ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – As the ball fell to the turf and senior wide receiver Michael Gallup walked back to the line of scrimmage in frustration, the first thing that went through my mind was how fitting.
After coming into the season with sky high expectations and then consistently underperforming throughout the season, Colorado State football capped off the 2017 season with a 3-point loss to Marshall in the New Mexico Bowl Saturday.
Perhaps even more frustrating than the loss itself was the way that CSU flat out got punched in the mouth by an inferior football team.
Despite being known for its aggressive defensive unit, it was offense that propelled the Thundering Herd to victory. Marshall scored from distances of 68, 76 and 90 yards, out-gained the Rams 501-390 in total yardage and generally looked like a football team that wanted it more Saturday.
“It’s pretty much a microcosm of our season,” head coach Mike Bobo said. “We played pretty good at times, but then we would give up an explosive play for a touchdown. Those kill you defensively.”
Along with a lackluster outing from the defense, a common theme of the season, the offense struggled to get much of anything going on their end; and when they did, the hole was already too deep to climb out of.
Senior quarterback Nick Stevens attempted 52 passes, while the Rams’ rushing attack was nonexistent.
Running back Dalyn Dawkins came into the contest having rushed for at least 135 yards in four consecutive outings. Marshall held the senior to ten carries for 50 yards and CSU as a whole (70) finished with less than 100 yards rushing for the first time since week 2 against Colorado (88).
With such a one-dimensional approach, Marshall was able to consistently tee off on Stevens and pressure the veteran quarterback. In total, Stevens was sacked five times, but the California native took a plethora of other big hits as well.
“The number of hits that Nick took, at times it takes its toll on the quarterback,” Bobo said.
When the final whistle sounded, Stevens totaled 302 yards passing and four total touchdowns, two through the air and a pair on the ground. His inability to hit open receivers deep down the field played a large role in the loss though.
“We had a number of opportunities for explosive plays in the game. We were not able to complete any of them or connect,” Bobo said. “Like an old coach told me a long time ago, open don’t count.”
“We’ve had a few good weeks of preparation and good practices,” Stevens added. “I felt like I had been throwing the ball well, but I have to hit (Michael) Gallup in those shots and I think it would have been a different ballgame. There were a number of them where he was open and the protection was solid and I just missed him.”
Gallup concluded his CSU career with a six-catch performance, totaling 68 receiving yards. The Biletnikoff finalist had a pair of touchdowns taken off the board, but he was consistently open throughout the contest and recorded a SportsCenter-worthy one-handed grab in the fourth quarter to keep a CSU drive alive.
As I have written throughout the season, the future of CSU football is very bright but Saturday’s loss will certainly sit with the Ram faithful moving forward. This was a game that the Rams could and should have won, and considering the big talk of taking the program to the next level, it is time for everyone associated with CSU football to take a long look in the mirror.
Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.