Colorado State’s secondary has had its fair share of ups and downs through eight games of the 2017 season.
The Rams’ inconsistency in the defensive backfield was evident in CSU’s last two games in which they earned narrow victories over Nevada and New Mexico.
“We’ve progressed over the season,” senior cornerback Kevin Nutt said. “But against Nevada, we had a terrible game and then came back and had a little bit better of a game against New Mexico, but it wasn’t the best that we can play. There can be some improvement.”
Specifically, CSU’s secondary has not been forcing as many turnovers lately as they were earlier in the season. The Rams have only forced two turnovers in four Mountain West games after forcing nine during four non-conference games.
The secondary in particular has collected five interceptions so far this season. However, all of those came during the Rams’ first three games. Keying in on forcing interceptions is a focal point for the secondary moving forward in order to progress as a unit.
“We have to keep emphasizing turnovers,” Nutt said. “It’s been awhile since we had a turnover from the secondary and we need to get back on that. We need to make turnovers contagious again like they were in the beginning of the season.”
Sophomore safety Jamal Hicks had two of those interceptions early in the season. Hicks also has collected the third most tackles for the Rams with 34. CSU’s secondary took a devastating blow when it learned that Hicks’ broken right arm suffered against New Mexico will sideline him for the remainder of the season.
In light of Hicks going down, redshirt senior safety Jake Schlager will now be called upon to do even more in the secondary. Luckily for the Rams, Schlager is in the position to do so.
After collecting 72 tackles last season, the third most for CSU, the experienced safety is currently the Rams’ fifth leading tackler with 33. While filling the void for Hicks isn’t an easy task, Schalger’s experience makes the transition easier.
“Schlager is definitely going to have to play more,” Nutt said. “He played all of last season and he has been doing a lot of good things. We need him to stay in the whole game. He has the most experience of playing at Colorado State out of the safeties right now. He’s one of the leaders out there on the field that we have to look back to and depend on. And he has to depend on me and everyone else on the field.”
Though Schlager has already been heavily involved, it’s almost a guarantee that he will now have to play more. Despite this change in involvement and the amount Schlager will be depended on, the safety doesn’t believe this will affect the way in which he approaches each game.
However, Schlager does believe there are some things that he and the secondary as a whole need to continue to work on in order to see improvements.
“It’s just little things,” Schlager said. “Continuing to work on the little things and making sure they don’t slip is key. When you get into the season and you work on game planning you kind of forget about the little things, like the first step in your back peddle, your breaks. It’s just continuing to focus on those little things, your eyes, and stuff like that.”
Though Schlager acknowledges that Hicks’ playmaking will be missed, he doesn’t believe the loss of Hicks will inhibit the Rams’ success. Schlager believes that, when asked upon, any of his teammates are capable of stepping up. Even some of the less experienced ones who will be called upon in Hicks’ absence.
“You have Jadon Walker and Kavapele Maka, they are two guys that are new to the program and haven’t really adjusted to the program quite yet, but are still coming along and still working,” Schlager said. “They got in last week when they had to when I came out for a little bit. They came in and they filled their spots. You know that they are going to prepare just as hard as anyone. You just have to have trust and faith in them or whoever ends up playing for whatever reason.”
Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.