In Colorado State’s 37-0 victory over Fresno State this past Saturday, plenty of defensive reserves were called on to play significant second-half snaps and preserve the shutout.
The reserves may not have played a huge role in Saturday’s win, but many of those contributors who stepped up in the second half have just been doing what they have been doing all year.
Nowhere is this more evident than along the defensive front, where freshman Arjay Jean and Toby McBride and redshirt freshman Richard King combined for 8 tackles and three sacks during the game.
The young lineman made a statement on Saturday, but they have all stepped over the course of this season up to fill a position in need heading into this season.
“If you can play more defensive lineman and you keep a fresh fast guy, against most of the time, an inferior athlete in an offensive lineman, your chances of being successful go up,” coach Mike Bobo said during Monday’s game week press conference.
Going into this year, that concept stood in question. Nothing was set in stone along the defensive line. A clear rotation was not set, and depth was a concern.
With the emergence of the trio of freshman through this season, that rotation got deeper, and the defensive line got better.
“I think it’s huge,” defensive coordinator Marty English said of the development of the youth on the defensive line.”I think they kind of have been coming along. Do we want to have had to play maybe Toby (McBride) as much as we have as early as we have? I don’t know, but he’s earned it. If they want to go out and work and they want to earn it, they are going to get their chance. That’s period, that’s it.”
“For them to be able to come in and really help us in certain situations, it has been really good,” defensive lineman Jakob Buys said.
None of the younger defensive lineman, or maybe any defensive lineman has had as much as an impact this season as McBride, the 6-foot 3-inch 245 pound three-time state wrestling champion out of Fort Morgan high school.
McBride leads the defensive line in tackles, tackles for loss and is tied for the team lead in sacks with three.
He is undersized, but Bobo said he makes up for it by being a technician, something that comes with his wrestling background. It’s also what gives him the toughness and fire that English likes.
“We knew it right when he got here,” defensive lineman Jakob Buys said about when he thought McBride might have an impact this season. “Just seeing his build, it was like, this kid can grow into something.”
McBride may be one of the leaders on the defensive line, but King and Jean have played just as valuable as roles, and should continue to progress as the year goes on.
King, who has six tackles and a sack this year, has been inolved in the rotation since week one, and Jean has slowly seen his snaps climb over the course of the season. His pass rushing potential showed fully on Saturday, as the freshman finished with 1.5 sacks, and it very easily could have been more.
“I think the progression of Arjay, you have been seeing him play more snaps a little bit every game and some of the games have allowed us to do that,” English said. “It’s still important to get those guys in critical situations and let them learn, let them grow.”
King, McBride and Jean made their way onto the field by competing and making their impact in practice, but it’s translated well over to the real field. That game experience is only going to make the individuals, and the group, better over time.
For a group that is still not significantly deep, and loses multiple contributing seniors after this season, the freshman’s development over this season has already helped lay the foundation for the years to come.
“It really helps because right now they are still learning the basics and how to do everything,” Buys said. “For them to come in right now just will help them in the future. They get to know the speed of the game, and that’s something they were not used to when they got here. You can see it with Toby, the game has slowed down for him. (With) Arjay, its starting to get there. He has not played as much as Toby, but the game is getting there.”
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5