Herz: 3 keys to CSU football concluding their 2018 season on positive note

Eddie Herz

The 49-10 blowout loss against the University of Nevada last Saturday officially put the nail in the coffin for the 2018 Colorado State football program.

The Rams fell 3-7 and will not play in a bowl game for the first time since 2012.

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Though the embarrassing defeat mathematically tarnished the Rams’ slim chance at turning the season around, the Rams haven’t given fans much of a reason to believe in them for quite some time. The 2018 squad will be remembered as a discombobulated, undisciplined team that played from behind all season, and rarely produced opportunities to win games.

Despite the struggles, the Rams still have two games remaining on their schedule.

This Friday, CSU plays the 9-1 Utah State University Aggies who haven’t lost since August. Then, the Rams wrap the season up in Colorado Springs in a rivalry matchup with the Air Force Academy on Thanksgiving.

Winning both, or even one of the two final games, won’t impact CSU’s postseason hopes.

However, there is potential progress to be made that can make 2018 a little less forgettable for the program. In turn, generating an improved outlook for 2019.

This would be very refreshing for the program, as frustrations have evidently boiled over. Let’s take a look at what can be done specifically to end on a positive note, and salvage the season to some extent for CSU.

Attentive, structured play in every phase of the game.

The Rams are just about as mistake-ridden as a team can get. Most of the mistakes have been basic, easily avoidable errors.

The team exemplified its sloppiness and lack of focus, mostly against the Wolfpack last week. Even if the Rams played like they did against the Wolfpack in week one, concern would be warranted. The fact that such a poor level of football was demonstrated this late in the season is inexcusable.

Penalties, defensive coverage lapses, as well as missed tackles and assignments compose the Rams’ unorganized demeanor.

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The examples piled on further with their eight penalties for 61 yards in the first half alone in Reno, Nevada. The Wolfpack also combined for 11 plays of at least 20 yards on Saturday. The majority of which included at least one missed tackle or an unnecessarily wide open receiver.  

It is one thing for a team to be bad. However, if the Rams can’t solve these issues, they will never be able to improve.

Significant strides from the offensive front five.

The offensive line has been a concern since losing two All-Mountain West linemen in Jake Bennett and Zack Golditch after last season. Additionally, the departures of Trae Moxley and Nicho Garcia resulted in a drastic rebuild for the unit.

A period of adjustment was fairly anticipated for a position group that underwent a major transition. But, the offensive line really hasn’t improved throughout the season at all.

The majority of offensive line problems have obviously trickled down to other positions. The teams’ once-effective run game has been non-existent in 2018. The Rams average only 100.4 rushing yards per game, the fifth-lowest total in the FBS

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Colby Meeks hikes the ball to Quarterback Collin Hill during the fourth quarter of the CSU vs. Illinois State game on Sept. 22nd. The Rams lost 19-35. (Matt Begeman | Collegian)

Though the line has shown slight signs of improvement at times, the unit has arguably gotten worse as the season has progressed.

Since redshirt sophomore Collin Hill was named starter three weeks ago, the quarterback has had little time to operate each play before getting swarmed by defenders. Half of the aforementioned first-half penalties against the Wolfpack were either false start or holding calls attributed to the unit’s front five.

A poor offensive line inhibits any offense from being complete. Absolute offensive efficiency would be encouraging to see from the team in its final two games. That starts with the offensive line.

It’s past due for the unit to clean things up.

A leap forward from their signal caller.

The third-year quarterback’s progression has undoubtedly benefited from starting the past three games. Having done so should give Hill more confidence and will aid his preparation for next season.

Still, Hill hasn’t been great over the past three games. The South Carolina native is the heavy favorite for starting quarterback in both 2019 and 2020. Nebraska transfer Patrick O’Brien will make a case once he is eligible next season, but Hill is still the leader.

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Collin Hill sits in the end zone and looks at the referee after attempting a two point conversion during the CSU vs. Illinois State game on Sept. 22nd. The Rams lost 19-35. (Matt Begeman | Collegian)

With that in mind, Hill ending 2018 with a bang would solidify his role and give reason to be enthused for the future of this offense.

Hill actually has completed 66 percent of his passes over the Rams’ last three games, a respectable clip. However, the quarterback has thrown under 200 yards in two of his last three starts.

In that span, Hill has combined for only two touchdowns through the air and three interceptions. More importantly, the Rams have lost all three of the games that Hill has started under center.

Hill was intended to provide a “spark” to the offense, in the words of Coach Mike Bobo. He hasn’t done so, and he also hasn’t manufactured any victories.

The program winning at least one of its final two games is more important for Hill’s self-assurance than it is for the results of the season. Hill proving he is able to lead his team to victory is essential. Preferably before the 2018 season has concluded.

Eddie Herz can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.