There aren't many firsts left for Jon Embree at Colorado. When you are 18 games into your coaching career, most of the firsts have come and gone. But playing after a bye week? That's a first.
After 13 straight weeks in 2011 and five so far this year, the Buffs are finally getting a breather. And it comes at a pretty good time. The bye week gives Colorado a chance for some much-needed reflection, gets them healthy at a few key positions and it allows the many, many freshmen who are playing the opportunity to stop their heads from spinning, if only for a brief period.
And that's key. Colorado (1-4, 1-1) has played 21 freshmen in the first five games -- including 13 true freshmen. On defense, true freshmen have accounted for 1,031 snaps -- slightly more than 25 percent of all plays on defense. By contrast, seniors have accounted for 602 snaps -- or 14.8 percent of the defensive plays. And as you'd expect with so many young starters, getting back to some defensive basics will be a priority in the bye week.
"We need better tackling," Embree said. "That led to a few big plays [against UCLA] and then turnovers, protecting the football. Those are the things we need to address more with us being in the bye week. As coaches, we talked about some things that I want us to continue to do better and help our players continue to be in positions where they can compete and win."
Wins have been scarce -- but considering many were predicting a winless season following close losses to Colorado State and Sacramento State, encored by a blowout to Fresno State, the fact that they were able to pull one out against Washington State shows some promise.
Colorado should also get several players back from injury for next week's Thursday night home game against Arizona State. Players like linebacker Doug Rippy, safety Ray Polk and center Gus Handler -- barring setbacks -- are expected to be ready for next week. Also, some of the day-to-day guys like linebacker Jon Major, defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe and running back Christian Powell will get some rest to heal up.
"We'll be as healthy as we would have been before Colorado State," Embree said." Just about everybody will be back. This week, if we would have played this week, it wouldn't have looked too good."
The rest of the schedule looks like a tough road. ASU is on the verge of being a ranked team, then the Buffs have three straight games against ranked opponents: at No. 13 USC, at No. 2 Oregon and home to No. 18 Stanford. That's followed by a trip to Tucson to face previously ranked Arizona, home to No. 23 Washington before closing out the year at home against Utah.
Embree said his youngsters have been "holding their own physically," but they could certainly use this time to rest, learn and grow from some of the rookie mistakes of the first five weeks.
"Right now, it's all about self-evaluation," Embree said.