FORT COLLINS — Can you imagine what would happen if CSU played CU in football right now?
Seriously. Line them up in Loveland. Estes Park. Budapest. Wherever. Doesn’t matter.
The Rams win by two touchdowns. Minimum.
“This is a team where you see everything (clicking) on all cylinders,” CSU defensive lineman Scott Patchan said after his Rams throttled San Jose State 32-14 on a sunny Homecoming Saturday at Canvas Stadium.
“We feed off that energy, obviously. Momentum is huge in college football.”
Amen, brother. And right now, after a horrid start, Team Daz is riding that momentum back to relevance. CSU has done an almost complete 180 from the motley crew that got de-pantsed by South Dakota State and shamed by (cough) Vanderbilt.
For the better part of the last three weeks, the Rams (2-3) have embodied (and grasped) everything that the Buffs (1-4) have not: Running the ball, swarming, tackling, running the ball, getting their defense off the field, running the ball, an efficient passing game that hits the occasional triple, a minimum of mental mistakes and RUNNING THE BALL.
“Play great defense, (an) ability to run the football, no turnovers, great in special teams, because that’s field-changing, score in the red zone. That’s our plan to win,” offered CSU coach Steve Addazio, who since Sept. 18 has won two of three, with a close loss at No. 3 Iowa sandwiched in between. “We just want to keep on this course right now.”
And here’s the refreshing part: Not only did CSU ramble for 217 yards on 53 carries against a Spartans defense that came in allowing just 141.3 on the ground per game. Not only did the Rams pound it when they wanted to pound it.
They managed all that minus three starters on offense: wideout Dante Wright, running back David Bailey and left guard Vincent Picozzi.
No Wright. No Bailey. No Picozzi. And no excuses.
“That’s who we’re supposed to be,” said quarterback Todd Centeio, who completed 19 of 23 throws on the day, which tied him with Moses Moreno (1996) for the fourth-most accurate passing performance (82.6%) in CSU football history. “We’re all Division I athletes for a reason.”
Like the man said, momentum is huge in college football. Just look around. After dropping a gift from the football gods at Empower Field against Texas A&M, the Buffs got hammered at home by Minnesota and USC, and coach Karl Dorrell was pushing postgame cameras out of his face like Sean Penn.
Meanwhile, UNC beat Northern Arizona at home in overtime, 17-10, only for Ed McCaffrey’s Bears to get outscored 103-24 by Montana State and Eastern Washington over their next two tilts. McCaffrey’s son, offensive coordinator Max McCaffrey, was reprimanded after apparently hurling a piece of a clipboard into the crowd following the Montana State loss.
Almost everywhere you turn along the Front Range, college football has turned into Meltdown City.
Everywhere, that is, except in FoCo.
“One thing Coach Addazio always preaches is steadying the boat,” Centeio continued. “You have to be calm, cool and collected, no matter what’s going on … (if) the foundation is love and trust, we’ll be fine.”
We’ll grant you that the Spartans’ 3-2 record coming in was a softer 3-2 than most. San Jose State’s backup quarterback, Nick Nash, brings some of the same traits to the table as CU’s Brendon Lewis. And some of the same glaring issues — the forward pass, mainly — when stuck playing from behind. High winds at Canvas started swirling early, turning any throw or punt sent higher than 10 feet up into an adventure.
All of which helped, to be sure. But if once is a fluke and twice is a worry, three times is a pattern.
Exhibit A: CSU’s rush defense. First two games: 71 opponent runs, 346 opponent yards, 4.9 per carry. Since: Three tilts, 91 opponent runs, 182 yards, 2.0 per carry.
Exhibit B: CSU’s third-down defense. First two games: 11 opponent conversions on 29 attempts (37.9%). Since: Three tilts, 12 conversions on 43 attempts (27.9%).
Exhibit C: CSU’s penalties. First two games: 16 flags for 165 yards in losses, or 83 lost per game. Since: Three tilts, 18 flags for 153 yards, or 51 lost per game.
“I think it all starts with playing great defense,” Adazzio said. “I heard some commentary that just blew my circuits about — I don’t know when it was, maybe it was (Alabama) coach (Nick) Saban? I don’t know why he said it, because he’s a defensive guy. You win championships with great defense. That’s not going out of style … and we’re playing really good defense right now.”
Bonus: Nobody pushed a television camera. That we know of.
Double bonus: No Rams coaches tossed a piece of clipboard into the stands. Also that we know of.
“We’re shooting,” Centeio said with a grin, “for the stars.”
Love and trust, baby. Love and trust.
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