Everything seemed different, yet so much was the same as the Colorado State Rams escaped with a 31-24 victory against Utah State Saturday night.
The game started off much like last week’s loss to the University of Wyoming. The CSU offense was able to move the ball early on in the game, and the Rams held early leads in both. 14-3 against Wyoming, and 10-3 on Saturday night.
But on Saturday, just as in the week before, the CSU offense went stagnant after the early start, and the CSU defense struggled mightily in the first half.
After a hot first quarter, CSU’s offense only managed 69 total yards, and 21 yards on the ground in the second quarter after eclipsing 105 rushing yards in the first quarter alone.
And the defense buckled early and often to the Aggie attack as the Rams fell behind 24-10 at halftime.
To close out the half, The Rams surrendered 21 straight points to the Aggies, just like they did to Wyoming last week when they trailed 24-17 at half.
Last week, CSU went into halftime trailing and essentially folded, as Wyoming ran over the Rams in the second half and walked off with the Bronze Boot after a 38-17 victory. This week, there would be no repeat performance of a second half collapse on behalf of CSU.
“I know we were down last week, we are down again, but we can come back,” quarterback Nick Stevens said. “Don’t doubt it and believe. That was an emphasis all week, no matter what happens believe.”
Last week, the Rams were left searching for leadership after the uninspiring second half performance against Wyoming. This week, the players noted that there was a different mindset and a different approach coming out of halftime for this game on Saturday.
“Guys believed today, that was huge,” linebacker Kevin Davis said. “You can see it in their eyes. It was not like that any of the other games. Guys believed we fed off of each other.”
The difference in energy was evident. Against Wyoming, the Rams kept shooting themselves in the foot, and as the deficit grew larger everything was snowballing for CSU. With that, it looked like the players themselves gave in.
On Saturday, the team came out much differently in the second half. Players were flying around and making plays. Davis and Safety Jake Schlager said that guys were actually having fun. Something that surely seemed to be lacking last week.
But in the end, a change in attitude was certainly not the biggest reason that CSU came out with a victory.
They just simply came out and played much better than they did in the second half against Wyoming. It’s not a science, if you stop the other team, and score enough points of your own, you can win games. For much of this season, that simplicity has alluded the Rams. On Saturday, they finally got it right.
“I think again there is an execution that ended up happening in the second half and that is what brought us back in the game,” Stevens said.
Whereas last week the Rams were unable to make any plays to get themselves in a rhythm and back into the game, there was no shortage on Saturday.
The initial spark came by the way of wide receiver Michael Gallup who turned a short slant over the middle into a 60-yard touchdown on the team’s first possession after halftime. Gallup’s big touchdown would spur the Rams on a 21-0 run of their own in the second half, with a huge contribution from the team’s oft-maligned defense.
After surrendering 24 first half points, the defense shutout the Aggies in the second half. For the third straight week, the Rams defense looked like it was on it’s way to becoming a scapegoat for the team in what would be it’s third consecutive loss, but on Saturday night, the defense bent but did not break in the entire second half.
And even when starting quarterback Collin Hill went down with a knee injury in the third quarter with the Rams trailing by seven, it did nothing to deflate the team in its comeback bid. After Hill went out, CSU scored two more touchdowns with Stevens under center.
Stevens was not perfect is his first significant action since week one, and no part of this team played a perfect second half, but it was a team in desperate need of a win, and that desperation showed.
“The guys responded extremely well,” Bobo said. “It is something you preach all the time about handling adversity, but to see your guys do that, (it) makes you feel good as a coach.”
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5