Colorado State football made its return to campus Saturday, playing the annual Green and Gold game in front of an eager crowd at Lagoon Field while their future home glistened in the background.
After struggling in the first two scrimmages of the spring period, it was the defense who stepped up and made the most noise in the 2017 spring game.
Despite the offense defeating the defense on a last-second touchdown pass from Nick Stevens to Olabisi Johnson, the noticeable improvement on the defensive side was a welcome sight for the Rams’ coaching staff.
“I’m really proud of the ones on defense,” head coach Mike Bobo told the media following the inter-squad scrimmage. “That was the first turnovers in any live situations. I thought they had a good plan, they executed and they challenged the offense. Quite frankly, I didn’t think the offense came out with the energy they need to come out with to establish themselves as a dominant offense.”
Playing on a shortened 90-yard field and with modified scoring rules, the Green team (offense) narrowly defeated the Gold team (defense) 43-40. Considering the offensive friendliness of spring football though, the defense can certainly walk away feeling strong about its performance.
Defensively, the Rams totaled four interceptions, three of which came against Stevens and the first team offense. Safety Jake Schlager, cornerback Jamal Hicks and linebacker Josh Watson each picked off Stevens. Redshirt freshman Connor Donohue was the recipient of a J.C. Robles first half interception.
In total, the first-team offense accounted for just two touchdowns on the day, both of which were thrown by Stevens in the fourth quarter. Stevens connected with wide senior receiver Michael Gallup in the corner of the end zone at the beginning of the final period before ultimately throwing the game-winning score to Johnson on the final play of the day.
After being handily defeated in the first two scrimmages, the resurgence of the defense Saturday is something the unit can take with them into the 2017 season.
“We did have our times where we struggled this spring and the offense flourished,” Schlager said. “But we came out here and had some success, got some turnovers and troubled Nick (Stevens). So that was awesome to see the defense come out here and make some plays. That’s what we’re really looking forward to is the defense coming out and making plays and continuing to progress.”
“It’s a big momentum,” senior defensive back Kevin Nutt added. “We have high expectations going into the fall. It’s something to build off of and we’ve just got to keep on working and get better each and every time we get out there on the field. We played good today, but we can play better.”
Playing with an injury-riddled defensive unit this spring, the Rams were forced to move some pieces around to fill out the roster. The team was able to escape Saturday without any further injuries though, which was crucial for a team already struggling with depth.
“We’re a work in progress defensively and we have to continue to work,” Bobo said. “The concerns of mine are depth on this football team. I think we’re pretty decent with the ones, but we’ve got to improve our depth. The guys that we have here in summer conditioning and fall camp and then our freshmen that we signed I think will all play a big part in our season next year.”
The Rams will continue with summer conditioning and fall practice before opening the season on Aug. 26 against Oregon State.
Collegian sports reporter Colin Barnard can be reached by email at email@example.com or Twitter @ColinBarnard_.