Red-zone failures loom large in CSU’s 28-23 loss to Nevada

Keegan Pope

By all accounts, Colorado State should have won Tuesday night.

The Rams outgained Nevada 532-345, totaled 30 first downs compared to Nevada’s 18 and Nick Stevens threw for 310 yards, without throwing a single interception. After the Rams’ initial offensive struggles, they moved the ball with ease against a Nevada defense that seemed to wear down as the game went on. 

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Colorado State quarterback Nick Stevens (7) throws a pass during the Rams' game against Nevada in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (Rebecca Noble/For the Rocky Mountain Collegian)
Colorado State quarterback Nick Stevens (7) throws a pass during the Rams’ game against Nevada in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (Rebecca Noble/For the Rocky Mountain Collegian)

But the Rams’ offense simply sputtered at all the wrong times. Six times the Rams got into the red-zone, and just twice they came away with a touchdown. They seemed to be inches away each time, too. Once, it was a rare drop from star wide receiver Rashard Higgins. Then it was bruising running back Izzy Matthews getting stopped cold on fourth-and-1 from the Nevada 4-yard line. And finally, it was Jordon Vaden getting tackled at the Nevada 9-yard line as time ran out in the fourth quarter. 

That close. 

And it has been that way all year long. Had one or two plays — field goals in particular — gone differently against Minnesota and Colorado, the Rams would’ve entered postseason play at 9-3 instead of 7-5. The little things that had hurt CSU for the first eight games of the season finally caught up to them again in their season finale. 

The biggest of those little things was their ineffectiveness in the red zone. Coming into the night, the Rams ranked 38th in the country in red zone efficiency. It didn’t show against the Wolf Pack. Multiple times the Rams had chances to “put the nail in the coffin,” as head coach Mike Bobo said after the game. And multiple times, they just couldn’t do it. 

“I think we just didn’t take advantage of a couple times we were in the red zone there,” sophomore quarterback Nick Stevens said. “At that point at the end of the game, it’s crunch time and we have to score a touchdown, and we just ended up running out of time. It’s definitely something we can look back on, because you never get much quality one-minute (drill) time, so I think we were driving there for a while and we almost had it a couple times, but we have to capitalize on our time in the red zone .” 

Stevens, a first-year starter who has had his share of highs and lows, finished the game just 22 of 42, but did throw for a career high 310 yards. However, he missed a number of open receivers — especially in the red zone — including Higgins on a fade in the fourth quarter that would have given the Rams a five-point lead instead of a one-point lead they got from a Wyatt Bryan field goal. 

His inconsistency has been a point of frustration at times for he, Bobo and lots of CSU fans. But the last-minute drive he orchestrated nearly brought CSU back, and had it not been for Vaden’s mistake, he very well could have been the hero. 

Instead, the red zone struggles fall on his shoulders, regardless of whether he deserves it or not. The game is about scoring points, and Colorado State just couldn’t do it when it needed to Tuesday night. 

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