Coming into Saturday’s game with the New Mexico Lobos, that Colorado State defense defense had a call to answer after last week’s porous showing against the Air Force rushing attack.
Coming out of CSU’s 49-31 over the Lobos, the number one rushing team in the country, consider that call answered.
“My message to the defense was to embrace this opportunity this week,” coach Mike Bobo said. “We were all embarrassed of what happened last week, but what better challenge than to have the number one rushing team in the country come to your house, and you have a chance to embrace that challenge and I thought our guys did.”
On Monday, defensive coordinator Marty English said that he had no idea how his team would respond to defending an option attack in the loss at Air Force, but he sure knew afterwards.
With that new experience to the option attack in mind, English said the defense had to get to work and reevaluate what they could do to help slow down an explosive rushing team.
Saturday’s response was appropriate.
New Mexico still picked up 285 yards on the ground, but that number was almost 56 yards short of the Lobo’s season average of 340.7 yards.
In the statsheet, it was not a perfect game, as New Mexico still scored 31 points, but all CSU’s rolling offense needed was a better chance than they had last week, and that’s exactly what the defense gave them.
“It was awesome,” linebacker Kevin Davis said of the stopping New Mexico’s attack. “Just knowing that they are the top rushing team in the country, I think we did pretty well overall especially in the first half. The second half got away from us a little bit, but overall I was happy with the way we played.”
At halftime, the Rams held a 223-57 edge in the run game. It was the defense’s effectiveness against that rushing attack that allowed the Rams to pick up a 28-10 halftime lead. CSU even made the Lobo’s turn to a more pass-heavy attack once they started trailing, and with New Mexico out of their comfort zone, the advantage was all Rams.
No Ram on defense might have made a bigger impact than freshman outside linebacker Arjay Jean.
He was one of those players who English said would be reevaluated before Saturday’s game, and the coaches must have seen enough to put Jean in a key role on Saturday night.
Jean’s athleticism and speed on the edge paid huge dividends in stringing out the option attack, and helped the defense effectively shut down the perimeter, something that was sorely lacking last week.
Jean finished with six tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
“Arjay is a raw kid as well, but you’ve seen him progress throughout the year,” Bobo said. “He’s going to keep getting better. He is a great kid that works extremely hard. He is getting tougher everyday at practice, every week.”
True freshman safety Jamal Hicks was another player who played a big role on Saturday. Hicks was tasked with playing up near the line of scrimmage, and his aggressiveness on the perimeter was something Bobo highlighted after the game.
“We had some guys step up real big tonight, Jamal (Hicks) and Arjay (Jean), starting two true freshman,” safety Justin Sweet said. “It was nice to see everybody hustling out there and making big plays.”
As a whole, it was a much faster and aggressive CSU defense on the field than a week ago. Whereas last week there was hesitation, this week, defenders were flying to the football and making plays.
“I wanted us to attack and I didn’t want us to be on our heels reacting to what they did, I wanted us to force the issue, and our guys did tonight.” Bobo said. “I’m really proud of the guys. I know they ended up with 31 points but I thought we dominated physically at the line of scrimmage and played more physical than them.”
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5