Ball security vital for CSU football against stout Wyoming defense

Colin Barnard

Poor ball security proved costly for Colorado State football against Air Force as the Rams dropped their first ball game since losing to Alabama on Sept. 16. Things only get tougher now for CSU, who must prepare for Wyoming, the nation’s leader in takeaways.

Following a seven-turnover performance against New Mexico, the Cowboys’ defense has forced 24 turnovers this season, two more than the next closest team. Though CSU had success against another defense with the ability to create turnovers in Utah State, head coach Mike Bobo realizes the challenge Wyoming presents.

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Nick Stevens throws the football
Quarterback Nick Stevens passes the ball against the Air Force Falcons on Oct. 28, 2017. The Rams lost 45-28. (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

“The reason they’re leading the country in turnovers is because they get to the football,” Bobo said. “They have multiple hats to the football, they get off blocks. This is a sound defense that has a nose for the football.”

Safety Andrew Wingard is at the forefront of the Pokes’ dominant defense, leading the team in total tackles (77) and interceptions (four). Along with linebacker Logan Wilson and defensive end Carl Granderson, Wyoming boasts All-MW caliber players at multiple positions throughout the defense.

Meanwhile, quarterback Nick Stevens is coming off his worst performance of the season. The senior quarterback completed just over 50 percent of his passes last week and threw a season-high three interceptions.

Given the consistency he has played with throughout the season, the miscues were certainly a surprise. Before the game, Stevens had thrown 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions through four conference games.

But Air Force’s efficiency on offense may have forced Stevens to make plays when they weren’t available. 

Dawkins running
Running back Dayln Dawkins (1) races past the Air Force defense for the 1st touchdown of the game early in the 1st half. The Rams fell to the Falcons 28-45. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

“I say it all the time, you can’t turn a bad play into a catastrophe,” Bobo said. “That’s where a senior quarterback has got to take a sack. Sometimes you’ve got to take a sack and reserve the right to play the next play or punt…Kid’s trying to make a play, that happens. But you’ve got to learn from that that possessing the ball is more important than forcing things sometimes.”

Bobo stressed the importance of living to play the next down. Rather than feeling pressured to make a game-changing play on every down, it’s more important to survive and advance.

Instead of forcing a ball into coverage, as Stevens did on his second interception of the day, Bobo trusts that his quarterback has the wherewithal to throw the ball away or step up in the pocket and run. Considering his play in every other conference game this season, that confidence is certainly warranted.

In addition to his trust in Stevens, Bobo also has the luxury of relying on running backs who take care of the ball. Both Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews have been smart with the ball all season long, as Dawkins’ fumble against Abilene Christian is the lone blemish on their turnover sheet.

More importantly, Bobo revealed that ball security is not something he takes lightly.

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“I think our guys have done a really good job of ball security. (Running backs) coach (Bryan) Applewhite does a great job of that,” Bobo said. “Quite frankly, that’s why those two guys play the most because they take care of the football. We have some fumbling issues in practice with our backup running backs and they’re not going to see the field.”

The impending Border War matchup serves as arguably the most important game to this point in the season. Bobo and the Rams will look to bounce back from the first conference loss of the season on Saturday at 5 p.m. in Laramie.

Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.