“It’s one to win now.”
Colorado State is just one win away from its first bowl bid in six years after Saturday’s 30-20 win over Nevada.
Things have not always been the smoothest this season. There have been a handful of missed opportunities that proved to be tough learning moments along the way. With one game remaining in the 2023 campaign, though, CSU needs just one more win to take a major step in the right direction.
With the resources available in Fort Collins, CSU is a program that should be consistently competing for conference championships. If schools like San Jose State and Utah State can win the Mountain West, CSU sure as hell should be able to.
While CSU should expect to be competing amongst the top of the “group of five” and hopefully will be doing so in the near future, being realistic about the situation, you also have to learn how to walk before you can run.
After what this team has been through over the last half decade, including a less-than-memorable finish to the Mike Bobo era and an absolute trainwreck under Steve Addazio, the progress we have seen this season under Jay Norvell has been a glass of fresh water.
Again, that’s not to say it’s been perfect. Had a few things gone differently, like the Rocky Mountain Showdown or the trip to UNLV, the Rams very easily could have been a squad that won eight or more games.
But from where CSU football was as a program just two years ago, losing 52-10 on Senior Day to the same school that the Rams just beat to keep bowl eligibility on the table, it’s important to recognize the progress that has been made.
Building a sustainable winner is a process that takes time, especially when there are a lot of losing habits that need to be overcome. Norvell inherited a mess. The Rams were a team that had done a whole lot of losing in recent years, including to Norvell himself. Since the veteran football coach has switched sidelines, though, slowly but surely we’ve seen CSU starting to take the shape of a consistent competitor.
Since falling to Washington State in the opener, the Rams have had a legitimate shot to win each of the last 10 games. There has not been a fight where they did not at least take a few rounds — even if ultimately falling by decision in the end. And after taking some bruises, we’re now starting to see CSU really establish a competitive identity.
Following the win over Nevada, an honest Norvell praised his team for their response in what ended up being a hard-fought victory. Just like against San Diego State, with the season on the line, the game ended up proving to be tighter than anyone would have preferred.
After at one point leading by 17, a disastrous pick-six on the final play of the first half resulted in CSU taking just a one-score lead into halftime. And after Nevada possessed the football for more than 11 minutes in the third quarter, the Wolf Pack could have tied the game at 23 apiece early in the fourth if Brandon Talton made his 43-yard field goal attempt.
Fortunately for Ram Nation, Jay Norvell’s former kicker pulled the attempt wide left. And given the opportunity to put the dagger in the school he was once committed to, Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi delivered the kill shot with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Louis Brown on CSU’s ensuing possession.
“I’m really proud of how our guys hung in there and kept battling, especially later on in the game,” Norvell said.
“We got the defensive stop with the missed field goal and then our offense responded and went down and scored. I thought that was really a great string of plays for our football team.”
As both Norvell and “BFN” talked about postgame, this was definitely an instance where the Rams left some meat on the bone. There were a couple of opportunities to hit on big plays where CSU failed to execute, there were some missed throws in the short and intermediate passing game, and obviously the pick-six to end the half was not at all how the Rams wanted to go into the break after basically dominating the first 30 minutes.
“We made a lot of big plays. We missed a lot of plays that could have been big plays,” Norvell said.
While there are things to work on — and there almost always are — to the credit of the Green & Gold, the Rams also showed a ton of resilience in this one. This was a game where Nevada had nothing to lose and all of the pressure was on the Rams.
Considering how the first half ended, and then how the third quarter played out, this game very easily could have gotten away from CSU and ended in disaster. Quite frankly, it’s the type of result that Ram fans have come to expect after years of being let down.
But as they did on the road, when they earned their first win of the year at Middle Tennessee State, and as they’ve now done in three crucial conference wins in Canvas Stadium, the Rams simply refused to lose on Saturday.
There were a lot of key moments along the way. Henry Blackburn played a role in two first-quarter interceptions. Mo Kamara’s fourth-quarter sack pushed Nevada’s missed field goal attempt back and prevented them from being able to potentially take the lead. BFN’s touchdown passes were both perfectly placed balls. I really could go on and on about the individuals that stepped up in this one.
What really matters in the end, is that for the first time since since 2017, CSU is now going to play a game that matters on Thanksgiving weekend.
Jack Howell said it himself during the postgame interview session, for the third straight week, it’s do or die for CSU. We’ll see if they can pull out one more win in a deceptively tricky game at Hawaii next weekend.