The first part of the football season is over for Jim McElwain.
The CSU head coach looks at the season in three parts. With non-conference play over, the Rams will now head into the second part of the season when they begin playing teams in the Mountain West, starting with San Jose State in two weeks. The third phase will come with the tail-end of conference play near the end of the season.
After five games, McElwain has watched the Rams learn from their own mistakes in their losses and in the two wins the team has had.
One of the biggest changes he’s noticed from the beginning of the season to now is his team’s ability to finish. In each of their first two losses of the season, the Rams held leads heading into the fourth quarter that slipped away after they were unable to contain explosive plays by their opponents. On Saturday against UTEP, the Rams saw their 21-point lead quickly become a tie ball game after giving up three touchdowns in seven minutes to the Miners.
This time, though, the outcome was different and McElwain saw something in his team that he hadn’t seen in those first two losses.
“Coming off of what I thought was a very good win for the program and a win that had a lot of different things go on during the game,” McElwain said at his weekly press conference Monday. “Being able to give up a lead, have some bad things happen and then have the resolve to finish, (I) really felt good about that and was excited for our players.”
McElwain said he was happy to see his team accept the challenge and compete in the face of adversity, which is something different from what he saw in them last year.
This week the Rams will focus on fundamentals as they aim for consistency. The bye week will give the team a chance to work on themselves instead of game-planning for a specific team.
“This is the step that needs to be taken,” he said. “Some of those things we say are kind of elementary, but we need to make sure that we’re focusing on that because a couple of the penalties that we had, it’s unacceptable, and it’s because we didn’t do the proper things with our hands and our footwork and you can’t let yourself fall back into that.”
While some of the assistant coaches are out recruiting this week, McElwain will take over all coaching duties in practice Tuesday.
“I actually as a head coach look forward to the byes, not for the time off but the fact the other coaches aren’t here,” McElwain said. “I get an opportunity to get my hands a little more dirty and maybe get some angst out at some positions.”
Barrett honored again
On Monday linebacker Shaquil Barrett was named Defensive Player of the Week by the Mountain West Conference and was also named National Defensive Player of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards. Barrett had three sacks and two forced fumbles on Saturday vs. UTEP. He leads the NCAA with 12.5 tackles for loss and is tied for first in the nation with 6.5 sacks. Earlier this season, Barrett was named Special Teams Player of the Week by the Mountain West after blocking two field goals in a win against Cal Poly.
“It seems like every time you need something, (Barrett) comes up, he’s right there,” said tight end Kivon Cartwright following the game on Saturday. “He means a lot to this team. He’s a great player.”
Football Beat Reporter Katie O’Keefe can be reached at email@example.com.