Turnovers can change the complexion of a football game. The Rams learned that lesson the hard way Saturday, when they saw seven turnovers turn into 21 San Diego State points in a 38-14 loss.
Third-string quarterback Conner Smith played the entire second half and most of the second quarter in place of the injured MJ McPeek, and started to move the offense down the field completing his first 10 pass attempts in the game.
Smith, however, was intercepted at the beginning of the third quarter by linebacker Derek Largent at the CSU 38 yard line, which turned into another touchdown for San Diego State and pushed the Aztecs’ lead to 31-7.
“For the first time out there, he obviously did some good things,” CSU coach Jim McElwain said of Smith. “(But) you have to take care of the ball. You have to throw it to your guys with your colored jersey. I don’t care how many passes he completed in a row.”
In previous losses for the Rams, failures in execution, especially on third downs, stalled the offense. On Saturday, the offense converted 57.1 percent of their third down opportunities, but lapses in concentration occurred in the form of turnovers for an offense that has struggled to put up points all season.
“Today we just couldn’t get it done,” wide receiver Marquise Law said. “We had long drives and then turned the ball over. It’s definitely frustrating as an offense.”
The Rams turned the ball over three times on their side of the field, giving the Aztecs a short field to work with. They scored touchdowns off of each of those turnovers.
“You can’t turn the ball over inside the 30 like we did and expect to win a football game against anybody,” CSU coach Jim McElwain said. “I don’t care who you play. Those are mistakes that come back and kill you.”
San Diego State took advantage of the Rams’ mistakes largely due to the success it had in the running game. Running backs Adam Muema and Walter Kazee combined to rush for 200 yards and two touchdowns against a Rams defense that looked fatigued, especially in the second half.
“[We] missed tackles and some of us got glued to blocks and couldn’t get off,” linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “We saw (they were good) on film, and they showed it today. We need to get better at tackling and getting off blocks.”
The Rams will have the opportunity to get better this week as they now have a bye week before their next game at home against Hawaii on Oct. 27.
“We get a good chance with a bye this week,” McElwain said. “We get a chance to work on ourselves and get some guys some opportunities to be in different situations this week in practice. It will tell us a lot about guys that are committed.”
Football Beat Reporter Andrew Schaller can be reached at email@example.com