BOULDER For all the hits hes absorbed, Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen still feels remarkably healthy.
That makes him a rarity on this team.
The Buffaloes (1-6, 0-3 Pac-12) are battered and bruised heading into a game against ninth-ranked Oregon (5-1, 3-0) on Saturday. They have more than a dozen players out, including leading tackler Douglas Rippy and top tailback Rodney Stewart, who both are sidelined with knee injuries.
Whats more, their egos are ailing as the Buffaloes have taken their lumps during their inaugural season in the league. The last two weeks have been particularly painful, losing at Stanford and Washington by a combined score of 100-31.
This surely wasnt what coach Jon Embree envisioned when he took over this team.
Even through the rough start, Embree hasnt lost his sense of humor.
When asked Tuesday about how much faster the Ducks were, Embree chuckled and responded, Oregon can beat Jon Embree. Ive lost a couple of steps.
Embree suggested that instead of settling things on the field, maybe he could just have a foot race with Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Now that would be highly entertaining. Possibly even more than this matchup, given the Buffaloes are heavy underdogs.
Were in a little rough patch, said Hansen, whose team has dropped four in a row. Weve got to fight our way out.
With a patchwork lineup, too.
Colorado will be without its top playmakers in wide receiver Paul Richardson (knee) and Stewart against Oregon. The talented tandem has accounted for nearly 59 percent of the teams yards from scrimmage this season.
Given the banged-up state of his backfield, Embree is weighing all of his options, including possibly stripping the redshirt year off promising freshman Malcolm Creer. Before he does that, Embree wants to figure out just how long Stewart will be sidelined.
Stewart, whos called Speedy by his teammates, is expected to miss at least two weeks with a severely sprained knee. He is the second-leading rusher in school history with 3,217 yards and had a shot at breaking the mark held by his position coach, Eric Bieniemy, before the injury.
You could do a lot of different things with Speedy, Hansen said. When hes out, its going to limit you.
For now, the Buffs backup plan will be to rely on the quickness of Tony Jones, who had two touchdowns at Washington last weekend. Only in a pinch will they turn to Creer.
Were preparing him, Embree said. (Creer) is all for it. Weve had good conversations with him, and hes excited about the opportunity.
As for Rippy, Embree hasnt exactly figured out how to replace him. The middle linebacker tore ligaments in his knee and soon will undergo season-ending surgery. With Rippy went the heartbeat of a defense that has been decimated by injuries and suspensions this season.
The other team is not going to feel sorry for you. So were not either, Embree said. Whoever is representing the University of Colorado and is on the (field), do it to the best of your ability, play with great effort, and see what happens.
Considering his teams bumps and bruises, Embree would like to give them more of a breather at practice and keep things a little lighter. He simply cant.
Not with so many visible breakdowns in fundamentals. And especially not with an explosive Oregon squad arriving at Folsom Field.
Were not guys who are going to show up and all of a sudden just do it on Saturday, Embree said. We have to keep working. Theres no easy way around it.
Just like there are no shortcuts to fixing his team. The Buffs are a run-oriented squad, and Embree plans to keep it that way. To try to change their identity now only could hamper the team down the road.
We have to continue to stay the course, continue to work on getting better and work on being consistent, Embree said. Thats the first step in a program have consistency in what you do.
And then wins come, and through recruiting you improve to where youre winning consistently and not just winning here and there. Then, you get to a point where you have a different mindset, a different kind of confidence. Then, you have a chance to play for championships.
Sounds an awful lot like what Kelly has done with the Ducks.
Hes molded that team into his personality, Embree said. Hes got them playing at a high level.
They are a program that someday, what theyre playing for as far as the stakes, that you would like to have happen here.