Analysis: Colorado State running game buoys Rams to Showdown victory

Colorado State running back Treyous Jarrells (3) breaks through the tackle of two Colorado defenders during the Rams 31-17 win Friday night. Photo by: Austin Simpson
Colorado State running back Treyous Jarrells (3) breaks through the tackle of two Colorado defenders during the Rams 31-17 win Friday night. Photo by: Austin Simpson

Despite a slow start that saw it fall behind 10-0 early, the Colorado State football team, led running backs Dee Hart and Treyous Jarrells, was able to take control of the game and take the Centennial Trophy back to Fort Collins following a 31-17 win.

Things were looking grim from the start for the Rams. They were reminded of Colorado’s big-play passing ability when CU quarterback Sefo Liufau connected with Nelson Spruce on a 54-yard passing touchdown that gave CU a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game. On the ensuing drive, senior left tackle Ty Sambrailo went down with a right knee injury, forcing sophomore Nick Callender to take his place.

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“We told ourselves that we were going to face a lot of adversity this game,” Hart said. “Going down seven points was a big blow and losing Ty (Sambrailo) made things kind of shaky at first, but we pulled it together.”

Hart led all CSU running backs with 22 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns. The Rams controlled the line of scrimmage to the tune of 266 total yards on the ground against the Buffaloes, sensing All-Mountain West quarterback Garrett Grayson was suffering from a case of first-game jitters. But despite the gaudy rushing numbers, Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain expected even more from the Rams’ running game.

“Yeah, that’s not enough,” said McElwain. “But you know, we feel good about those numbers. We knew we had some more athletic guys up front. Our guys worked their tails off in the weight room, and you know we’ve got some physical guys.”

Another large chunk of those 266 rushing yards came from junior college transfer Jarrells, who added important depth at the running back position along with 122 yards and a touchdown. Friday marked the first time since 1996 that CSU has had two 100-yard rushers in the same game, but with Jarrells making such an effort to create a powerful one-two combination with Hart, it’s no wonder the two had such success.

“We’ve been talking about that since camp,” said Jarrells. “We’re both from Florida. We come from the same place. I feel like he’s an older brother to me, so he coaches me up with a lot of things and we said we’re going to try to make it happen this year.”

Although its rushing attack won the game for CSU, the defense created what could have been the momentum swing the Rams needed to pull out the victory. In the second quarter, linebacker Max Morgan and free safety Kevin Pierre-Louis capped off a goal-line stand with a monster hit on CU running back Michael Adkins II, forcing the Buffaloes to settle for a field goal to go up 10-0 instead of potentially going up 14-0.

“Any time you can have a stop like that, especially with the big hit by Kevin Pierre-Louis, it really set the tone for us,” said Morgan. “It gets everybody fired up.”

After the goal line stand, it was apparent how confident the Rams were. Colorado State went on to score 31 unanswered points, and the CSU running game really started to pick up steam as Hart sliced through the Buffs defense.

Into the second half, the Buffaloes offense became relatively stagnant when the Rams defense finally got in a rhythm. CU quarterback Sefo Liufau was hit multiple times and pressured into scrambling far more often, resulting in a complete shutdown of the CU passing game.

Throughout most of the game, Rams QB Garrett Grayson seemed out of his element. After early drops by CSU receivers, Grayson missed two easy passes to open receivers and gave up a fumble in the third quarter that proved to be the only turnover of the game. What looked to be a terrible statistical game for the third-year starter got better in the fourth quarter when he tossed a 16-yard touchdown to Rashard Higgins, which also gave the Rams their first lead of the game (21-17).  A 3-yard Dee Hart scoring scamper and an impressive 52-yard field goal from Jared Roberts ended the fourth-quarter scoring, and cemented a 31-17 win for the Rams.

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“It’s a huge win,” McElwain said after the game. “I can’t tell you how happy I am for the people of Colorado State University. Those kids in that locker room, that prepared to go win a football game like a good team should. There wasn’t any talking or any of that stuff. They just went out and played good football.”

McElwain’s Rams will be riding high going into their Week 2 matchup against Boise State on Saturday, Sept. 6, but they’ll be facing a stingy Broncos defense that picked off Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace three times in a 35-13 loss Friday night. If the Rams are to open 2-0 for the first time since 2011, they’ll likely need to a heavy dose of the 1-2 punch provided by Hart and Jarrells.

Collegian Sports Reporter Steven Jacobs can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @steven_jacobs_.