Colorado State enters the league slate with a .500 record for the first time since 2017.
There have been highs, there have been lows, but after a half-decade straight of completely underwhelming Septembers, the Rams at the very least have put themselves in position to potentially make a little noise in the Mountain West.
Here are the takeaways following CSU’s first four games of the 2023 campaign.
The Air Raid has arrived
Led by redshirt freshman QB Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi and a dynamic group of receivers, CSU has quickly proven to be an extremely lethal unit this fall.
The Rams lead the Mountain West in both passing offense and pass efficiency. And after struggling to create much of anything through the air with consistency in 2022, the Rams look like a completely different team in 2023.
As noted by the official CSU stat account on Sunday, with an improvement of 186.7 yards per game, the Rams currently possess the most-improved passing attack in the FBS. It’s nice to see the offense look like what we envisioned when Jay Norvell was brought over from Nevada.
O-line is much improved
The biggest question coming into the year was whether or not the offensive line would be able to hold up. Now four games into the 2023 campaign, the results have been pretty solid in the trenches.
CSU allowed 25 sacks in the non-conference slate last fall. To this point the Rams have allowed just five sacks and three of those were instances where the QB ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage. The only team in the conference that has allowed less sacks this year is Air Force (2).
Obviously the rushing attack is an area where the Rams could look to improve in the coming weeks. CSU is currently second to last in the MW in rushing yards per game (71). And with just two rushing touchdowns, both of which came against Utah Tech, the Rams are tied with Hawaii for the least in the league.
Fortunately for the Ram Faithful, while CSU has not established a consistent running game to this point, the short passing game has been extremely effective. So long as the Rams can consistently continue to attack teams underneath, the Green & Gold should continue to put points on the board. You just worry about key situations in tight games where you need to be able to trust the offense to pick up a couple of yards on the ground.
Largely due to the instability up front, significant in-season roster turnover and a multitude of key injuries, CSU struggled to sustain drives or create any type of cohesion offensively in 2022.
One of the biggest keys to CSU’s offensive success this fall has been that the Rams have consistently been able to keep drives alive and move the ball down the field. CSU is converting on third down 45.6 percent of the time which is good enough for No. 35 in the country.
We knew that the Rams have a lot of talent at the skill positions. It’s been great to see the way that CSU has taken advantage of all that talent — more specifically it’s been encouraging to see how dangerous these guys are in the open field.
The Rams are coming off of a Week 5 victory in which they produced a season-high 266 yards after the catch (YAC). What’s great, though, is that this is nothing new for CSU.
In every game this season the Rams have had at least 200 yards after the catch as a team (234 AVG). It’s a major factor in CSU’s passing success. It’s a big reason why they’ve been so solid on third down, too.
D-line is legit
The defense as a whole has not lived up to the lofty preseason expectations. If there’s any group that’s consistently stood out for CSU this fall, though, it’s definitely the defensive line.
The Rams have racked up 34 tackles for loss and 13 sacks through the first four games. On top of that, the defense has 11 more hits on the QB that did not officially count as tackles or sacks.
We need to see the defense play a complete game before the Rams are taken seriously as players in the conference. But with the way CSU is generating pressure, if the secondary can shore up some things in coverage, the unit has a chance to be the disruptive bunch we envisioned in the preseason.
The Rams struggled to defend the run in the first half of each of the last two games. The silver lining is that CSU actually has the No. 3 run defense in the MW right now. The Rams are third in total defense as well.
The defense settled in after flashing in spurts through a rough non-conference stretch in Year 1 of the Freddie Banks era. It’s certainly possible that they’ll do the same in 2023, especially considering the quality of quarterbacks CSU has had to deal with early.