Colorado State’s ability to balance an explosive passing attack and hard-nosed rushing game has proven to be invaluable through the first six games of the 2017 season.
Perhaps more than any other game this season, Saturday’s victory over Utah State was indicative of this balanced approach.
Quarterback Nick Stevens began the game on a torrid pace, completing his first nine passing attempts and leading multiple scoring drives. After the first four possessions of the game, CSU held a 24-0 lead and Stevens had completed 17-of-20 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns.
At this point, head coach Mike Bobo decided to control the tempo for the remainder of the game. Stevens continued to attempt just nine more passes for the reaming two-and-a-half quarters while running backs Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews depleted Utah State’s defense.
Bobo revealed that this is exactly the type of football game he wants to win every week.
“We’re a balanced football team. I think anybody that plays us knows that they’ve got to stop the run…and that we can put the ball in the air and force it down field,” Bobo said. “I’d rather win a game like that any day of the week.”
While the passing attack moved the ball at will in the early going, the ground game bruised and battered the hearts of Utah State defenders beyond repair in the second half.
In the third quarter, the Rams mounted a seven-minute drive in which Matthews rushed for 40 yards. What’s more, he finished every run in physical fashion, searching for Aggie defenders to run over. On the next drive, both rushers combined for 55 yards on another tempo-controlling, five-minute drive.
Bobo’s tactical decision to trust the rushing attack and defense to maintain a 17-point lead shows the balance of this offense.
More importantly, the team is buying in.
“I trusted that we were able to run the ball like we did, and I think we did a good job,” Stevens said. “Some of that time they knew we were running the ball and we did a great job still.”
“All you can do is smile at it, that’s it. Their defense is over here like, ‘Gotta go again,’ and we just run it down their throat,” wide receiver Michael Gallup added.
Saturday’s victory marked yet another instance where balancing both facets of the offense proved its worth. Through six games, the Rams have recorded more rushing plays than passing attempts on four separate occasions. Adding in the fact that the team recorded just two fewer rushes than passes against Abilene Christian, the balance has been evident in five games.
The only instance where the team recorded significantly fewer rushes than passes occurred during the Rocky Mountain Showdown loss to Colorado. In that game, Stevens threw 47 passes while rushers combined for just 33 attempts. Unsurprisingly, this is arguably the team’s worst performance of the season.
As conference season wears on, a balanced offense will continue to reveal its importance. Though that may limit the stats of some players, there is no shortage of confidence in the offense as a whole.
“Throw the ball, catch the ball, run the ball. It’s pretty easy,” Gallup said with a smile.
Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.