That was the case for the CSU football team on Saturday as the Rams endured the loss of Chris Nwoke, one of their most explosive playmakers, due to an ankle injury in the second half.
Filling the void left by Nwoke was redshirt freshman running back Donnell Alexander, who provided a spark on offense for CSU in the game, carrying the ball eight times for 66 yards.
The importance of players like Alexander stepping up to produce for the Rams has been preached by CSU coach Jim McElwain and his coaching staff heading into the showdown.
“We came here with 72, 74 guys,” McElwain said. “And I told them that they didn’t come here to eat steak (at the team’s) Friday night meal. They came here to participate.”
Contributing the most to the Rams on Saturday in terms of points was kicker Jared Roberts, who went a perfect 3-for-3 on the day, including a 47-yarder to break the tie in the first quarter.
Roberts, a walk-on to the team in 2012, officially earned his scholarship and sophomore starting kicking position with the Rams a little more than a week before the showdown.
Many of Roberts’ teammates weren’t surprised by the success of their new kicker, citing how hard he has worked throughout practice.
“I came up to him after every field goal he made and just said ‘clutch,’” quarterback Garrett Grayson said. “It was clutch, that was all I said and I looked him right in the eyes and said, ‘This is what you deserve.’”
On the defensive side of the ball the Rams struggled to get pressure on CU-Boulder starting quarterback Jordan Webb throughout much of the first half.
CU had two unanswered touchdown drives to start off the second quarter as Webb picked apart the Rams’ secondary.
It wasn’t until the Rams and freshman linebacker Cory James started getting pressure on Webb after CU’s second touchdown of the game, that things started to change.
James tallied six tackles and three sacks in the game, in addition to terrorizing Webb while he dropped back to pass for the majority of the second half.
“Cory, he’s a great football player,” linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “He had a goal for himself today, he said he wanted to get three sacks, that’s what he told me before the game even started, so I told him if he keeps that up, he’s gonna have a good future.”
Things never quite go exactly according to the script when trying to manage a football team in a regular season game.
When one player goes down, it is the job of someone else on the team, often someone younger and more inexperienced, to step up and take his place.
On Saturday afternoon in Denver, the Rams had that someone step up on offense, defense and special teams and it proved to be the difference in the game.
Football Beat Reporter Andrew Schaller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.