Freshman Donnell Alexander sparks CSU football in victory over UNLV

After being spotted a 14-0 lead by their defense, the Rams utilized freshman running back Donnell Alexander to help them hold on for their third victory of the year Saturday night in a 33-11 win over UNLV.

Alexander rushed for 139 yards — his second consecutive rushing effort of over 100 yards — and scored two touchdowns while helping the Rams control the tempo of the game, especially in the second half.

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Alexander utilized his speed, breaking off big rushes against UNLV, while managing to have six rushes of 10 or more yards, his longest being a 28-yard run on a worn-out UNLV defense in the third quarter.

“Donnell showed the importance of ‘if you can make someone miss at the second level, you have the chance for some explosive plays,’” CSU coach Jim McElwain said. “I thought he did that.”

Towards the end of a disappointing 3-7 season, the Rams are looking for positives that they can build on for the future, and Alexander’s success has proven that he is one of those building blocks.

“It’s definitely something I would like to build on,” Alexander said of his performance from the last two games. “Just keep getting better, try to finish the season strong, so it’s something I look forward to do.”

The emergence of Alexander in the running game allows more flexibility in the offense, as the Rams also have junior running back Chris Nwoke, a 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago, coming off the bench.

Nwoke rushed 14 times against UNLV for 66 yards in a solid performance that helped the Rams’ offense rush for 231 yards, the highest team rushing total in a single game all year.

The success in the running game has been long-awaited for the CSU offense, according to offensive lineman Joe Caprioglio, who said the Rams see themselves as a run defense.

“We work at it every day in practice,” Caprioglio said.  “We just work hard at it, and Donnell and Nwoke and I don’t know who else even got any carries. They ran like crazy tonight, we just block, they make guys miss and that’s the key to getting those big gains that we got tonight.”

The change in the starting running back position has taken a number of carries away from Nwoke, a proven back who was voted team MVP last year, and was chosen as a second-team all-conference running back.

Nwoke, however, has been nothing but supportive to Alexander, and has helped him progress into the back that he is today.

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“He’s a great guy,” Alexander said of Nwoke. “He is so encouraging and helpful to me. I appreciate him, and I give a lot of thanks to him because he helps me on and off the sidelines.”

After matching their win total from a season ago, the Rams will now head to Boise State to face a team that has been ranked among the top-25 best teams in the country up until one week ago.

In order to challenge Boise State on Saturday, both Alexander and Nwoke will have to perform well for the Rams, as the Broncos boast the eighth-best scoring defense in the country.