With a 1-2 record through the first quarter of the 2023 season, Colorado State is not yet where it wants to be. Going into the Week 4 matchup against Utah Tech, though, there is reason to believe the Green & Gold can be real players in the Mountain West.
For one thing, CSU has found its offensive identity since Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi took over as the starting quarterback. At 354 passing yards per game, the Rams currently lead the conference by a pretty substantial margin. And with a scoring average of 30 points per game, the Rams are finally looking like the explosive offensive unit we envisioned when Jay Norvell and Co. came over from Reno.
A big part of that offensive success has no doubt been the quality play from “BFN”. The redshirt freshman has been extremely impressive since taking command of the offense late Week 1 against Washington State. And obviously the improved play in the trenches has been a big factor, too.
What’s really encouraging about the direction of the team right now, outside of QB play, is that the top players we expected the team to lean on are all producing at a phenomenal rate.
Mohamed Kamara already has five sacks on the season and is currently leading the country in sacks per game (1.6) — even despite missing half of the Middle Tennessee State game due to a late targeting penalty against CU. He has a pair of forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown after producing a scoop and score in the fourth quarter last weekend. The man is playing absolutely out of his mind right now.
With 22.5 sacks in his career, Kamara is currently tied with Adrian Ross for the fifth-most in school history. However, if he continues to produce at this rate, Clark Haggans’ all-time record could certainly be in play (33 career sacks). Brady Smith’s single-season record is definitely a number to keep an eye on as well (16 sacks).
Beyond the individual glory which is well-deserved, as we saw throughout the CU game and in the second half of the MTSU matchup, when Kamara is on the field, it puts a ton of pressure on opposing offensive lines. He’s so quick off of the snap and teams have to factor that into their offensive schemes. Much like having an elite cornerback, in a lot of ways, Kamara forces opponents to try and play away from him.
When Kamara was unable to play in the first half, MTSU averaged 6 yards per play and 4.2 yards per rush. With the big boy setting the edge in the second half, CSU held MTSU to just 3.9 yards per play and 2.6 yards per rush. Now, I’m not saying that all of the credit should go to “Mo”, the entire defense stepped up. But if you go back and watch the way the Blue Raiders called their offense early versus how they called things when Kamara was out there, it was pretty clear how worried they were about his impact. Honestly, it makes his performance that much more impressive. Even while the opposing team tried to scheme away from him, the best pure pass rusher in the MW managed to still be a game-breaker.
Again, it’s not all about individual glory, but if the big man continues to produce at this rate and CSU can make a little noise in league play, Kamara has to be one of the frontrunners for the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.
What’s absurd is CSU also has one of the favorites for Offensive Player of the Year in Tory Horton. The senior wide receiver is arguably the top NFL prospect in the conference and he’s put on a show through the first month of the season.
With 35 total receptions, Horton trails only Utah State’s Terrell Vaughn (38) in the MW and is currently third nationally. It should be noted that Horton is the only individual in the top 25 that’s played three games though. Everybody else has already suited up in four or even five contests.
Horton already played his way into the history books with his 16-reception performance at Boulder, which broke a 40 year-old single-game record set by Jeff Champine (14 receptions) in 1983.
The single-season record of 17 touchdowns may be tough for Horton to top — not because he isn’t capable — but because the Rams have a lot of weapons in the arsenal and can attack teams in a variety of ways. However, Michael Gallup’s 2017 record of 100 receptions is definitely in play at this point. As things currently stand, Horton is on pace to shatter that single-season total. And what’s great is that unlike last season, the offense doesn’t have to live and die solely on Horton’s production.
The young receivers, Louis Brown and Justus Ross-Simmons, have both popped in the con-conference slate. Additionally, Dallin Holker has quickly established himself as the best tight end in the Mountain West.
Through just three games this season, the junior out of Lehi, Utah has already racked up 22 receptions for 268 yards. He has four touchdown catches, including a score in every game that CSU has played. And at 89.3 receiving yards per game, no other tight end in the country has been as consistent of a threat in the passing game as the 6-foot-5, 235-pound BYU transfer.
As far as transfer portal acquisitions go, adding Holker to the offense has been like hitting the jackpot for Jay Norvell. Not only is he a dependable target for the QB to lean on up and down the field — a major reason why the Rams have been better on third down. But simply having his presence in the middle of the field, opens everything up for the receivers out wide. Safeties can no longer shadow Horton over the top on every snap, because if they do, Holker is going to take their lunch money up the seam. Kind of like what we said about Kamara, Holker’s presence changes the dynamics of the matchup.
Obviously there is still a long way to go before we start getting too bold with our predictions. The defense is going to need be more consistent as a whole and frankly we need to see that this team can win on a consistent basis before Ram Nation starts puffing out their chests.
With what we’ve seen from this team in recent weeks though — particularly the fight that they’ve shown — I wouldn’t discount a group with as much talent as the Rams. There are a lot of people in that locker room that have a good chance to play on Sundays in the future. If they can continue to produce like this, and the Rams can continue to improve as a team, anything is on the table for CSU in 2023. Even competing for a Mountain West Championship.