Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo is well respected around the country for being one of the elite offensive minds in college football and has been for some time.
Going back to his days as an offensive coordinator at Georgia, Bobo was viewed as a quarterback guru, having worked closely with now-NFL quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray.
Coming off one of the most successful seasons of his career as an offensive coordinator in 2014, in which the Georgia offense totalled 537 points in 13 games played, Bobo came to Fort Collins and adopted one of the truly elite wide receiving corps in the nation with Rashard Higgins and Joe Hansley.
Despite this, the CSU offense vastly underperformed in 2015 and ultimately finished the season 7-6. In 2016, after getting off to a slow start and rotating through Nick Stevens, Faton Bauta, Collin Hill and ultimately going back to Stevens at quarterback, the Rams produced one of the better passing offenses in the country during the second half of 2016.
Now one game into the 2017 season, it appears that the CSU offense has carried over some of that 2016 momentum in the passing game. In the 58-27 victory over Oregon State last Saturday, the Rams offense produced 525 yards, 334 of which came through the air.
A large reason the Rams were able to consistently move the ball with their passing attack was the fact that Stevens consistently had multiple open targets to throw the ball downfield. In the game, Stevens completed passes to eight different players, four of which were wide receivers.
Senior wide receiver Michael Gallup finished the game with a team-leading 11 receptions for 134 yards. While it was Gallup that ultimately led the Rams in receptions and total yardage, the majority of his production came through screen passes and quick throws on the outside.
After the game, Gallup explained that in the initial game plan for OSU, he was primarily supposed to be a decoy to draw the defense in.
On the other side of the field, junior wide receiver Olabisi Johnson proved that he is just as big of a threat to opposing defenses and last year’s record-setting performance in the Potato Bowl was no fluke.
Any time the Beavers were able to blanket Gallup or contain the Rams top receiving threat, Johnson was there to make a play for the Rams downfield. The Lakewood, Colo. native finished the week one victory with five receptions for 66 yards.
What stood out most about Johnson in week one was not necessarily his stat line, but the difficulty of the plays he was able to make and when he was able to make them.
Early in the second quarter, following a 75-yard touchdown run that gave OSU a 3-point lead, Johnson was able to open the offensive series with a 17-yard reception for a first down. The drive ended with a punt, but Johnson’s grab to begin the series was big for a team that had just given up the biggest play of the game.
A few series later with the game tied at 17-17, Oregon State recorded a 12-play, 41-yard drive that ended with the Beavers missing a 52-yard field goal.
After getting the ball back on their own 34-yard line, Johnson kicked off the drive with a 26-yard reception to bring the ball past midfield. What’s more, Johnson was mugged by the Beavers defender on the play and was still able to bring the ball in.
CSU ultimately capped this drive off with a touchdown and went on to hold the lead for the remainder of the game. The common factor in both of these crucial moments in the first half was No. 81.
Nicknamed “the standard” by his teammates, Johnson is the type of player that always stands out on the field. Not because he is flashy with his words or celebrations, but because he is quite literally the standard for a competitor.
With a pair of wide receivers like Gallup and Johnson on the outside, it makes sense that Bobo likes to push the tempo and wear opponents down by consistently targeting these two athletic receivers.
“I think we’re just as explosive, if not more explosive than the guys from 2015,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of weapons, we have a lot of speed and guys have been in the program for a while.”
The dynamic duo of Gallup and Johnson have the ability to get open through a variety of ways. They can beat the defense over the top, they can catch the ball at the line of scrimmage and make you miss in the open field. If you give them any sort of space in the middle, they are likely going beat you off the line and take advantage.
That being said, with great talent comes great expectations and attention from opposing defenses. Gallup and Johnson are likely going to face a lot of coverages that focus on shutting them down. According to them, this is where the “X-factor” of the 2017 passing offense comes in.
Listed at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Detrich Clark is not the type of player that is going to intimidate you pre-snap. When the speedy wide receiver takes off from the line of scrimmage though, he will immediately grab your attention.
After transferring to CSU from Eastern Arizona (JUCO), Clark played in all 13 games, starting four at wide receiver for the Rams last season. Despite having played quarterback during his junior college days, Clark was able to make the transition to wide receiver and find a way to make an impact for the offense.
Now heading into his second full season at the position, both Clark and his teammates expect the versatile wide receiver to make a bigger impact in 2017.
“I think they fly under the radar a little bit,” Gallup said of his teammates. “They are definitely going to get more exposure this year though.”
In 2016 Clark was certainly was raw as a route runner, so the majority of his touches came through wildcat plays and quick screens. Having had an entire season and offseason to work on the craft, Clark’s impact in the traditional passing game should be even greater in 2017.
“Detrich (Clark) is a speed guy and he knows how to hit a hole,” Johnson said. “When we’re running the wildcat or one of those formations specifically for Detrich, 90 percent of the time he is going to score a touchdown. I’ve seen it firsthand.”
Whereas Gallup and Johnson primarily make a living on the outside, Clark gives the Rams a speedy option to send across the middle. With so many options for the Rams to exploit opposing defenses with, the Rams wide receiver trio rivals that of just about any other group in the country.
The highest compliment an offensive group can receive would be one coming from the opposing defense. Having faced them every single day in practice, starting safety Jamal Hicks made it clear that he would take his group of guys against any receiving corps the Rams will face this season.
“I feel like we have the best receiving corps in the nation,” Hicks said. “Going up against guys like Preston Williams, Bisi Johnson, Michael Gallup, Detrich Clark everyday kind of prepares you for anything.”
CSU will once again look to use their potent passing attack in Friday’s matchup with Colorado. After being held to only seven points in last year’s game, the Rams hope that a more experienced and versatile offense will make the difference.
Collegian sports director Justin Michel can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @JustinTMichael.