Despite the excellent first impression made by new CU-Boulder coach Jon Embree, the Buffs seemed bound for a beyond-mediocre season in its first Pac-12 campaign -- an impression reinforced by its desultory game one loss versus Hawaii. But while CU fell to Cal 36-33 on Saturday, they offered plenty of reasons for hope before coming up short -- with Paul Richardson topping the list.
Although CU lists Richardson at 175 pounds, the game's announcers insisted his actual weight is closer to 165 -- and in a conference filled with behemoths, his slenderness raises durability issues.
But that's the only question about the sophomore receiver. His quickness, field vision, instinctual nature and smarts were on display throughout Saturday's match-up, to the Bears' dismay. QB Tyler Hansen set a school record with 474 yards through the air -- and 282 of them (also a record) were collected with help from Richardson. The guy's so electric that it's a wonder opponents didn't get scorch marks trying to tackle him.
As for Hansen, his total actually could have been higher had he not been intermittently erratic -- a quality that's plagued his CU career to date. He missed a slew of open receivers during the game, seemingly by miles at times. Yet for each moment of hair-pulling frustration, there was another pass perfect enough to make fans wonder how his skills might have developed had he not been forced to sit behind ex-coach Dan Hawkins's son Cody for an unconscionable length of time.
More worrisome was the defense, which couldn't stop Cal at several key junctures and added to the pile of yellow flags that undermined the Buffs' efforts. Emblematic of this problem was defensive back James Polk, allegedly one of the squad's leaders, yet someone preternaturally disposed to take brain-dead aggression penalties, like one particularly egregious out-of-bounds hit. This moment in particular speaks to a lack of discipline that must be addressed if CU is to exceed expectations this year.
And the Buffs can. Rather than playing it safe, Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy have installed a high-risk/high-reward attack and challenged their personnel, most of whom date back to the Hawkins era, to execute it -- and this weekend, they managed to do so more often than not. Only the D's inability to capitalize on consecutive Cal penalties during overtime stopped them from earning a victory.
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This doesn't mean CU will register many wins this year. The well's too close to empty for that. But expect the Buffs to be in the majority of games and make better teams sweat. Anticipate, also, that they'll continue to improve as the campaign rolls on, building momentum for next season -- and giving supporters a reason to pay attention to this one.
Look below for game highlights.
More from our Sports archive: "Jon Embree, CU Buffs coach, flips Pac-12 commitments in 13 days (VIDEO)."