Defensive struggles apparent again as Air Force embarrasses CSU

Colin Barnard

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For the second time in three weeks, Colorado State’s defense surrendered 40-plus points while looking like a shell of its early season self.

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After allowing 42 points and narrowly escaping Nevada two weeks ago, the defense once again looked lost in a 45-28 defeat to Air Force. The same could not be said about the defense at the beginning of the season as they constantly kept the Rams in competitive ballgames for the first six games of the season.

The Falcons scored on every possession of the game, except for an early interception in the first quarter that resulted in a touchdown for CSU and the final possession of the first half when the Falcons chose to sit on the lead. On the day, Air Force gathered 413 rushing yards while running the triple-option to a tee.

Air Force had three scoring drives lasting more than six minutes that halted any momentum that the Rams looked to gain on offense, including one gut-wrenching drive that took nearly 10 minutes of game time. Simply put, the Falcons moved the ball at will on a CSU defense that knew exactly what was coming.

“There’s no hiding the fact that we got our ass kicked today,” head coach Mike Bobo said. “It should hurt and ought to be embarrassing. I’m embarrassed that that’s what we put on the field today, and I’m in charge of that.”

Bobo stressed throughout the last two weeks that the defense would need to execute its assignments against two option teams. Though they had practice with that last week against New Mexico, Air Force’s triple-option is an entirely different beast, one that the Rams could not contain.

The physical rushers on Air Force’s offense, led by quarterback Arion Worthman, fullback Jacob Stafford and tailback Tim McVey, consistently made would be tacklers miss. Combined with defenders failing to get off their blocks, the rush defense was disastrous.

“The thing to me that was disappointing is that we did not knock them back,” Bobo said. “They were finishing runs, they were knocking us backwards. We had a chance to get some guys on the ground, to hopefully get ahead of the chains, but they were able to finish runs for extra two, extra four, extra six yards. We did not tackle well, we did not get of blocks well on the perimeter.”

Linebacker Josh Watson led the Rams’ defense and set a career-high with 17 tackles. However, the defense as a whole failed to get ahead of the chains, consistently allowing chunks of yardage on first and second down. The team had zero tackles for a loss as the Falcons moved the ball into the defensive backfield with ease.

“It’s pretty tough, us as a defense not being able to get off blocks and defeat the cut and stop the run in general,” Watson said. “Stop the run, no matter if it’s option or not. We’ve got to get back in our playbook, back in the film and just know what our opponent is doing and know that like the back of our hand.”

The loss comes on the heels of two narrow victories in which the Rams did not play their best football. While they were able to overcome those performances with timely offensive drives and defensive stands, that cannot be said about this week.

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Senior wide receiver Michael Gallup recognizes what a loss like this does for the team moving forward.

“It wakes you up,” Gallup said. “Don’t nobody like going in that locker room feeling like that.”

Still controlling their own destiny in the Mountain West, the Rams will head to Wyoming next weekend for a Border War showdown. For Watson and the rest of the Rams’ defense, it’s an opportunity to put the defensive woes behind them.

“We’re going into the next game hungrier than we’ve ever been before,” Watson said. “I know this loss really hurt everybody on the team and that we ought to come out next week ready to fight and take another victory.”

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