Compared to this time last year, or even 10 weeks ago, a few things thing are clear about the Colorado State offense, it is a better offense, and it is being led by a better Nick Stevens.
For the way this offense has performed in the last four games in which CSU has averaged 473.2 yards per game, coach Mike Bobo put a lot of the credit on his junior quarterback.
Last year at this time, the Rams were a run-first team, and when the team went undefeated in the month of November, it was largely because of the run game.
“It was basically we are going to take the ball out of Nick’s hands and we are going to basically try to win the game running the football,” Bobo said of last season’s offensive mindset.
But that was last year’s mindset. This year, Bobo wanted something different.
“I felt we needed to be balanced if we wanted to be explosive and have a chance to win games,” Bobo said. “We couldn’t be one dimensional. In order to do that we had to put the ball in Nick’s hands and he’s doing an outstanding job.”
“I have a lot more trust in the quarterback to be honest,” Bobo said after Tuesday’s practice. “I just talked to him coming off the field about last year’s run and (that) there was not a lot of trust in him. He did a great job in the run game, but we were limited a little bit in the passing game. Now there is trust because I see him trusting what he is seeing and trusting his throws.”
With the ball in his hands, Steven’s execution has allowed this offense to be what Bobo envisioned. In the last four games, the team has averaged 213.2 yards per game on the ground and 260 through the air.
And since taking over as the starter against Boise State, Stevens has completed over 70 percent of his passes for 260 yards per game with eight touchdowns and just one interception.
He is a much more effective quarterback, and with that, it has been a much more effective offense.
“I have come along way from where I was at this point last year and also from where I was at the first game compared to now,” Stevens said. “I think I have gotten a lot better week in and week out and that has definitely helped allow (Bobo) to call more plays and more shots and put the ball in the air a little bit more.”
“I think you see it in his lower body, in his footwork,” Bobo said about what has made Stevens a better player this time around. “A lot of times there is more velocity on his ball because he his committed to the throws and your commitment to the throw is being on balance and driving off your back foot. To me you see it because there is not any uncertainty.”
Bobo said that he sees a much more fundamentally sound Stevens this year, and that’s what has allowed Steven’s confidence in his own abilities to grow.
Of what he has seen Steven’s be able to do this season, Bobo singled out a third quarter play on Saturday, when Stevens was able to avoid an Air Force blitz and hit receiver Olabisi Johnson 38 yards downfield on one of his best throws on the season.
“He made their ‘sam’ linebacker miss by taking his drop, stepping up, and being firm, where before, I might see him kind of crumble back there,” Bobo said. “But he put his foot in the ground, stepped up, kept focused down the field, and threw the long pass to Bisi (Johnson).”
It’s those kinds of plays that Steven’s is making this year that Bobo did not see consistently out of his quarterback last season.
“That gives me confidence as well,” Stevens said about what it means for Bobo to have that trust in him. “(Bobo) has talked to me about how he is happy that we are at a point right now where we are a lot better than we were at this point last year It says (something) about the whole offense not just myself. It’s a credit to everybody in that locker room on our side of the ball.”
Yes, as a whole the offense is much sharper now than they were a year ago, but it has taken a shaper Stevens allow that offense to flourish.
“Nick is a lot better player right now then this time a year ago,” offensive coordinator Will Friend said. “He played well for us last year but a lot of it was what we asked him to do. I think right now Nick can do some more things on his own that we may have been not willing to do as much a year ago, and that’s helped us out a lot.”
A large part of CSU becoming bowl eligible hangs on Steven’s right arm. Last year, the coaches were willing to take the ball out of his hands to win games, this year, the ball is in his hands. But now, Stevens and his coaches have the confidence that the ball is right where it needs to be.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5
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