Contrary to popular opinion entering the 2017 football season, Colorado State’s defense, not offense, has put the Rams in a position to win each of the team’s two games this season.
It is difficult to criticize the offense’s performance when looking at statistics, as the Rams have averaged more than 30 points per game. However, considering that 58 of the total 61 points came in CSU’s week one victory over Oregon State, that average is noticeably skewed.
Meanwhile, the defense has allowed 22 points per game without demonstrating the extreme spectrum shifts that the offense has. In 2016, that average would rank second among Mountain West defenses.
For a unit that was overlooked coming into the season, the defense’s success is something to take pride in.
“Going into this year, everyone was talking about our high-powered offense and how great they were going to be,” senior defensive lineman Jakob Buys said. “We had a decision to make: either we step up with them and be a complete team, or we just let the offense dominate games. So we stepped up. We’ve been pushing our offense; our offense is pushing us.”
But the competition between the two units did not just start at the beginning of the year. Throughout fall camp, head coach Mike Bobo praised the defense for its success against the offense. Though there still plenty of questions to answered, the improvement was evident prior to the season opener.
Senior linebacker and defensive captain for a third consecutive week, Evan Colorito attributes some of the defense’s success to engaging in competition with the offense from the onset of camp.
“I think it started as soon as camp started,” Colorito said. “I think that’s what got us to the point where we’re at now with our defense being much better than we were last year. The competition starting in late July and carrying through August…It’s really nice to have everyone competing, realizing how important it is to have such a strong defense.”
Naturally, competition between the two units is a positive thing. When one side of the ball performs better than the other during a game, they are able to carry that momentum over into practice. This enhanced competition allows each unit to better themselves, something Bobo recognizes as vital to the team’s growth.
“Quite frankly (the defense) has taken it to the offense on a number of occasions, fall camp and through the first couple weeks of practice once the season started,” Bobo said. “It’s good. It’s good because we compete regularly, even when we’re in season…It’s back and forth for offense and defense. That’s only going to make us better. I love that competition between the offense and defense.”
Arguably the most impressive part of the defense’s success is something that cannot be seen by the final score. In both games, the defense struggled to find a rhythm early before settling in during the second half.
Against Oregon State in week 1, they gave up 39-yard and 75-yard scoring plays in the first half, before nearly pitching a shutout during the second 30 minutes of play.
The next week against Colorado, Phillip Lindsay broke free for a 45-yard touchdown in the first quarter and totalled 17 points early in the first half. Both games seemed as if they would feature the same shaky defense from the Rams that they demonstrated throughout 2016.
However, their ability to fight back after slow starts shows the resiliency that these Rams have on defense. Rather than folding under the pressure, CSU locked down in both games. They allowed seven second half points to Oregon State and shutout Colorado during the second half of the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
The defense’s ability to dominate opposing offenses after struggling to start a game has been one of the biggest takeaways for Bobo.
“The guys did what we asked as coaches,” Bobo said in regards to the loss to Colorado. “They were ready to play, they played extremely hard, they played together. For us to start off a little bit shaky, but find our grove and continue to play together and play hard for each other and be opportunistic on defense was a good sign.”
The Rams will look to build on their defensive momentum with the team’s annual Ag Day game against Abilene Christian on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 1:30 p.m.
Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.