Colorado State defense slows down Air Force’s high-powered rushing attack

Keegan Pope

Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo likes to talk about his defense “bowing its neck.” For those unfamiliar with coach speak, that means bending, but not breaking. 

Colorado State cornerback Tyree Simmons (5), tackles Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts during the Rams' 38-23 win Saturday. (Abbie Parr/Collegian)
Colorado State cornerback Tyree Simmons (5), tackles Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts during the Rams’ 38-23 win Saturday. (Abbie Parr/Collegian)

The Rams did exactly that Saturday afternoon against an Air Force rushing attack that ranked in the top-5 nationally, racking up 320.8 yards per game. The Falcons still ran for 269 yards, but averaged just 4.8 yards per carry doing it. CSU bent, a lot at some points, but never broke. Not even after allowing a 60-yard touchdown run to a 240-pound fullback whose previous career-high of 55 yards came last season against Western Michigan. 

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“I mentioned it all week; it’s a game of patience when you play a team like Air Force,” CSU head coach Mike Bobo said. “They’re going to have runs, they’re going to spit some runs and pitch the ball out on the corner and get the 10- and 15-yard runs. Did we want go give up an explosive run to the fullback? No. But we didn’t get rattled, we stayed patient on both sides of the ball. … We played physical for four quarters, which was good to see.”

After giving up 279 rushing yards to Texas-San Antonio, 298 to Utah State and 201 to Boise State in the last three weeks, CSU was desperate for a good game against the run. Air Force’s rushing numbers surely won’t help CSU rushing defense statistics, but the numbers didn’t tell the whole story Saturday. Outside of that 60-yard touchdown, CSU gave up no rushes of 30-plus yards, something defensive end SteveO Michel credits to the Rams’ discipline this week in practice. 

“It was just our communication, and we did things in practice a little bit different,” Michel said. “We focused on the X’s and O’s, because against this team you have choice but to be focused. One little miscommunication, or one little missed assignment and they’ll gash you. So we focused on that a lot this week and it got us the ‘W.”‘

CSU was also able limit any big plays in the passing game, and though they didn’t record a sack, the Rams were in the Air Force backfield all afternoon and even came up with an interception. On the day, CSU recorded six tackles for loss totaling 44 yards. Safeties Trent Matthews and Kevin Pierre-Louis, both of whom played closer to the line of scrimmage than usual because of Air Force’s run-heavy offense, combined for 25 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Deonte Clyburn had a career-high 10 tackles, and Kevin Davis was no slouch with eight. 

From the time they stepped foot on campus, Bobo and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers preached the importance of a physical aggressive defense, and that’s exactly what CSU showed Saturday.

“We feel like we’re a very physical team,” Clyburn said. “No disrespect to Air Force, because they’re a physical team, but we’ve prided ourselves since we came in in January on being a physical group, being a bunch of dogs and I feel like that’s what we showcased today.” 

Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at kpope@collegian.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.