In their own words: CSU football notches first MW win

Sam Lounsberry

The Rams had plenty to say after their 38-23 win over in-state rival Air Force. The win was CSU’s first in Mountain West play, and also came on the school’s homecoming. 
 
Bouncing back
 
Notching a win against a rival after losing four of their last five, including last week’s blowout loss to Boise State, was a relief for the Rams as they seek to keep their bowl game aspirations alive.
 
“Obviously, it feels good when you’re working as hard as we are,” senior offensive lineman Sam Carlson said.
 
A lot of CSU’s offensive success against Air Force was due to a greater sense of cohesion, according to Carlson.
 
“We put things together this week,” he said. “We know we’re a good team when we all play together, and so we did that this week. Against Air Force, they’re a team that makes you be extremely disciplined. We had a good week of practice, and the defense and the scout teams put in a lot of work this week, and so I’m proud of what we did.”
 
And what CSU did was lead from start to finish, essentially putting away its opponent before the fourth quarter began.
 
Star receiver Rashard Higgins believes the performance should serve as a reminder of the talent possessed across the roster.
 
“It just shows our capabilities and what we’re able to do,” Higgins said. “We started this year off a little sluggish. It’s a great team win. We know what we have now. We can use it to the best of our abilities.”
 
A catch fit for Sunday
 
Higgins made a diving catch down the right sideline just before the end of the third quarter that could make some NFL players’ highlight reels.
 
The 33-yard grab put the Rams on Air Force’s 8-yard line, and set up CSU’s final score that began the fourth quarter, a 22-yard field goal by Wyatt Bryan to push the score to 38-13.
 
“Making that catch, I was just showing my swag, man,” Higgins said. “I was just showing what I was capable of.”
 
After coming out to the sideline for the play prior to his snag, Higgins was noticeably upset, but he knew who he had to talk to: his quarterback, Nick Stevens.
 
“I told Nick before that play, ‘Just give me a chance, throw it up,'” Higgins said. “Some of the plays Garrett Grayson threw to me, he just threw it up and let me be the athlete that I am, and I came down with it. That’s basically what I told Nick. Just throw it to me, man, and I’m going to go get it.”
 
Stevens found Higgins on six other occasions, giving him a game-high seven receptions for 74 yards, a yardage mark that ended barely second to the respective 75 yards of CSU’s Joe Hansley and Air Force’s Garrett Brown.
 
“There were a couple different times where he had that same route, and he was saying, ‘If it comes to me, just throw it to me,'” Stevens said. “‘Don’t try to put it out there too much, just give me a ball I can catch.’ So that’s what I did.”
 
But Stevens didn’t get the opportunity to witness the result of his toss.
 
“I actually didn’t get to see the catch because my view was obstructed by one of the big linemen, but I heard it was a good catch,” Stevens said.
 
The quarterback situation
 
For the first time since the loss to CU, Coleman Key never subbed in once to relieve Stevens.
 
The redshirt sophomore finished passing 23-for-30 for 296 yards, three touchdowns and a single meaningless interception.
 
“Nick did a great job,” Carlson said. “We put in extra time this week and really studied Air Force’s defense. We knew that if we give him time to throw the ball, we would make big plays. We really put it on our shoulders this week to do that.”
 
Stevens felt he had his week of practice heading into the Air Force bout was his best of the year.
 
“I felt like this week was really good because (head coach Mike) Bobo was telling me after every practice that he noticed it was better for me this week,” Stevens said. “I just have to go into next week, the week after and the week after just like that, focus on having good practices because it definitely turned over and showed in the game … (and) I’d like to have a game like this every week.”
 
Defending the option
 
CSU’s defense bent several times against Air Force’s tricky triple-option offense, but only broke once.
 
Defending such an offense takes focus, and the Rams showed just that.
 
“It’s tough,” linebacker SteveO Michel said. “If you’re not disciplined or focused on the little details, one missed assignment can go for 100, go for 60, can go for whatever it will go for, but it will gas you.”
 
Following the Rams’ first score with 6:51 in the first quarter, Air Force struck right back with a 60-yard TD run on the dive option read to fullback Shayne Davern.
 
That was it for big plays, though, save for a halfback pass trick play that got behind the Rams’ secondary. They were able to stop that one before it went to the house, though, and kept the Falcons’ offense in front of them the rest of the game.
 
“(The touchdown) was a miscommunication,” Michel said. “Like I said, one miscommunication can gas you, and that’s what it was. We were able to fix it, and it paid off.”
 
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @samlounz.