Colorado State found a way on Saturday.
The Rams trailed by 10 at halftime and appeared to be on the verge of a disappointing loss to Hawaii.
After scoring just 3 points in the first 30 minutes of action though, CSU outscored the visiting Warriors 14-0 to come away with a 17-13 victory at Canvas Stadium.
Going back to 1965, the Rams have trailed by double digits at halftime 186 times. Saturday is just the 12th time that CSU has come out victorious in that situation.
“I’m just really proud of our football team, and the way they continue to fight, and really try to do the things we asked them to do,” Jay Norvell said postgame. “That was a hard game.”
Here are the takeaways from the first home win of the Norvell era.
Defense dominated in the second half
Hawaii moved the ball well through the air in the first half and definitely made the home fans sweat a little bit early. But after putting together three scoring drives and tallying 219 total yards of offense in the first half, the Warriors could not do much of anything down the stretch, as they were held to just 38 total yards in the final two quarters.
CSU defensive coordinator Freddie Banks has really made a strong impression in his first year in Fort Collins, particularly with how he’s been able to adjust on the fly after losing multiple Week 1 starters to the transfer portal. His ability to make halftime adjustments is also extremely impressive and it’s really been on display of late.
This game could have gotten out of hand with the way the first half played out for the Rams offensively. Holding Hawaii to field goal attempts allowed the Rams to hang around though. And in the second half the defense took things to a new level.
Banks deserves a lot of praise for his adjustments in this win. That said, the defensive players left it all on the line and absolutely played lights out. Hawaii may not be a great team but they have some skill guys that are dangerous. Plus, they really had some momentum out of the gate. It takes a lot of heart to put together that type of defensive performance.
Red Zone still a struggle for the Rams
The Rams have been bad in the Red Zone for the last couple of years. Those struggles looked like they would come back to bite them once again today.
On CSU’s first offensive possession of the game, after junior running back Avery Morrow had gotten the Rams to Hawaii’s 2-yard line with a 67-yard run, the offense proceeded to lose a yard over the next four snaps and turned the ball over on downs with nothing to show for the explosive carry.
Then the next time CSU got in the Red Zone, the Rams appeared to be stalling at the 2-yard line once again but fortunately, Morrow managed to break through for the score on 4th and goal.
Late in the third quarter, with an opportunity to take the lead for the first time in the game, the Rams turned the ball over on downs again after having first and goal from the opponent’s 10-yard line.
Thankfully the Rams did get a chance at redemption and made the most of it by capping a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a 10-yard rushing touchdown by Morrow with just 1:28 left on the clock.
Of the 13 trips CSU has made to the Red Zone this fall, only seven have produced points (4 touchdowns, 3 field goals). That ranks 131st out of 131 teams in the FBS, and it’s a major reason why they have struggled to build leads.
Following the win, despite being pleased with the final outcome, Morrow did admit that he’s been frustrated by the team’s lack of success when they’ve been in prime position to score. We’ll see if the Rams can find more success down there now that they have their starting quarterback back and have established a consistent rushing attack with Morrow.
Millen’s return produces mixed results
As we addressed after the Utah State game, there is no quarterback controversy. Clay Millen, without a doubt, gives the Rams the best opportunity to move the ball consistently with the passing attack.
While the Rams did not exactly light it up, Millen looked comfortable in the pocket and did a nice job of taking what was available to him. He didn’t try to do too much when the coverage was strong. He did a good job scrambling to move the sticks on a couple of instances as well.
There were multiple failed fourth down conversions that you could point to if the goal is to be hypercritical, however, on the first drive Tory Horton got mugged in the back of the end zone and it should have drawn a flag. WR Dane Olson fell down on the second attempt. And CSU got stuffed on a run call on the third one, so it’s not exactly fair to pin those missed conversions on the QB.
Clearly CSU has to find a way to produce more points. Fixing the Red Zone issues is probably a big part of that. After missing a couple of weeks though, Millen’s efficiency was encouraging (17-of-24 for 171 yards). And most importantly, when the game was there for the taking, Millen and the Rams mounted a game-winning drive that ate up nearly half of the four quarter (7:16). His composure in the crunch time was definitely noteworthy.
Give me some more Morrow
Avery Morrow has looked like a man on a mission since the start of conference play.
After totaling a career-high 168 rushing yards in the win over Nevada, then going for 119 more yards against Utah State, Morrow went over the century mark yet again with 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26 attempts against Hawaii (5.7 YPC). He’s the first CSU running back to rush for 100 or more yards in three straight games since Dalyn Dawkins did so back in 2017.
Again, the offense still has a ton of room for improvement and they would be the first people to tell you that — CSU has still not scored 20 points in any game this season — however, Morrow has definitely been a bright spot for the unit this fall. There is nothing that helps a young quarterback more than being able to gash the defense when they show coverage. A strong rushing attack will continue to help open up things for the passing game.