Following a disappointing start to the 2016 season, Colorado State was hoping for a stronger performance Saturday in its home opener against Texas-San Antonio. More importantly, the Rams needed to get back in the winning column.
Mission accomplished, albeit in a way that had fans on edge for most of the game.
CSU used 220 rushing yards and scores on the ground from Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews to hold off UTSA, 23-14. Stingy defense late including six quarterback sacks, plus three clutch field goals from Wyatt Bryan catapulted the Rams to victory.
Rams head coach Mike Bobo was pleased with his team's overall effort, despite just 82 passing yards from starting quarterback Faton Bauta. CSU produced just 31 passing yards under week one starter Nick Stevens against Colorado.
“I am really proud of our football team today. It was a total team effort,” Bobo told reporters following the win. “Ups and downs on both sides of the ball. But the way our defense came out and played in the second half was unbelievable.”
The most talked about component of the game will be the insertion of true freshman Collin Hill in the fourth quarter. Apparently, Bobo had seen enough from his other two quarterbacks to pull the redshirt off Hill, who hadn't played this year and was expected to sit, learn and watch while utilizing his redshirt.
“You would like to redshirt a young guy, but (through) camp and spring, we felt he had a really good chance to be a really good player. So we got him ready to play,” Bobo said. “All along I was saying it would be a three-quarterback race and it was. We will continue to work him and see where he fits in.”
Bauta showed glimpses of promise, rushing for 39 yards on four carries and hitting receiver Elroy Masters down the sideline late in the second quarter to set up a CSU field goal.
But the graduate transfer quarterback from Georgia could not connect with open receivers on countless occasions. In his defense, his receivers dropped several easy catches. Yet Bauta also had his fair share of overthrows on deep passes, as well as under-throws on passes to the flats.
The combination of the two led to boos from the CSU faithful at Hughes, then the subsequent arrival of Hill, CSU's prized three-star recruit. Bobo had seen enough following two straight passes from Bauta that were thrown into the ground in front of his intended targets.
“We weren't completing a pass,” Bobo said matter-of-factly. “He (Hill) worked all week with the twos, he and Nick (Stevens) split time and I thought he had the better week. I thought if we were struggling to throw the ball we would give him an opportunity and he did not play great either, but he had two big completions and one was on third down, which was a good pass over a corner to Elroy (Masters) and he stuck it to him.
“You can see the ball comes off with velocity and confidence because he gets on top of the ball. He's going to compete this week and give us the best opportunity to win. I still believe Faton will play, it gave us an opportunity for us to win on his ability to run the ball with his legs.”
Following an opening game that included few positives, the Rams showed resolve defensively and enough on offense to earn the win.
And while the Rams got a much needed first victory of the season, they enter week three with perhaps more questions than they did entering the home opener.
Is Collin Hill the man for the job going forward? Or will Bobo continue to monitor the position and play Buata in run situations, or even insert Stevens again?
Bobo was reluctant to shed any light on the matter directly after the game.
“I am not going to make that decision now,” Bobo said. “I have to look at the tape and evaluate like I do every week. We played him and I expect he will play, whether he is the starter of not yet. I have not yet made a decision.”
Defensively, CSU showed glimpses of growth. Josh Watson (a team-leading eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, half a sack) and Braylin Scott (six tackles, one interception) both had bounce-back performances following poor showings in week one.
Inside linebacker Kevin Davis is well on his way to a first team all-conference season. After 19 tackles in week one, the heady leader followed that up with three sacks, six total tackles, a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries.
Certainly, this team has a lot of room to grow. Bobo admitted he is in uncharted territory concerning his quarterbacks. Two games in a row now his starter has thrown for under 100 yards.
CSU's run game had an impressive first half performance. But Dawkins (hamstring – sat out most of the second half) and Matthews (still not one hundred percent with a bum ankle) both need to get healthy for the offense to consistently move the ball and score points. Otherwise, true freshman Marvin Kinsey and reserve Bryce Peters will start to see more carries.
Regardless of the way they got there, CSU earned a hard fought victory on Saturday in front of 20,673 fans, and that's all that matters. The Rams return to Hughes Stadium next Saturday for a home tilt against nearby Northern Colorado.
By the numbers
0 – no turnovers for the Ram offense. The defense created a late interception by Braylin Scott to seal the win.
6 – sacks by the CSU defense, three of which came from Kevin Davis.
7-of-11 – UTSA's third down conversation rate until late in the game. CSU's defense struggled to get off the field for much of the game. Ultimately, they cinched down and UTSA finished 8-of-18 on third downs.
220 – rushing yards by CSU. Dawkins led the way with 68.
108 – passing yards by the Rams. Bauta finished with 82 on 6-of-17 passing. Hill was 2-of-6 for 26 yards and a big, 15-yard third down converting pass to Bisi Johnson.
2 – consecutive offsides penalties by the Roadrunners in the waning moments of the first half, which allowed Wyatt Bryan to connect on a 28-yard field goal. Bryan missed both field goals leading up to his make, but the back-to-back UTSA offsides penalties allowed him to make it on his third try.
56 & 99 – the jersey numbers of O'Shea Jackson and Colton Foster. Both missed the first two games (along with Xavier Williams) due to suspension, but will be back next week. CSU rolled with its starting three at defensive line for much of the game. Having Jackson and Foster back will be pivotal to a better overall performance from the d-line. Provided Christian Colon and Justin Nunez get fully healed, CSU's defensive front should see steady improvement in the coming weeks with improved depth.