After finishing just outside of the Associated Press national rankings for several consecutive weeks, the Colorado State Rams needed a convincing win over Hawaii to prove to voters that they belonged among the top 25.
In front of 25,236 fans at Hughes Stadium on Saturday, the Rams dismantled the Rainbow Warriors 49-22 and earned enough AP votes to be ranked No. 23 in the nation.
It’s the first time the Rams have been listed in a national rankings poll since 2003 when they were ranked No. 23 in the AP preseason poll.
Before the game, CSU head coach Jim McElwain didn’t want any of his players thinking about the possibility of a national ranking, he just wanted complete focus on the game.
“We went into this week saying we wanted to be 1-0 at the end of this game,” McElwain said, “not worry about anything else; not worry about the clutter.”
The main storyline entering the contest was how the Rams offense would perform without perhaps its best playmaker in wide receiver Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins, who was held out with an ailing shoulder injury. Higgins leads the nation in receiving yards and touchdown receptions.
Colorado State answered any doubt that its offense relied too heavily on Higgins as senior quarterback Garrett Grayson threw a touchdown to four different receivers and the Rams demolished Hawaii with a balanced attack.
Running back Dee Hart rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown while fellow back Treyous Jarrells ran for 69 yards and two touchdowns on a day when Hawaii couldn’t stop the run. Entering Saturday’s matchup the Rainbow Warriors allowed 174 rushing yards per game, but the Rams racked up 293 on them.
Although the Rams offense did just fine without Higgins, the Rams defense played equally as impressive against Hawaii.
The first quarter set the tone for the game, where two different Hawaii drives stalled in CSU territory and the Rainbow Warriors only mustered 63 yards of total offense. Hawaii quarterback Ikaika Woolsey finished just 16 of 47 for 192 yards and one touchdown while throwing two interceptions.
“It was nice to see our secondary press on these guys even though they saw a couple calls that didn’t go our way,” senior linebacker Max Morgan said. “I’m happy with the turnovers we got, too. I think that’s something that we need to continue going forward.”
However, CSU still made several mistakes of its own that Hawaii could have taken advantage of.
Rainbow Warrior punter Scott Harding was able to pin CSU on their own one-yard line early in the game that led to a CSU safety and Hart misjudged a punt that Hawaii was able to recover.
“[Harding] is a Swiss Army knife,” McElwain said. “That guy can do it all. He had four or five third-down catches and then obviously he’s a weapon in the punt game. We didn’t handle that very well.”
Along with special teams play, the Rams also had a problem holding onto the ball in all phases of the game. Colorado State fumbled the ball seven times but recovered all but once.
McElwain and his staff are still waiting to see a complete game from their team, but Saturday was as close as the Rams have been all season.
Collegian Sports Reporter Steven Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @steven_jacobs_.