The Colorado State Rams snuck by the University of Texas-San Antonio 23-14 in the final season opener in Hughes Stadium history.
It was another frustrating game offensively for CSU, but the Rams defense held down UTSA for much of the day, in a rebound performance from last week.
“The thing that I wanted to see today, I wanted to see fight out of our team,” coach Mike Bobo said. “I wanted to just see fight for sixty minutes or however long it took and I said the scoreboard would take care of itself and it did. Was it pretty? No, but we did improve from week one.”
Senior Faton Bauta got the start at quarterback, and the Rams came out in an up-tempo attack that wore down the UTSA defense and caught them off balance in the first half. Wyatt Bryan hit a 38 yard field goal on the team’s opening drive to give the team an early lead.
On UTSA’s first drive, quarterback Dalton Sturm was coolly efficient on third downs as he completed all four of his third down attempts on the opening drive including a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kerry Thomas Jr.
It looked like it could be another long day for the CSU defense, but they settled in after the first drive, only allowing seven more points in the game.
The CSU offensive line dominated the point of attack in the early parts of the game, paving the way for 193 first-half rushing yards for the Rams. The Rams needed the rushing attack, as Bauta struggled to complete passes in the first half.
Dalyn Dawkins ran 12 times for 67-yards in the first half, including a one-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. Izzy Matthews added a six-yard touchdown run of his own and finished the half with 41-yards on seven carries.
The ending of the first half featured a whole lot of excitement in the final twenty seconds. First, Sturm hit Junior wide receiver Brady Jones for a 16-yard touchdown with twenty seconds left in the half cutting the CSU lead to three, 17-14.
Then, the Rams took over on their own 26-yard line with 15 seconds remaining. With coach Bobo opting not to sit on the ball and head to halftime, Bauta hit Elroy Masters, who made a great contested catch for 45-yards down the sideline, setting the Rams up at the UTSA twenty.
With two seconds left in the half Wyatt Bryan miss two consecutive field goals, first from 38-yards, and then 33-yards, but he was bailed out both times on UTSA offside penalties. Bryan then hit a 28-yarder on his third try to give the Rams a 20-14 halftime lead.
But after halftime, the Rams offense could only muster 61-yards and three points, and the team had to rely heavily on the defense.
Defensive coordinator Marty English’s group responded to the challenge, dialed up the pressure, and shutout the UTSA offense in the second half.
The defense’s aggressive approach yielded results, as the Rams recorded five sacks in the second half, and six total for the game. Kevin Davis was credited for 3.0 sacks on his own.
Sophomore linebacker Josh Watson led the defense in tackles with eight, even though Junior Patrick Elsenbast started in Watson’s place.
“The way our defense came out and played the second half was unbelievable,” Bobo said. “I thought coach English did a great job of continuing to bring pressure in the second half. He kept the hammer down and our kids responded.”
But the other side of the ball was much more suspect in the second half. The Rams running game shut down when Dawkins missed most of the second half with a tight hamstring, and the passing game was still ineffective for the majority of the day.
For the game, Bauta 6-17 for 82 yards, and his stats were padded heavily by the effort out of Elroy Masters as the half winded down. But in the second half, Bauta only completed one of his six passes.
After Bauta threw three-straight incomplete passes on the team’s first drive of the fourth quarter, Bobo turned to true freshman Collin Hill at quarterback. Hill completed his first collegiate throw, an 11-yard pass to Olabisi Johnson for a first down.
“I was not real reluctant when we could not complete a pass,” Bobo said about the decision to play Hill. “We thought that if we were struggling throwing the ball we would give him an opportunity. He didn’t play great either but he had two big completions.”
Hill finished the day 2-6 for 26-yards, and the Rams ended the day with only 108 yards passing, though coach Bobo was quick to point out that it was an improvement from last week.
Junior safety Braylin’s Scott interception of Sturm sealed the victory for the Rams as they moved to 1-1 on the season after the hard-fought, defensive victory.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5