COLORADO SPRINGS | Colorado State knew they'd be in for a slugfest against in-state rival Air Force on Saturday. However, in an affair where defense seemed optional, the Rams came up on the wrong end.
Air Force racked up 485 yards rushing and Falcons tailback Tim McVey tallied a career-best four scores on the ground to propel the Falcons to a 49-46 victory over Colorado State. The loss drops the Rams to 5-5 (3-3 MWC) with two remaining opportunities to get to the six-win mark and bowl eligibility.
The barnburner shootout featured record nights for offensive players on both teams. McVey's four scores and 184 yards highlighted a dominant night on the ground for the Falcons, whose 485 rush yards was a conference-best on the season.
For the Rams, Michael Gallup proved again he is a dominant force for defenses to focus in on. The junior college transfer accounted for a college-best 13 receptions for 213 yards and a score, plus a two-point conversion late. His game-sealing fumble late while trying to gain more yards on a slant proved costly on an otherwise brilliant night for the junior.
CSU quarterback Nick Stevens also had a night to remember. The junior threw for a career-high 374 yards on 22-of-29 passing, finishing with two touchdowns and one interception. Stevens methodically led the Rams on scoring drive after scoring drive, but the Rams came up one drive short in the end.
Not to be outdone was CSU's run game, which used 102 yards and two scores from Dalyn Dawkins and 53 yards and a touchdown from Izzy Matthews. CSU's balanced offensive effort cumulated in 559 total yards of offense, a new season-high for the Rams.
CSU's defense was a different story. It had shown improvement over the last month, especially, shutting down the likes of Fresno State and UNLV. But Air Force's potent rushing attack proved unstoppable for CSU's revamped 4-4 look, which essentially utilized five linebackers and three down linemen.
The Rams looked confused more often than not on assignments, yielding huge gains especially on the edge against Air Force's triple option attack. Falcons sophomore quarterback Arion Worthman was left unattended on numerous occasions, one of which resulted in a 54-yard touchdown run. When he was covered, he found his pitchman – McVey or Jacobi Owens – for big gains. McVey averaged 12.3 yards per carry and now has 26 career touchdowns in 24 games.
CSU struggled to make consistent tackles all night long. They did find occasional success in stopping option number one, the Falcons' fullbacks. O'Shea Jackson and Josh Lovingood played admirably up front, as did Jake Buys and Johnny Schupp.
But the edge was a different story, as Worthman or McVey were often left undefended. An early hamstring injury to Jake Schlager proved costly, as the Rams were knifed on the second and third levels time and time again. The poor showing from Marty English's defense would appear to be a step back for a group that steadily improved since the home loss to Wyoming.
With the loss to Air Force, the Rams dropped all three rivalry games this year, being outscored 131-70 in those games. They'll need to go back to the drawing board to prepare for another vaunted option attack in Bob Davie's New Mexico Lobos, who they'll face next on Saturday.
Coach said it
CSU Head Coach Mike Bobo shared his thoughts with reporters on-field following the loss.
"It was a great ball game. It was a tremendous effort by both teams playing 60 minutes and it was a little bit of a track meet tonight for both teams. We didn't do the things that we needed to do; you've got to give credit to Air Force - they made more plays, but we didn't win the special teams battle like we needed to do which could have been the difference in this ball game." - Bobo on the loss.
"The big thing was on the perimeter - the quick pitch to the slot back and the late option pitches were executed well and they were picking up the right blocks and we didn't do enough to get off the blocks. They're good at what they do." - Bobo on CSU's inability to stop the option on the edge.
"It's one of those games where we knew we would have to play for 60 minutes. We preached patience, no matter what happens, we keep playing and we'll have the chance to be there at the end of the game and we were." - Bobo on his team's resiliency.
"Michael (Gallup) had a heck of a game and he's hurting about the fumble, but he's going to learn from this and we're going to learn from this as a team." - Bobo on Gallup's career-best performance.
As frustrating as the game was defensively, the Rams nearly won. What's even wilder is the defense created a few big plays to help the offense. Justin Sweet had a pick-six in the second quarter. Kevin Davis, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles, forced two fumbles, one of which was recovered by Evan Colorito. Tre Thomas missed several assignments, but played four quarters of tough football while tallying a season-best 13 tackles.
But it was Air Force who was able to hold serve on one more occasion than CSU. This wasn't a must-win game for the Rams – they have two more tries to get the one victory they need to go bowling. But in some ways, it felt like it. CSU had gotten dominated by its two other rivals, Colorado and Wyoming, and a win on the road at Air Force, which hadn't happened since 2002, would have been a big step in the right direction for the program.
That didn't happen. Instead, they are left licking their wounds and wondering what could have been.
CSU will host New Mexico on Saturday in the final game ever at Hughes Stadium, as the Rams are set to begin play at a new on-campus stadium in 2017. Hughes has been the home for the Rams for 49 years. Kickoff is set for 8:15pm MST with television on ESPN2.