During the season-opening 58-27 victory over Oregon State, the Colorado State linebackers established themselves as key cogs of the CSU defense. Though the defense was shaky to begin the game, giving up an early touchdown, they settled in as a unit in the middle of the second quarter and stymied the Beavers thereafter.
With 9:53 remaining in the second quarter, CSU linebacker Josh Watson introduced himself to Beavers’ wide receiver Trevon Bradford in a less than friendly manner. Bradford took a sweep from quarterback Jake Luton and spun right into the helmet of Watson. The hit forced the ball out, and cornerback Kevin Nutt pounced on it to give the Rams the momentum they would not relinquish.
WOW. What a hit. pic.twitter.com/1PvkFMT8W2
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) August 26, 2017
Although CSU could only muster a field goal after the turnover, it ended up being one of the biggest plays of the game, as it brought what was a struggling Rams defense to life. From this point on, the Rams would only surrender 10 more points, seven of which came after a turnover on special teams in their own territory.
After taking a four-point lead to halftime, the linebackers opened the second half in emphatic fashion. Linebacker Tre Thomas intercepted quarterback Jake Luton’s deflected pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown.
Later in the fourth quarter, Watson added an interception to his tally, giving the linebacker corps a total of three turnovers on the day. In total, the defense allowed just seven points in the second half, showing their mental fortitude to respond to big plays that the Beavers threw at them. For the unit, making their abilities known early in the season is the best way to build momentum.
“Our group takes our jobs very seriously,” Thomas said. “We take everything to the heart. Being able to establish ourselves early is a great momentum builder. But we still got to take it a day at a time to get better.”
Watson led the team in tackles with nine, while Thomas finished third with seven. Kiel Robinson added six and Evan Colorito finished with five, giving the starting linebackers a total of 27 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble on the day. What’s more, the group of upperclassmen showed their leadership on defense.
“Proud of that group, they’re one of the toughest groups that we have on our football team mentally. They take the personality of coach (Marty) English, which is a fighter’s mentality,” Bobo said. “We’re a bit shorthanded at that position. Josh (Watson) I thought did an outstanding job today…The leadership of that group, and throw Evan Colorito in that mix right there. Leadership, to keep punching, to keep playing throughout the game.”
The Rams’ certainly weren’t short on emotional inspiration throughout the game. Senior linebacker and the emotional heartbeat of the defense, Deonte Clyburn is again dealing with the blood clot issues that resulted in him missing the entire 2016 season. That hasn’t prevented him from having an impact on this defense.
“A lot of things we do is for Deonte Clyburn,” Thomas said. “I told him after the game that everything me and Josh did was for (him). He’s in our hearts every game and every day. We love him; everything we do is for him.”
The defense will look to carry the momentum into Friday night as the Rams travel to Denver to take on Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. The second PAC-12 opponent in as as many weeks will be yet another test for a CSU defense that surrendered 44 points in the Rocky Mountain Showdown last season.
Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at email@example.com or Twitter @ColinBarnard_.