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3 takeaways from CSU's crucial upset of Fresno State

Justin Michael Avatar
October 27, 2019

FRESNO, Calif. — Colorado State football (3-5) potentially saved its season Saturday night with a massive road upset of Fresno State (3-4). 

In the 41-31 win over the Bulldogs, the Rams finished with more first downs (25 vs. 17), total yards (500 vs. 388), time of possession (33:25 vs. 26:35) and won the turnover margin (+1). The Rams were significantly better on third down (37.5 percent vs. 15.3 percent) and outscored the opponent 31-10 in the first and fourth quarters as well. 

After beating the Bulldogs once again, head coach Mike Bobo is now 3-0 against Fresno State in his career. As a whole, CSU leads the all-time series 10-6 and the Rams are 6-1 against their cross-division foes since 2003. 

Here are three takeaways from Saturday night’s crucial road victory. 

Beast Mode

Warren Jackson has been a man on a mission since returning to the starting lineup against New Mexico. Over the last two games, the junior wide receiver has totaled 18 receptions for 392 yards and three touchdowns. 

“I told you guys in fall camp that Warren Jackson is a different player,” Bobo said. 

What’s more, the 6-foot-6, 219-pound, wide receiver has essentially looked uncoverable in one-on-one situations. Whenever the offense has needed to make a big play — whether it be on third down or in the red zone — the Rams have looked to No. 9 and he has not let them down yet. 

Following the win, Bobo explained that what makes Jackson so difficult to cover is that his catch radius is significantly larger than most receivers. Because he does such a good job of catching the ball with his hands, not his body, the massive wideout is a matchup nightmare. 

“Anything near him, he’s going to catch it,” Bobo said. “We’ve gotta find more ways to get him the ball.” 

This sentiment was also matched by starting safety Logan Stewart. When asked if there is a defensive back in the Mountain West that can cover Jackson man-to-man, Stewart laughed and said no way. “We have trouble in practice,” Stewart said. 

Warren Jackson hauls in the game-winning touchdown against Fresno State Saturday night. PHOTO: Cary Edmondson | USA TODAY Images

Beyond his talent, which is definitely above average, the veteran wide receiver is clearly the leader of the locker room without Collin Hill in the mix. It’s one thing to be the best player on the field — and Jackson usually is — but what makes him so invaluable to the lineup is that the team responds when he leads the way. 

“It hasn’t been about Warren, it’s been about loving his teammates and doing what he can do to help us be successful,” Bobo said. “The way he works is the result of how he’s playing.” 

With four games left on the schedule, Jackson is just 281 receiving yards shy of 1,000. Since taking the job in 2015, Bobo has had at least one wide receiver finish with 1,000 or more receiving yards every year. That streak will likely continue in 2019. 

Marcus McMONEY

Making only his second start this season, running back Marcus McElroy took full advantage of Marvin Kinsey’s absence. 

McElroy, a junior, led the Rams with 18 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns. What really stood out about his performance, though, was how smooth he looked in the open field. After battling an ankle injury for much of the 2019 season, McElroy finally seems healthy enough to be the offensive weapon that the CSU faithful always believed he could be.

Not only did he look confident as he was able to convert on multiple key plays in the victory, but he also didn’t let the excitement of the moment get to his head. After the game, a surprisingly calm McElroy didn’t use the moment to brag but instead, No. 32, said that he was already itching to get on the field against UNLV. 

“Honestly, let’s just get ready for next week. I’m excited now,” McElroy said. “Anytime you go out there and do something good and get to do something exciting with your brothers, it motivates you. Regardless of what I did, I honestly just want to get back to work with them.”

The Rams will need McElroy to continue making a difference for the offense down the stretch. If CSU can lean on the ground game to move the ball down the field and eat up clock, it will obviously benefit Patrick O’Brien and the passing offense. With a strong rushing attack, defenses cannot just key in on Warren Jackson or Dante Wright on the outside. 

A consistent ground game will also help out the defense as well, though. Considering the defensive unit has actually looked pretty good in conference play, if the offense can continue to establish an identity, the Rams should at least have a fighting chance in the remaining games. 

Room for improvement 

CSU did a lot well in their victory over the Bulldogs. The Rams were consistently balanced on offense and didn’t have any trouble moving the football up and down the field. That said, the game was much closer than it should have been because of missed opportunities in the red zone. 

With a chance to go up 21-0 in the first half, after the defense had forced three-and-outs on each of Fresno State’s first two possessions, O’Brien overthrew a wide-open Jackson in the end zone on 2nd and 10 from the Bulldogs’ 13-yard line. Two plays later, Cayden Camper missed a 34-yard field goal attempt, which set up Fresno State’s first scoring drive. 

Then, with the game tied at 31 apiece in the fourth quarter, CSU was able to put together an impressive 15-play, 61-yard drive. But instead of re-taking the lead with a back-breaking touchdown, O’Brien forced a ball into tight coverage in the end zone and was intercepted with 5:09 left in the game.

The turnover very well could have been responsible for the demise of the Rams on Saturday. Luckily for O’Brien, though, Logan Stewart was able to get the ball right back to him by intercepting Bulldogs QB Jorge Reyna less than one minute later. And with a second chance to steal the win, CSU didn’t disappoint — O’Brien connected with Jackson for the game-winning score on a beautiful back shoulder throw near the front pylon. 

Regardless of the final outcome, the Rams need to be more consistent in the red zone moving forward. CSU cannot afford to waste successful drives if they want to keep up their winning ways.

Who’s next?

CSU will look to win a third game in a row when UNLV comes to town next Saturday. After a slow start this season, the Rebels have been competitive over the last month. UNLV beat Vanderbilt on the road a few weeks back and came within inches of upsetting San Diego State this week. 

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