like Dillon’s job to lose. After all, he can’t be any worse than the this year’s cast.

As for the scheme he’ll run, it will almost certainly include some read option calls out of a spread formation.

“We’re in the process of trying to make that transition,” Embree said. “I’ll talk more specifics after the season but we’re going to change some things that we’re doing offensively, and how we’re doing some things. I’ve had some good discussion with some peers around the country that aren’t in our conference and a couple of them are in our conference. That’s something that I’m definitely looking to do.

“We’ve got to find a way to have an equalizer. When people load the box right now, they put one more than you can block down in the box to take away the run and they’re able to man cover you right now. That makes it hard to run the football.

“And then obviously you’ve got a find a way to help your guys on the perimeter get open and create some space for them. Generally, in a pro-style offense, a lot of that’s predicated off of play action. That helps you with protection and also allows you to push the ball down the field. But obviously when you can’t run the football, play action really doesn’t do you any good.”

So while we wait to see what other changes CU makes — and there will almost certainly be a shakeup of Embree’s staff — of this we can be reasonably certain: The Buffs will feature a new quarterback and a new offensive scheme in 2013.


Looking for a silver lining in another CU loss

BOULDER — Let’s start with a heartwarming individual story because, frankly, there’s not that much to say about the University of Colorado’s 42-14 loss to UCLA that you don’t already know.

A fifth-year CU senior, a walk-on until this year, caught the first touchdown pass of his college career Saturday. Dustin Ebner of Arvada was so excited he forgot to hold onto the ball when the play was over.

“At halftime some of the guys were giving me crap, saying I should have kept the ball,” he admitted afterward with a smile. In fact, he wasn’t quite sure what he did with it.

“I don’t know, I think I was so excited in the celebration, I think I just dropped the ball. It was more important for me to celebrate with the team than remember to hold onto that ball. Maybe I’ll talk to J.T. (Galloway, director of equipment) and see if I can get ahold of one.”

In the media, college football is often reduced to its marquee players, the ones likely to go on to careers in the NFL. But the vast majority of college athletes are more like Ebner than the well-known players in the green room at the pro draft each year. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Ebner looks like your basic college kid.

After a nice football career at Pomona High, he walked on at CU and red-shirted in 2008. He caught three balls for 15 yards his second year in Boulder, broke a fibula his third year and played mostly special teams his fourth.

Saturday, he caught the first two passes of his final season, the fourth and fifth of his college career. The first of these was a 17-yard, second-quarter touchdown from quarterback Jordan Webb that cut UCLA’s lead to 14-7 at the time.

“It was awesome,” Ebner said. “I felt like all my hard work kind of finally paid off. When I lined up, the corner was in press (coverage). As Jordan made his calls, the corner kind of backed off and had outside leverage. Then I saw the safety kind of in the middle of the field. So my eyes got really big because I knew that I was going to be his choice.”

“He’s a kid that’s been here and worked hard,” coach Jon Embree said. “I put him on scholarship this year. I was happy for him. He made a few plays out there. We don’t have a lot of depth at receiver so you’ll obviously see more of him. But he runs good routes and does a good job of catching the ball with his hands, so it was good for him to make that play in traffic. It wasn’t exactly a gimme.”

Ebner graduated last December with a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, but he stuck around for his final year of eligibility and was rewarded with a scholarship. With the Buffs making do without Paul Richardson, their best receiver, Ebner has been rotating in whenever sophomore starter Tyler McCulloch needs a blow.

His teammates knew what the first touchdown of his career meant to him.

“They were really excited; they all gave me some love,” Ebner said. “It was a great experience for me. I had my mom, my dad and then a couple other friends in the stands. After the game, I went to the sideline and gave them big hugs. They were really proud of me.”

When Ebner is in the game on offense, he’s usually asked to block downfield in the run game, which he’s happy to do. But he admitted that finally seeing the end zone for the first time since high school made him eager to do it again.

“The thing with run-blocking is that it’s all effort,” he said. “That’s what I really strive for — just go out there and put all my effort into each play. So being rewarded with pass plays is awesome, to get that recognition, because not everybody recognizes when you’re blocking. Now I’m hungry for those touchdowns.”

Outside of Ebner being rewarded for five years of dedication to CU football, there wasn’t much good news Saturday. UCLA, which was ranked No. 19 in the country before being upset by Oregon State last week, is a lot better than CU in pretty much every respect. The Buffs’ defense kept them in the game until back-to-back turnovers by the offense near the end of the third quarter allowed the Bruins to put them away.

“We’ve got to get better in all facets of the game,” said Webb, the junior transfer from Kansas.

Alums from CU’s football glory days, Kordell Stewart and Michael Westbrook, joined the team on the sideline. This turned into a bittersweet experience for Embree’s young crew, which couldn’t turn their words of inspiration into inspired play.

“I always remember watching Kordell for the Steelers; such an exciting player,” Webb said. “But you know, it sucks to lose. With those guys on the sideline, it really sucks to lose. Those guys, they started the tradition here, and it’s not a good feeling whenever you feel like you let someone like that down.”

Rebuilding a college football program takes time, and the temptation is strong among fans, alumni and media to get discouraged and rip everybody involved. But the truth is CU is going to take its lumps in the Pac-12 this season. That’s pretty obvious, despite last week’s memorable come-from-behind upset at Washington State.

“I actually was disappointed,” Embree said. “I thought our kids competed hard and played well in spurts. We didn’t do a good job tackling. We had two critical turnovers that they converted to 14 points and then never really were able to recover from that.”

Embree’s charges get next weekend off to work on their numerous issues before playing a nationally-televised night game at Folsom Field against Arizona on Oct. 11.

Who knows? If Dustin Ebner catches a touchdown in that one, maybe he’ll remember to keep the ball.


For CU football, it’s always Groundhog Day

BOULDER — The University of Colorado post-football game press conference needs only an appearance from Bill Murray to earn the titleĀ Groundhog Day II. Whether the coach is Dan Hawkins or his successor, Jon Embree, it has been a painful, repetitive routine for too long now.

Saturday, after CU fell to 0-2 on the young season by losing 30-28 at home on a last-second field goal by a team called Sacramento State, Embree was asked what he would say to long-suffering fans of the CU football program.

“I’m sorry,” he replied. “I’m going to do everything I can to make it right and fix it, just like I tried to last week. You guys that know me, are around me, I’m competitive. I’m going to fight ’til there’s nothing left. It’ll start here in 14 minutes when we go upstairs and figure it out, or start to.”

This is more or less what he said last week, after losing in Denver to Colorado State — another game his team was favored to win. It’s also pretty much what he said after many of CU’s games last season — Embree’s first as head coach — when the Buffaloes went 3-10. The problem for many CU fans and alumni is they don’t see any signs of progress.

The Buffs were favored by three touchdowns over a former Division II cupcake put on the schedule specifically to give them a running start into the meat of their Pac-12 schedule. They surrendered 466 yards of offense to a school many students in the stands had probably never heard of.

For all that, they still had a chance to eke out a 28-27 win until they gave up a killer 72-yard drive to the winning field goal in the game’s final 2 minutes and 26 seconds.

“For them to go out there and do what they did to us today, it’s embarrassing,” said Buffs defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe. “They came out here with the mindset they had nothing to lose. This was not a game they were supposed to win, so they came out here and just gave it their all.”

The question left hanging in the air was this: Why didn’t the Buffs?

“I did not come in this game thinking we were going to dominate,” Embree said. “I came in thinking this was going to be a football game we were going to have to fight and win. And that’s how they were coached all week and how they were talked to. No one thought we were just going to come in and win.”

Any way you look at this, it’s bad for Embree and his program. Either his players took Sacramento State lightly and got burned or they took them seriously and got burned.

To his credit, Embree does not blame Hawkins for the sparsely-populated cupboard of talent he found when he arrived, but his choice of personnel Saturday made his opinion of many of the holdovers pretty clear. He started four freshmen on defense, including three in the secondary, and used freshmen liberally on offense as well.

After his running game ground to a halt against CSU, he installed 235-pound freshman Christian Powell at tailback. Powell finished with 154 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. Those numbers look a little gaudier than they felt because Powell scored the Buffs’ first touchdown on a 64-yard ramble just over a minute into the game. After that, the yards came harder.

Still, he’s more likely to provide the power running game Embree has advertised than the back he replaced, sophomore Tony Jones, who is quicker than Powell but weighs just 190 pounds.

The last time a CU runner scored three touchdowns in his first start, his name was Bobby Anderson and the year was 1969. “I thought he did a lot of good things,” Embree said of Powell.

He wasĀ less complimentary discussing his quarterback, Jordan Webb, a junior transfer from Kansas, who completed 12 of 24 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked three times.

“We missed some throws,” Embree said. “We missed some critical throws. I’ll have to see the tape overall, but there’s two that really jumped out that were some big-time plays for us and we weren’t able to make the throw.”

Asked if that means he will re-evaluate his decision to start Webb over sophomore Connor Wood, Embree said:

“Everything will be re-evaluated. Everything will. All positions. Yes.”

Webb suggested that protection breakdowns were at least partially responsible for his misses.

“I missed a couple, but every quarterback does,” he said. “A couple of them, I was just trying to get the ball out of my hands to avoid a sack. A few times the receivers were not even breaking into their route and I had to get rid of it. It is hard to be accurate and I guess I missed a couple.”

Wood danced nimbly around the possibility he’ll be named the starter this week, although he said he’s competing for that job every day. He entered the game for a single play — on third-and-18 — when Webb’s helmet came off and he was required to leave the field for a play. Wood completed a short pass to freshman Gerald Thomas that Thomas turned into a 28-yard gain and a first-and-goal.

“A lot of guys had their hand in the loss; it wasn’t just the quarterback position,” Wood said. “I think it was everyone. Right now, I’m not really thinking about the job. I’m still mad just as a teammate after a loss like that.”

Of course, when you lose to a team you’re favored to beat by 21 points, more than one thing is going wrong. When I asked Embree if all those freshmen in his lineup reflected a decision after last week’s loss to go with his own recruits, he demurred.

“It’s not necessarily my guys or someone else’s guys,” he said. “We’re just trying to play our best players and get guys going that we feel give us our best chance. In some cases, it’s true freshmen. So it wasn’t like, my guys or their guys. We’re all University of Colorado football players and it’s about trying to play those guys that give us the best chance and I thought those young kids played well.”

Maybe, but two of the true freshmen in his secondary — safety Marques Mosley and cornerback Kenneth Crawley — were called for pass interference on Sacramento State’s final drive.

The Hornets used a read-option running attack that might have reminded Broncos fans of the offense designed around Tim Tebow’s skill set last season in Denver. Like many of the Broncos’ opponents, the Buffs failed to maintain gap discipline too often, biting on fakes and giving up an average of 7 yards per carry to running back A.J. Ellis.

Sacramento State also burned the Buffs in the passing game on a series of quick slants that CU seemed unable to defend.

Most CU fans know that legendary coach Bill McCartney started his career in Boulder with three losing seasons, culminating in a dreadful 1-10 mark in the third. But there was no Twitter or Facebook in the 1980s. It’s not at all clear Embree could survive such a start to his head coaching career.

He was widely expected to be 2-0 at this point in the current season. Instead, he’s 0-2 and 3-12 overall. With only one non-Pac-12 game remaining — at Fresno State next week — CU has botched arguably the two most winnable games on its schedule. CU fans have not been shy about expressing their displeasure.

Whether it’s scheme or talent, coaching or coordination, the Buffs don’t look any better than they did a year ago.

“For whatever reason, the team that’s practicing isn’t necessarily coming consistently to Saturday,” Embree said. “That’s one of the things I need to look at and figure out why.”

And soon.