BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — The Colorado Buffaloes have been quite futile at Folsom Field in their first foray through the Pac-12 Conference this season.
The Buffs have never gone winless at home in a season since they started taking the field at Folsom in 1924. In order to sidestep that dubious distinction, Colorado (1-9, 0-6) must beat the Arizona Wildcats (2-7, 1-6) on Saturday.
And while the schools have very similar records, the Wildcats enter as double-digit favorites.
That’s simply a sign of how far the banged-up Buffaloes have tumbled in coach Jon Embree’s first season in charge.
Embree’s heart goes out to the seniors who play their final home game for nothing more than pride and to avoid the ignominy of going out as only the fourth team in the program’s history to finish winless at home. The last time the Buffs went without a victory in front of their fans was 1920, when they played at Gamble Field.
“I feel for them, I do, but they can still win their last home game,” said Embree, a former standout tight end at Colorado. “I went to a bowl game my senior year, but I didn’t win my last game here at Folsom Field and that still kind of bothers me. There is still some stuff out there for them and I expect they will have a great effort on Saturday and do what we can do to get them to sing that fight song afterward.”
To drive home what’s at stake, Embree had all the younger players write letters to the seniors.
Basically, it was a pledge to play with even more precision and passion.
“They have to prepare and do everything with the same sense of urgency as if they were a senior and it was another freshman doing it for them,” Embree said. “I think they understand that and I think they have done a good job of trying to do that.”
In reading the essays, Embree realized he’s from an entirely different generation, not this era of texts and tweets.
“Not that I’m Mr. Scripps Howard Spelling Bee champ but golly, these guys, I don’t know if `Wheel of Fortune’ will make it that much longer with this generation coming up,” Embree cracked.
Embree still has his sense of humor even with the losses piling up. His team is 0-4 at Folsom Field this season, but nearly beat California, falling in overtime, and had Washington State on the ropes, only to have the Cougars score two late TDs for a 31-27 win.
“I’m just thinking we’ve got to win,” senior tailback Rodney Stewart said. “It’s the last time we’re playing on this field and I don’t want to walk off with a bad memory.”
The Wildcats won’t be easy, especially with Nick Foles under center, yet another pro-caliber quarterback in a conference that’s loaded with them. Matt Barkley picked apart Colorado’s secondary last week as he threw for a school-record six touchdowns to lead No. 18 Southern California to a 42-17 win.
Before that, it was Heisman Trophy contender Andrew Luck of Stanford carving up Colorado’s defense by throwing for 370 yards and three TD passes.
Although Embree has categorized Luck and Barkley as 1a and 1b, Foles ranks right up there as well. The senior is 285 yards away from breaking Willie Tuitama’s all-time passing mark. That’s a rather easy day at the office for Foles, who’s averaging 362 yards a game.
“One thing that jumps out to me is how accurate he is throwing the deep ball,” Embree said.
That’s an area of weakness for the Buffs’ dinged-up secondary. Starting safeties Ray Polk and Kyle Washington are contending with concussions and their availability remains unclear, making the mission of slowing Foles even more difficult.
“It’s a great matchup, right? We struggle covering the deep ball and he’s really good at it,” Embree said. “(Foles) is a guy that I know will play on Sundays. I don’t know where the draftniks have him and all that, but he might be a first-rounder possibly — just with his talent level and his arm.”
Make no mistake: Colorado will get Arizona’s best shot, even if there’s nothing at stake for the Wildcats, either.
“There’s some adversity going on with the fact we realize there’s no postseason for us at this point, there’s no winning season for us at this point,” interim coach Tim Kish said. “But there’s still a lot of things we feel we can win.
“This is adversity and adversity introduces a man to himself. We’re going to find out where we’re at.”
While these two schools are meeting for the first time since 1986, the programs are quite familiar with each other. Colorado defensive coordinator Greg Brown and defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo were members of Arizona’s staff last season.
“I don’t know how much of an advantage-disadvantage it is, probably very little at the end of the day,” Kish said.
Embree said that no matter what transpires Saturday, this squad has earned a special place with him — even more so after his letter-writing assignment.
“There are a lot of guys that deeply care about each other and about their teammates. I was surprised about how selfless a lot of these guys were,” Embree said. “It validated that a lot of the kids we brought in, in the last class, are the kind of kids that we can continue to build around and are about team. That is important. We have to be about each other if we are going to be successful.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)