Throughout the end of last football season and into the early portion of the 2017 season, Colorado State’s offense has been the focal point of Rams football. Considering the torrid pace with which they finished 2016 and the fact that most of those contributors have returned, that hype is warranted.
That high-powered offense is also the best thing for the team’s defense. While there is no mistaking the talent on both sides of the ball, inconsistent play from the defense has caused them to fly somewhat under the radar. The Rams displayed brilliance at times last year, recording a total of six halves of shutout football and an entire-game shutout against Fresno State (Nov. 5). They also surrendered more than 30 points in over 50 percent (seven) of their 13 games.
For the unit as a whole, playing against one of the best offenses in the conference on a daily basis is the perfect medicine.
“Our receivers are probably some of the best that we’ll see all year,” redshirt senior safety Jake Schalger said. “So going against them every day not only gets us better, but it gets them better. When you have both sides of the ball competing like we do every single day, then it’s just making each other better. When you have such a great offense like we have, that’s gonna prepare us for later down the road.”
The impact that the competition has had on the defense is certainly notable. Despite starting slowly in both of the team’s scrimmages, the defense has responded late, showing the mental and physical toughness that will be needed later in the season. Whether it be forcing turnovers in the red zone or making timely stops on third downs, the defense has improved significantly since the spring.
“I think I’ve been most pleased with our play in the red zone and our play on third downs. Those are two areas that have been a point of emphasis for us defensively that we’ve got to get better at,” head coach Mike Bobo said. “I think we’re starting to understand and play together as a group. By no means are we perfect, but I’ve seen us be able to handle adversity and realize that teams are gonna make some plays and we’ve just gotta line back up and play the next play.”
Although still inconsistent at times throughout fall camp, Bobo has noticed some improvements on defense. The first team defense continues to smother the first team offense during one-minute drills, and the success against the offense in the red zone has been a welcome sight for the coaches and players.
For sophomore defensive lineman Toby McBride, the unit’s confidence has been the most important thing to this point in the season.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen is confidence,” McBride said. “A lot of guys flying around, being confident in the plays and making plays, just communication in general.”
Along with Evan Colorito, who defensive coordinator Marty English praised as his bell cow on defense, Schlager’s leadership will be key in improving the Rams defense. Despite his experience, competition across the board has forced veteran players to earn their reps throughout camp. Transfer safety Jordan Fogal is one of the many players to come in and compete for reps. Both Bobo and Schlager have noticed the uptick in competition that has arisen from new players.
“Jake (Schlager) is a guy who goes out and practices every day extremely hard and works on his craft and his assignment,” Bobo said. “He’s in a competition battle right now at the safety position which is bringing out the best in him. He’s a guy that’s gonna work extremely hard, he’s all in. [He’s] unselfish, wants what’s best for Colorado State.”
“Everybody’s gotta focus every single day on their job and the task at hand,” Schlager said. “It’s nice to have competition because without competition you’re not getting any better. At the end of the day the best 11 players will play on the field, whether it’s a corner playing safety or a safety playing corner. So you’ve gotta compete your butt off and beat the guy out next to you.”
Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @ColinBarnard_.