Saturday, CSU punched its ticket to the postseason with a 28-21 win over New Mexico at University Stadium in Albuquerque. In normal segments of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” we would have something under each one of those categories. But because there wasn’t a whole lot that went wrong — and the fact that I am in a genuinely good mood because I’m going home to hibernate for the rest of fall break — we are going to just stick with the good and the bad.
Here’s what went right and what went wrong for the Rams:
When he’s healthy — and it appears he is now — there isn’t a better receiver in the Mountain West than Higgins. New Mexico decided to be bold Saturday and attempt to cover Higgins one-on-one at numerous junctures throughout the night. That plan slightly backfired. Higgins and quarterback Nick Stevens picked apart the UNM secondary, with Higgins hauling in eight passes for 140 yards. Stevens threw the ball all around the yard, finishing 16 of 23 for 264 yards and a touchdown. Do you hear that? No? There’s seem to be silence coming from the folks who called for Stevens to be benched earlier in the year. Over the past three games, Stevens has completed 40 of 57 passes for 593 yards and five touchdowns. During that same three-game stretch, Higgins has caught 19 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Coincidence? I think not.
The true freshman has an unassuming, quite demeanor off the field, but on it, he has been an absolute monster for CSU’s running game. After Saturday’s game, CSU head coach Mike Bobo said he likes to save Matthews for the fourth quarter so they have a fresh back running against their opponents’ tired defense. It was worked to perfection during the last handful of games, especially Saturday night. In CSU’s last three games — all wins — Matthews has rushed 34 times for 191 yards and three touchdowns, including runs of 17 and 30 yards, respectively. His yards per carry average is an astonishing 5.91 (!!!) yards per carry. Not bad for a guy who was expected to ride the pine at the beginning of the season when he sat behind Jasen Oden Jr., Dalyn Dawkins and the departed Treyous Jarrells.
CSU’s run defense
The rushing yards (268 of them) weren’t pretty, as Bobo pointed out after the game. But CSU came up with key plays when it needed to, forcing two turnovers and blocking a field goal. Kevin Davis’ game-clinching interception was set up by a 15-yard sack of UNM quarterback Lamar Jordan a play earlier, and those two plays collectively ended the game. CSU’s defense has criticized much of the year — at times for good reason — but the Rams stopped one of the hottest offenses in the Mountain West and held New Mexico to just 21 points after it had torched Boise State and Utah State.
Colorado State’s kicking game
This doesn’t rely solely on the kickers, so let’s get that out of the way early. But Wyatt Bryan’s partially-tipped miss and Braxton Davis’ errant 52-yard attempt were two plays that could have come back to bite CSU. On Bryan’s attempt, both he and the rest of the field goal unit can be blamed for getting that one blocked. Davis’ field goal was a mistake to start with, and Bobo admitted that after the game. Putting a true freshman in a spot like that is a learning experience for Bobo, and as a first-year coach, he is going to have a few of those moments. Unlike earlier this year, CSU was able to recover from its misses and finish the game out. That’s the definition of progress, isn’t it?
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.