Monday Morning QB: Minnesota

<p>Oh! and 11. <p>No, I'm not predicting that the CSU Rams will go winless this season, and finish the year 0-11. Despite the dismal start - the worst ever for the Rams under Sonny Lubick - I'm pretty confident that CSU will get up off the mat and not only beat Montana State, but finish better than .500 in Mountain West Conference play. Probably not win the MWC, but be a factor....that is, if some things change...and fast.

What needs changing is the "Oh! and 11" I'm talking about. Eleven is the number of CSU turnovers after three games - all losses - to start the 2004 season. Colorado State has coughed it up 11 times in the first three games, while registering just three takeaways. More importantly, opponents have cashed in the Rams giveaways for 55 points, while CSU's three takeways have translated into...Oh! ZERO points.

Oh and 11. Oh boy.

With that stat as a guidepost, an 0-3 start shouldn't come as a surprise...against any level of competition.

So what the heck is going on here? It wasn't too many seasons ago that CSU led the nation in turnover margin. That was then, this is now.

You can always look at particular plays which result in turnovers and lament an unlucky bounce here, or a blown assignment there, or some other weird factor. But when you're a -8 after three games, luck is not the problem. Ball security, and more over a general lack of aggressiveness, are the real culprits. Youth and inexperience are factors to be sure, and so to is the quality of competition (After three weeks of the season, Colorado State's opponents, including the top-ranked team in the country, have a combined record of 9-0.) The inexperience factor can only be dealt with over time. The lack of aggressiveness? Needs to be dealt with immediately, or sooner.

Will it be? Can it be? Are the right men in charge to make such a change?

All legitimate questions. So far, the men assigned the tough tasks of replacing long-time CSU assistant coaches Larry Kerr (Defensive Coordinator), Marvin Sanders (defensive backs) and Brian Schneider (special teams) who left before the 2003 season to take more lucrative gigs, have simply yet to distinguish themselves. The Ram defense, always stout under Kerr and among the nation's best at creating turnovers and short fields for the offense, has seriously regressed under new DC Steve Stanard. To be sure, the talent level has dropped a notch as well, and you can't blame that on the second year assistant coach. He's not working with Sean Moran, Brady Smith, Joey Porter, and the like. But the Rams defense is not 'flying to the ball,' and isn't tackling like they did under Kerr, either. The tackling against Minnesota was simply awful - among the worst ever seen at Hughes Stadium, and that doesn't help create punts or turnovers. Normally, opposing offensive players don't just drop the ball - they usually have to be hit hard or hurried into a bad throw for a turnover to result.

And CSU's special teams, always a unit that could be counted on to make the game-turning big play, is no longer special. They're just ordinary now, neither a help nor a hindrance to the Rams cause.

Add those to an offense that has been more miss and less hit, and that leaves us at 0-3. Without any opportunities to work on a short field, the offense has been unable to rack up enough points to even keep CSU in the last two games. A scoring drive against Minnesota, which resulted in a field goal, was the Rams FIRST of the season that was less than 12 plays. That's a lot of pressure on a suspect offense to be almost perfect.

Go back a couple weeks. The final seconds of the season-opening loss to Colorado are really a microcosm of the Rams season thus far. Moving the ball - sometime swiftly - but coming up short. Having a chance, but not seizing the moment. A yard away from the end zone, and Marcus Houston tip toes up to the line and falls down (in what really amounts to the biggest moment of his life on the football field) instead of catapulting himself over the pile and selling out to get the winning score. Sure, that lack of aggressiveness is sometimes a product of youth and inexperience, but not always. It's a mind set that the CSU coaching staff has got to change starting...yesterday.

"TAIL LIGHTS WAS ALL YOU COULD SEE..." CSU Radio Play-by-play man Rich Bircumshaw, as loyal to the Rams program has anyone could possibly be, was disturbed by the number of tail lights he saw in the third quarter - cars leaving Hughes Stadium with the Rams trailing big to visiting Minnesota.

"To me, if you're a fan, and you're gonna support your team, you support them win or lose," Bircumshaw told his radio audience, many of whom were undoubtedly listening to him as they slowly made their way out of the Hughes Stadium parking lot.

He has a very good point to be sure. Good fans show up - and despite the Rams 0-2 record going in, there was a record crowd on hand for the home opener (which was also being televised.) But there's something that Rich and others within the CSU administration must consider when they lament the early departure of fans. For those who don't live in the Fort Collins area, the trip home can be a very very long one - and it can as much as double in length if you wait until everyone else is leaving to make your exit.

Remember, TV moved this kick-off to 8pm, which is an awful thing to do to fans who have to drive an hour or more to reach Fort Collins, much less get into the stadium. If you're going to take the money from ESPN - which they really do need to keep doing for financial reasons - then be ready to accept the fact that it's going to have a negative effect on those who still choose to attend the game in person. If you live in Denver, and want to get home before the early NFL games kick off on Sunday, you had better leave the stadium in the third quarter.

In addition to the late kick-off time, add in the fact that access to Hughes Stadium remains the worst in the region BY FAR. Despite all the improvements to the place made possible by a nice fat donation from a booster last year, there hasn't - and really can't be - any improvements made to the access, unless of course they elected to shut down the place and build a nice new facility on campus, where A LOT more fans would not only show up to games, but stay longer as well.

Hughes Stadium has a lot of history, that's true. But because it has such terrible access, and is so hard to get to from the other cities and towns in the region, it remains a huge negative for CSU fans who don't live in the Fort Collins area. If they would just build a stadium at the corner of Laurel and College as I've been asking them to do for years...

Short of moving the stadium, they could at least take some of that donated money and build a fly-over from Interstate 25 to make the place at least somewhat accessible to out of towners. Maybe then the tail lights wouldn't appear until late in the game.


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