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Colorado State struggles to find consistency in a disappointing performance against Middle Tennessee

Justin Michael Avatar
September 11, 2022

Saturday’s home opener was a familiar scene for Ram Nation. Colorado State (0-2) was favored at home, the students showed up ready to rock, and by halftime most of them were ready to move on with their day. 

Considering the Rams were held scoreless in the first half for the second straight week and at one point trailed 34-0 — but instead of to a Big Ten contender, this time it was to Middle Tennessee — you really cannot blame anyone that had seen enough in this one. Jay Norvell certainly didn’t. 

“I’d have been disappointed too if I was them watching that football today,” the first-year Rams coach said following the 34-19 defeat. “I mean, it was bad. In the first half, it was really bad.”

Norvell continued, explaining that he hopes the fans will stick with his young team that features 59 new players, and will now need to retool the offensive line due to poor performance and injuries. CSU lost starting left tackle Brian Crespo-Jaquez for the season with a knee injury during practice this week, before losing right tackle Dontae Keys in this game with a stretched medial collateral in the first half. 

Faced with a difficult situation though, Norvell did not make excuses or claims about being “this close”. He made it clear that the staff is going to have to reevaluate some personnel decisions, particularly with the offensive line — I’d expect Jacob Gardner to be the team’s starting left tackle moving forward — but ultimately Norvell was blunt about challenging the entire roster. 

“They’re going to get better, or they are not going to play,” Norvell said. “It’s really that simple. Guys have got to learn how to take advantage of their opportunities. You know, one of the things I told them is you guys have got to support each other. You guys have got to help each other through adversity.”

Junior wide receiver Tory Horton brings in a reception behind a Middle Tennessee defensive back. PHOTO: Ryan Greene (DNVR)

CSU did manage to make things interesting in the third quarter with three consecutive touchdown passes from Millen to Horton. As Norvell explained, clearly CSU has plenty of progress to make with the passing game, but Horton has played really well to begin the 2022 season. He now has four touchdown catches in the last five quarters of action and could have even more production if CSU was executing through the air more consistently. 

“He played well today,” Norvell said of the junior wide receiver, who finished with a team-high nine receptions for 186 yards and three scores. “Just looking at his statline right now and that’s what he’s capable of. I really think he’s going to be one of the best receivers in this league. We just need to play a little bit better around him to complement his game.”

Outside of the Millen-Horton connection, there really was not much to feel good about with the offense in the 34-19 loss. CSU allowed nine sacks and gave up 13 more tackles for loss. The run game was abysmal. Really, other than the 10 minute stretch where the Rams got hot, they pretty much looked overwhelmed. 

Clay Millen being sacked by a Middle Tennessee defensive lineman on Saturday. PHOTO: Ryan Greene (DNVR)

On the defensive side of things, safety Jack Howell pulled down his first interception of the season to go along with his 17 total tackles (6 solo). Edge rusher Mohamed Kamara recorded a sack and three tackles for loss as well. But CSU had far too many lapses in coverage against MT and just generally failed to execute consistently enough to get off the field on Saturday. 

The Blue Raiders converted on 7-of-17 third-down conversions, compared to just 3-of-14 for CSU. And MT was able to run 16 more plays than CSU in the game, despite the time of possession being relatively similar (80 vs. 64). 

We’ll see what kind of adjustments the Rams can make heading into the Week 3 trip to Washington State. It’s clear that there is talent on this team, we’ve seen some of the play-making ability from guys on both sides of the ball, but through eight quarters of football we’ve also seen CSU’s inexperience be a major factor.

The rebuild rarely happens as quickly as we’d like. Ram fans are most certainly going to have to roll with some punches along the way. Hopefully we’ll see this team respond better in their own building as the year goes on.

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