When looking at the Colorado State Rams’ 2-3 record, it does not take much digging to find that the defense’s inability to get stops, especially against the run, is a primary driving force for where this team currently sits.
And, with where this team is at now, CSU’s struggles are particularly concerning heading into the rest of conference play this year.
“This is a physical league,” coach Mike Bobo said. “The teams that are winning the ball games are the physical football teams. This is not a league that throws it around and it’s 50-46 every week. You better be able to play defense, you better be able to run the ball and you better be able to stop the run.”
For much of this year, the Rams have been unable to do any of those things well, and they have the record to show for it.
On the season, the Rams are averaging 179.2 yards a game on the ground, while giving up 172.8, but the statistics are skewed with the wins over UTSA and the University of Northern Colorado.
In the team’s three losses, the Rams were outrushed by an average of 257-143. For the season, the Rams rank 81st in the country in rushing defense.
“It’s like every week,” defensive coordinator Marty English said about his team’s struggles against the run this season. “As a coordinator and as a defense, you don’t want the ball run up your butt. It’s demoralizing, it’s aggravating.”
It is particularly striking considering the Rams still have to face three teams ranked in the top-25 in the nation in rushing offense in New Mexico (2nd), Air Force (5th) and San Diego State (22nd).
In Saturday’s Border War loss, running back Brian Hill and the Cowboys ran through the Rams’ defense at will to the tune of 269 yards on the ground.
“The disappointing thing is I thought Wyoming was more physical than us,” Bobo said. “Why that is? We have to find that out and get back to who we are and what we want to become.”
And, as far as what they want to become, Bobo said it is all about getting back to his foundation.
“I believe that you have to be physical,” Bobo said. “You have to play great defense, you have to be able to run the ball, and you have to let your playmakers touch the ball offensively to have a chance to win.”
But Bobo’s, and this team’s philosophy, has been missing in action far too often this season.
“You’d like to say that we were physical but when you go back and watch the film and watch the game we got beat up front we got beat all around the ball,” safety Jake Schlager said of the Wyoming game. “It’s not just defense, it’s the offense too. They were more physical in all aspects of the game.”
“You just look at that, learn from that and just know that our effort on Saturday was not good enough to win the game and the energy we need to win the game was not there either,” Schlager continued. “We need to step up and be more physical.”
After Saturday’s loss, English said that his young defense is still learning. He said that Wyoming was changing things up on the field with their blocking scheme, and as a coach on the sideline, he was unable to see it. When the Cowboys started changing things up, that’s when they started gashing the Rams.
Part of that inexperience on the defense was that his players did not come up to him during the game to point out what Wyoming was doing differently.
On Wednesday, coach Bobo said the team was going to make a change about which coaches were going to be in the press box during games so that the team would have more eyes in the sky to not let something like that happen again.
But in the end, it comes down to the players on the field, and Schlager said they all need to do a better job of holding themselves accountable for the way this team, defense, is playing.
As a defense, they know where they want to be, but they are trying to figure out how to get there.
“Our goals are the same every week,” English said. “We have to stop the run we have to slow the run down and force teams to throw and keep the ball underneath.”
The goals may be set, and the team can address its areas of weakness all that it wants, but there is no guarantee that it is all going to be fixed by season’s end.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us each week, all year,” English said.
With what the Rams have looming on the horizon in conference play, there will be no shortage of those challenges.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5