Colorado State broke into the winning column with a gritty 31-23 upset over Middle Tennessee State on the road Saturday night.
After trailing by a touchdown at halftime (17-10), CSU out-scored MTSU 21-6 over the final 30 minutes and survived a late push from the Blue Raiders to pull out the crucial first win of the 2023 season.
Things weren’t always pretty for the Rams. The first half was more of a struggle than the one-score game indicated at the break. But when the game was there for the taking, unlike what we’ve typically seen from the Rams over the last decade, CSU found a way to get it done against a quality opponent.
People may not view MTSU as a sexy win. That’s a program that has been in the postseason eight times since 2013, though. Not to mention they came into Canvas Stadium and gave the Rams a beatdown last fall. There’s a reason they were 3-point favorites despite being a one-win team coming in.
Regardless of what casual observers may think of the Conference USA opponent, the fact of the matter is that this is a game the Rams desperately needed to win.
With hopes of returning to the postseason for the first time since 2017, falling to 0-3 would have put CSU in a pretty big hole. Now they should go into conference play with a .500 record. And in a year where the Mountain West feels particularly wide open, anything is possible for a team with as much talent on the roster as the Green & Gold.
It’s been more than two decades since the Rams last won a conference championship. It’s been 10 years since they’ve even won a bowl game. So it’s not as if the fans should have a title or bust mentality at this stage.
That said, we do want to see that this team is capable of competing consistently. More importantly, we want to see them win the games that they should. In what was a big test of this team’s mentality, the Rams showed what they are about in this one.
Here are the other takeaways from CSU’s first win of the season.
BFN shows poise in the spotlight
Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi did not get an easy draw with a pair of road games for his first two starts this year. But for the second week in a row, the redshirt freshman quarterback went out, executed the offense well and made big plays to give the Rams a shot to win.
“BFN” was decisive with the football and consistently kept the sticks moving despite the pressure that MTSU consistently sent his way. And when the game was on the line, the young gunslinger mounted a pair of crucial scoring drives in the second half — both of which were capped off by touchdown passes to Tory Horton.
In total, BFN finished 29-of-42 for 306 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. However, the one turnover came off of a tipped ball that the wide receiver should have hauled in. His decision making was solid throughout the victory.
Given how the offense has looked since he took the reins roughly nine quarters of football ago, there’s no doubt that this is BFN’s team now. One can only hope this group will become even more successful as they gain more experience together as a unit.
Tory Horton is that guy, pal
MTSU is probably thanking the heavens that they won’t have to see Tory Horton again any time soon.
After scoring three touchdowns against the Blue Raiders a year ago, the superstar wide receiver hauled in two more in Week 4. The first of his two 7-yard scores came halfway through the third quarter and tied the game at 17 apiece. Then with 11:34 remaining, Horton put the exclamation point on a 13-play, 76-yard drive that ate up just under 7 minutes of clock with his second 7-yard touchdown reception of the game.
With 10 more catches in Saturday’s win, Horton’s season total is already up to 35. He’s averaging over 100 yards receiving and a touchdown catch per game, too. If he can continue to produce at this pace and CSU competes in the MW, he’ll be firmly in the mix for the conference’s offensive player of the year.
I’ve got a fever and the only cure is more Holker
Dallin Holker is everything Ram Nation hoped he would be. The BYU transfer followed up his monster game in Boulder with a team-high 11 catches for 112 yards against MTSU.
His 24-yard touchdown reception from Giles Pooler on a fake field goal attempt in the first half was massively important. Without it, the feeling might have been much more bleak going into the second half.
Holker was also a really reliable target for BFN on multiple third down conversions over the course of the night. Just like we envisioned at the beginning of the year, the athletic tight end has become a safety blanket for the QB in the middle of the field. I can’t stress enough how big of an addition he has been for the offense.
Bend, don’t break
Things were a little shaky defensively in the first half. MTSU established the run early and hit on a couple of big pass plays.
As the game progressed and the defense settled in though, the Rams did a nice job of adjusting to the flow. And after allowing MTSU to produce three scoring drives over the first 30 minutes, the Rams buckled down in the second half.
One of the key stats from the win was third down defense. MTSU converted on six of their first 11 chances on third down, which is a big reason why they had offensive success initially. However, in the second half, MTSU converted on only one of six chances on third down.
Credit the Rams for finding a way to get off the field when the opportunities presented themselves. And credit them for not allowing a sluggish start to compound into a disappointing loss.