Photos by Abbie Parr.
LAS VEGAS– It was not 60 minutes of a complete game, but it was 30.
Colorado State (4-4, 2-2 Mountain West) went on the road to UNLV (3-5, 2-2 MW) fresh off a furious comeback cut short in Boise. If it is possible to have momentum coming out of a loss, CSU had it.
When they got the chance to use that momentum Saturday afternoon, it resulted in a 42-23 blowout victory over the Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium.
It showed early, as the team went on a 12-play scoring drive on the first possession of the game. Quarterback Nick Stevens capped the drive off with an 8-yard touchdown flick to tight end Danny Nwosu.
Nwosu’s score was just the beginning. Colorado State went on to score on five of their six possessions in the first half.
“Offensively I really wanted to come out this game and be aggressive,” Colorado State coach Mike Bobo said after the game. “I didn’t want to be timid. I wanted to cut the guys loose and get speed on the field and give them a chance to make plays and the guys responded and made plays.”
The one possession they didn’t score on? It wasn’t so bad, as punter Hayden Hunt turned what was a CSU three-and-out on offense into a punt downed on the UNLV 2-yardline.
It was that kind of a first half for CSU. What went well went really well, and what went wrong didn’t go that wrong. The result? A 35-0 lead at the half, and going back to the fourth quarter against Boise State, CSU had outscored their opponents 55-7 in their last three quarters of play.
CSU out gained UNLV 298 yards to 72 yards in the first half. Quarterback Nick Stevens had 168 of his 237 yards passing in the half, and running back’s Izzy Matthews and Marvin Kinsey each recorded two touchdowns, respectively. CSU rushed for 230 yards in the game, as Matthews, Kinsey and Dalyn Dawkins carried the ball at least 10 times each.
One thorn in the side of the CSU offense this year has been their third-down conversion rate. Saturday afternoon the offense was able to take that thorn, and turn into strength. The Rams went 8-10 on third down conversions in the first half, 10-18 total.
“Really proud of the way we executed,” Bobo said. I thought we really had a nice plan for third-down, but Nick (Stevens) did a great job on third down. Some of the looks we thought we were going to get and who the ball was going to go to didn’t happen that way, and he progressed and went to the next receiver. And that is what a veteran quarterback should do.”
What was most impressive about the half was that it was the first time that all facets of the game were clicking at the same time, with maybe an exception being made during the first half against the University of Northern Colorado.
The defense was able to force two turnovers by way of a Jake Schlager interception and a Justin Sweet fumble recovery, to which the offense responded with seven points of their own. The CSU defense held the UNLV offense stagnant for all but one drive in the first half as UNLV crossed the 50-yardline just once.
“We capitalized on each other’s momentum. I think the first turnover we didn’t score right there; other than that we capitalized and did a nice job punching it in,” Bobo said. “Great stop, getting the turnover down there and scoring right before half. Just taking advantage of opportunities, playing off each other, we are growing up.”
“I thought it was a great first half,” Schlager added. “We came out and everybody was flying around having fun. Offense was clicking on all cylinders, defense was clicking on all cylinders, even special teams was. We were playing a complete half, we just need to come out in that third quarter and emphasize coming out, having a quicker start again but overall I thought it was a great effort and a great game.”
Colorado State couldn’t have asked for a better first half performance. With that being said, there is room for improvement.
UNLV outscored CSU 23-7 in the second half, and held what was a potent CSU offense converting nearly every third-down jogging off to the sideline. For UNLV, however, the deficit was too great to have any realistic chance of overcoming.
“(A 35 point deficit) It’s stunning regardless,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “But 35-points in the first half is not stunning because of momentum coming into this game. It is stunning because we should never give up that many points in the half. It wasn’t all the defense. We can’t come in and play a half of football like that.”
For CSU, the first half represented what the team is capable of doing when multiple facets of the game are clicking at the same time. Of course the team wants to transfer that play over to the second half, but it is one step at a time. It was one quarter against Boise State and now an entire half against UNLV. When the team executes to their true potential, they become hard to beat.
“At the end of the day we executed enough to win the ballgame and you never apologize for going on the road and winning a ballgame,” Bobo said. “They’re tough to come by and I’m proud of this football team.”
Collegian sports editor Chad Deutschman can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChadDeutschman