CSU’s passing game poised to bounce back against Boise State

Eddie Herz

Moving the ball through the air has been the focal point of offensive success for Colorado State this season.

Senior wide receiver Michael Gallup’s 1,196 receiving yards lead the FBS. Quarterback Nick Stevens has already thrown for 2,865 yards, the ninth highest total in the FBS and nearly 1,000 more yards than he threw for last season. CSU’s second receiving threat, Olabisi Johnson, is only one catch away from matching his 28 receptions from last season. Detrich Clark has also already surpassed his reception and yardage totals from last season by a long shot.

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However, over the last two games, the Rams’ passing attack has been uncharacteristically quiet. Granted, last week’s underwhelming performance through the air against Wyoming was in large part due to inclement weather.

“It’s definitely frustrating with all that snow,” Clark said. “When our defense played as well as they did, the offense is supposed to put up points. If we could have passed, honestly, it would have been a different game, but I’m not making excuses.”

Senior wide receiver Michael Gallup makes a catch during the second quarter of action against the Nevada Wolf Pack. The Rams are ahead of the Wolf Pack 28-21 at the end of the first half. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)
Senior wide receiver Michael Gallup makes a catch during the second quarter of action against the Nevada Wolf Pack. The Rams defeated the Wolf Pack 44-42. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

Gallup put up typical numbers for him in the first half against Air Force two games ago when he gathered 121 yards and caught a long touchdown pass. But since then, the senior hasn’t been a factor. Gallup only made three receptions in the second half against the Falcons for 40 yards.

Last week, Gallup only recorded four receptions for a season-low 29 yards. While the weather did play a factor, three consecutive halves of unproductive football is uncommon for Gallup. If anything, this leaves him a little extra motivated to get back to his old ways against Boise State this Saturday.

“Against Boise State I just want to have a full four quarters where the offense is dominating, myself included,” Gallup said. “I just want to play, I just want to have a good game. That’s all I ever practice for, having good games.”

In addition to the weather, injuries have been inhibiting the success of some of CSU’s receivers lately.

After finding the end zone for the first time this season against New Mexico, Johnson was forced to miss the Rams’ next game against Air Force with a sprained MCL. Johnson returned to play Wyoming the following week, but failed to record a catch.

Though he didn’t make an impact against the Cowboys, getting some game action was crucial for his rehabilitation. The junior shook off some rust and adjusted to the game against Wyoming, rather than having to do so against Boise State this week. Now, Johnson is feeling 100 percent.

“I probably wasn’t as confident in myself as I am now,” Johnson said. “Percentage-wise, I was maybe at like 80-85 percent. But, honestly, it was just good for me to go out there and get the feel for the game again. Just because game speed is a lot different than practice, so it was good. I liked the way the coaches handled it.”

Clark has also had his fair share of injury woes as of late. The senior was sidelined against New Mexico with a shoulder injury. He returned to face Air Force, but didn’t see many snaps and failed to record a catch. Though he was at full health against Wyoming, Clark’s seven-yard reception was his only of the game. 

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Regardless of if this decrease in production has to do with his shoulder or not, Clark believes he is making the necessary adjustments in order to hit his stride again.

“I just try to stay in sync with Nick (Stevens) every practice and just try to make sure I’m running my routes right and on time,” Clark said. “Hopefully it will carry over to the game.”

Johnson and Clark have proven that they can be difference makers when healthy. Head coach Mike Bobo knows that, and he has no plans to abandon the ways in which he keeps the two involved.

After all, Johnson averaged 3.4 receptions and 48.1 receiving yards in the Rams’ eight games before his recent injury. Similarly, Clark averaged 3.9 receptions and 50.7 receiving yards in seven games before getting injured.

“Those guys (Johnson and Clark) in the nature of our offense get looks,” Bobo said. “Basically those two didn’t play against Air Force and then last week was last week, a blizzard. They are part of our offense, they’re playmakers, they’re guys that can make explosive plays. We want to get them the ball. I think everybody is healthy this week so I think all three of those guys will probably get some opportunities.”

Colorado State Quarterback Nick Stevens makes a pass in the downpour during the second quarter of action against the University of Wyoming on Nov. 4. The Rams lost to the Cowboys 16-13. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

Senior running back Dalyn Dawkins, who has already rushed for over 1,000 yards this season, has picked up the slack on offense during the passing slump. Dawkins gained 141 yards on the ground and scored a touchdown against Air Force before shouldering the load for 154 yards against Wyoming.

Despite Dawkins’ success, the Rams still dropped both of those games. And in each game, CSU’s high-powered offense fell below its weekly average of 483.6 yards.

CSU players acknowledge that balancing the run and pass offense is crucial to the team’s success.

“We most definitely need to get the passing going,” Clark said. “It’s for the run game, too. Because if you pass and run to keep them off balance, it helps us and will help Dalyn, too.”

Boise State’s secondary and defense as a whole is putting together an ideal season as the Broncos rank 15th in yards per game allowed in the FBS. Despite the defensive success, CSU’s wide receivers are confident they can get back on track. 

Gallup, Johnson and Clark choose to focus on how they can successfully execute their game plans rather than focus on their opponents. The Rams’ wide receiver core believes it just needs to focus on what it can control in order to recapture the rhythm they’ve held for the majority of the season.

“Boise State always has athletes,” Johnson said. “They get good guys because they’ve been a good team for so long. I don’t treat this game any different honestly though. All defensive backs are the same to me. I just have to focus more on myself and my assignments and go out there and execute.”

Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.