Colorado State’s offense and defense has been among the best in the country this season – at times.
The Rams are in the top-45 nationwide in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, passing yards allowed and red zone defense. The offense is among the top-50 in a half a dozen categories, and has racked up more than 1,400 yards through three games.
But CSU has sorely lacked in one area through its first three games: turnovers.
Defensively, the Rams are tied for 67th in turnovers gained after only coming up with four in their first three games, including none in a 27-24 overtime loss to CU last Saturday. Coupled with the offense’s struggles in turning the ball over – 11 in the first three games – CSU sits in a tie for 124th among Division I teams in turnover margin.
“I think it comes down to the fundamentals of holding onto the football,” CSU head coach Mike Bobo said of the offense’s struggles. “We had two turnovers on two picks (against CU), one when we were throwing into coverage we didn’t need to and the other a guy just made a great play on a screen. We were better, but we still lost the turnover battle, too. … We’ll continue our ball security drills, we’ll continue talking about the little things as far as your progressions and your feet as a quarterback, but we’re not going to just take a knee every down. We’ve got to play football. We just have to do a better job of protecting the ball, and if guys can’t protect the ball, then we’ll get somebody in there that can.”
That starts with quarterback Nick Stevens, who has had an up and down start to the season, completing 61 percent of his passes while tossing six touchdowns and four interceptions. After winning Mountain West Player of the Week following the Rams’ win over Savannah State, Stevens was replaced by Coleman Key in a loss to Minnesota. Stevens responded though, throwing for 282 yards and a touchdown. Still, Stevens is focusing on eliminating the turnovers, something he says starts in practice each day.
“We’re working a lot on ball security, taking care of the football and just trying to be perfect in practice,” Stevens said. “Out there in the game coverage is a little tighter. You just have to go through your reads and realize that just because a guy is running wide open in practice doesn’t mean he’s going to be in the game.”
On the defensive side, despite limiting Colorado to just 345 yards of offense, the Rams were unable to get off the field at multiple key points, and gave up a number of big pass plays. For the players, turnovers are less of a concern than simply getting off the field.
“Our main focus is to get a three-and-out,” safety Trent Matthews said. “We’re a scrappy bunch, and we don’t get care how many turnovers we get, or how many interceptions or sacks we get. It’s just more about, ‘Let’s get off the field.’ Going into the UTSA game, that’s our dominating key, just to get stops. Big stops.”
The Roadrunners, who turned the ball over seven times in a 69-14 loss to Oklahoma State, are tied with Colorado State in turnover margin at -7. However, CSU isn’t concerned with what happened in previous weeks.
“Yeah, we’re focused on getting the ball out and helping out our offense,” safety Kevin Pierre-Louis said. “But for this game, we’re really just focusing on ourselves. But we’re a good defense, and we know when to go for the strip and when to just make the tackle. We’ll be just fine as long as we do what we’ve been taught to do.”
Collegian Senior Sports Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.