Analysis: CSU falls in OT to Minnesota 23-20 in defensive battle

Geoff Huebner

(Press conference highlights by Brett Kennedy/CTV11)

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The Rams and head coach Mike Bobo came into Saturday’s matchup against Minnesota expecting a 60-minute fight. They got that, and then some.

CSU (1-1) fell to Minnesota (1-1) 23-20 in the first overtime game at Hughes Stadium since 2001.

“We took some shots from them,” Bobo said. “We talked about this game being a fight and we took some shots, some body shots, and we didn’t welter.”

Minnesota set the tone for a defensive battle early on, intercepting CSU quarterback Nick Stevens on the first play from scrimmage.

Stevens struggled in his second outing as starter, completing 8 of 19 passing attempts for 51 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. The offense never found a rhythm with the sophomore at the held.

But luckily for the Rams, their run game, backup quarterback Coleman Key and especially the defense, picked up the slack just enough to keep them in the game with a Power-5 opponent.

“It was great to see (Key) go out there and have success,” Stevens said of Key’s performance. “He had that long touchdown pass to Joe and that got the whole sideline pumped up and gave us some more momentum.”

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CSU running backs Dalyn Dawkins and Jasen Oden Jr. helped carry the struggling offense as well. They finished respectively with 103 and 30 yards, and Dawkins had a 17-yard touchdown run to get the scoring started for the Rams. It was the only scoring play of the first quarter.

From there, the defensive battle ensued. Both defenses played with great discipline, effort and execution.

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CSU defenders were flying to the ball all over the field, were able to put pressure on the quarterback with a few hurries and had great coverage down field for the most part.

The Rams’ defense passed its first true test today, which Bobo was excited to see. But he fully expected the Minnesota defense to be just as tough as it was.

“I thought they were extremely talented on defense,” Bobo said. “… I knew we would have trouble moving the ball. … We just couldn’t really get anything going offensively.”

The Gophers defense held CSU to just nine passing yards in the first half. But they had their own troubles offensively, going 3-for-10 on third-down conversions.

“We were solid,” senior defensive lineman Justin Hansen said. “Barring a couple of key drives, we definitely got done what we needed to get done. I am very happy with how our overall defense played. It just didn’t come out in our favor this time.”

The offensive lull ended at 14:23 of the fourth quarter, when Key hit wide receiver Joe Hansley for a 49-yard touchdown to bring the game to 17-13 in favor of the Rams.

“I am just trying to go out there and take advantage of any opportunities I get,” Key said.

The Gophers were able to score on a 22-yard pass from quarterback Mitch Leidner to KJ Maye, taking a 20-17 lead with only 55-seconds left in the game.

“We did it when it counted and hopefully it will boost some people’s confidence and get us going,” Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said.

The Rams responded with a great drive of their own as Key lead the team down the field to set up Wyatt Bryan’s game-tying field goal, which sent the game into overtime.

“It’s nerve-racking, but I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to make the kick,” Bryan said. “We do that one minute drill so many times in practice and personally I like it when they call timeouts because you get more time to calm down, focus yourself and focus on the kick.”

Bryan was the hero momentarily, but it was Minnesota kicker Ryan Santoso who would kick the game-winner.

“Absolutely we can take something from this,” wide receiver Joe Hansley said of the loss. “I think everyone on the team realizes now the kind of talent we have, the kind of players that we have and the heart that we have as far as coming back to get that final field goal. … I would definitely look for a positive bounce back and look out for the Rams the rest of the season.”

Collegian Football Reporter Geoff Huebner can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Huebnermedia93