Through the first five games of the 2017 college football season, Colorado State has proved to be one of the most dangerous offenses in the Mountain West. Currently averaging 35 points per game, the Rams’ success offensively is largely due to the play of senior quarterback Nick Stevens.
After leading the team to modest 7-6 finishes in his first two years as the starter, there were questions about whether the California native would hold the throne again in 2017. Stevens has silenced those critics by consistently putting this team in a position to win games.
On the season, Stevens has completed 114-of-186 pass attempts (62 percent) and leads the Mountain West with 1,578 yards and 12 touchdowns. While the veteran quarterback has already thrown six interceptions, something he and head coach Mike Bobo have addressed as an issue this season, Stevens has primarily done an excellent job at making good decisions with the football.
“We always have a saying, don’t turn a bad play into a catastrophe,” Bobo said. “Sometimes that’s just getting us in the right run, don’t force things in the passing game. Sometimes it is taking a sack or getting rid of the ball quickly to a checkdown and limiting bad plays that happen.”
Bobo explained that with so many veteran quarterbacks in the league, particularly in the Mountain Division, the majority of the games this season may come down to who can best limit turnovers and control the possession. Through five weeks, Stevens and the Rams offense have done this well, as CSU has lead in total time of possession in every game this season.
“The number one goal of our offense is to not have wasted plays,” Bobo said. “He’s (Stevens) doing a really good job of putting us into advantageous situations.”
Another area the CSU offense has thrived in this season is converting on third down and in the red zone. During CSU’s most recent victory over the University of Hawaii, the offense converted on 8-of-11 third down situations and put points on the board in all four red zone opportunities.
What’s more, the offense had zero turnovers and Stevens finished the contest 18-of-22 for 351 yards and four touchdowns, passing Moses Moreno (51) for second all-time in program history for career passing touchdowns.
Comparatively, Wyoming’s Josh Allen completed only 9-of-19 pass attempts for 92 yards and one touchdown against the Rainbow Warriors the week before.
Going back to when the Rams played in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Sept. 16, the Stevens-led offense finished the game 10-of-18 on third down and managed to put 23 points on the board against No. 1 Alabama.
Since facing CSU, the Crimson Tide have outscored opponents Vanderbilt and Mississippi by a combined score of 125-3. In those games, Vanderbilt went 1-for-11 on third down and Ole Miss was unable convert on all 13 third down situations, as well as failing on a pair of fourth down attempts to boot.
What does this mean? Ultimately comparing games from a week to week basis is difficult due to all of the varying circumstances of the matchup; however, it is obvious that the Rams have an offense that is capable of competing against the nation’s top talent.
“Coach always says there are no moral victories, so you have to take it for what it is. We would have liked to win that game and we put ourselves in a position to do so,” Stevens said. “They’re No. 1 for a reason… They’re a really, really good football team. A really good defense. So it just kind of shows we can put up points against whoever… I think the tough non-conference schedule has helped us and it’s going to pay off in conference play.”
One week into conference play, CSU’s goal of winning a MW Championship is still alive. The Rams have looked like a team that will compete for the title early, but Stevens knows this team has a long way to go. He also understands that he does not have to lead the offense to the promised land by himself.
With a loaded backfield that includes Dalyn Dawkins, Izzy Matthews and a variety of young running backs that have worked their way into the mix, along with arguably the conference’s best wide receiving corps in Detrich Clark, Michael Gallup and Olabisi Johnson, Stevens has plenty of playmakers to distribute the ball to.
To this point in the season, Stevens has done an excellent job at spreading the ball around to the skill players and making smart decisions when it comes to keeping possession.
As Bobo has stated multiple times, this is a team that is versatile offensively, so No. 7 does not have to shoulder all of the responsibility of making big plays. If he simply executes the offense and does not turn the ball over, the guys around him are going to contribute.
“When you’re running our offense, you’ve got to be able to progress and go where the coverage dictates and he’s done a great job of that,” Bobo said.
Along with pleasing his coaching staff, the ability to distribute the ball to multiple targets has really opened up the field for the Rams offensively. Stevens explained that by having three or four guys on the field at one time who can make plays, he does not always have to force the ball into tight windows or lock in on a single guy.
“We have a plethora of playmakers and it definitely eases your mind as a quarterback,” Stevens said.
CSU will look to carry over the momentum from last week’s victory over Hawaii into Saturday’s matchup at Utah State. The stout Aggies defense, which leads the nation in turnovers forced, will be yet another test for Stevens and the CSU offense.
Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached by email at email@example.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.