Donnel Pumphrey was just waiting for his chance.
The junior running back, arguably the best in the Mountain West this season, had been unable to break loose Saturday against Colorado State’s rush defense. At halftime, he had just 44 yards on 14 carries, 23 of which came on one play. He had a touchdown, but hadn’t found enough open space to show off his speed.
That changed on one play in the third quarter. Pumphrey took a hand-off from quarterback Maxwell Smith, stretched outside pulling fullback Dakota Gordon and came face-to-face with CSU cornerback Preston Hodges. Pumphrey took one step outside, then cut back to the left leaving Hodges grasping at a handful of late-October, 50-degree, Colorado air. What he saw next was an eternity of empty, green grass. As he turned on the afterburners — he said he ran a timed 4.38 40-yard dash in high school — Pumphrey outran everyone to the end zone. Well, not everyone. As he headed for the north end zone, Pumphrey spun another CSU cornerback, — this time DeAndre Elliott — in a complete circle, and then jogged into the end zone. It was eerily similar to former Southern Cal running back Reggie Bush’s touchdown run against Fresno State, and even had a touch of Rashard Higgins thrown in on the move that Elliott spinning.
It’s the type of run that Pumphrey has become known for in two-plus years playing in the Mountain West, and unfortunately for MW defenses, he’ll be back next year. When asked about returning to chase former Aztec star and NFL Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk’s career rushing record, Pumphrey promptly replied, “Oh, I’ll be here next year.”
The Aztecs came at CSU from all angles Saturday afternoon, running at, through and around the Rams en route to 276 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. When Pumphrey needed a breather, San Diego State brought in reserves Rashaad Penny and Chase Price, who combined for 104 yards on 21 carries. Even Gordon, the starting fullback, ripped off a 46-yard run in the fourth quarter to put yet another nail in CSU’s coffin.
It was yet another dismal performance against the run for CSU’s defense, which has given up an average of 265 yards per game over its last five contests against Texas-San Antonio, Utah State, Boise State, Air Force and San Diego State, respectively. CSU was able to hold the Aztecs down for 2 1/2 quarters, but eventually broke.
“I think we just let up on defense a little bit,” linebacker Deonte Clyburn said. “We had a couple missed assignments and missed tackles, and I think we just gave up too many plays. It’s just frustrating, because we know we could have bounced back and it was just a couple of missed plays that we didn’t capitalize on.”
When asked about what went wrong, senior safety Trent Matthews said, “We didn’t finish, and that’s the critical thing. Coach said we’ve got to look at the tape, so we’ll get to see what the mental errors we made were and figure out how to finish as a defense.”
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.