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Rams takeaways: Early missed opportunities come back to bite Colorado State in narrow loss to Utah State

Justin Michael Avatar
October 17, 2022

Colorado State’s 17-13 loss to Utah State was frustrating on multiple levels. 

The Rams had a great opportunity to move to 2-0 in conference play with another winnable game coming up against Hawaii. After losing the first four games of the year, the Rams had a chance to put themselves in position to at least try and make a run at the postseason. Though it would have been a long shot anyways with the remaining road trips and regional rivalry games still looming. 

Alas, due to excessive penalties, missed opportunities in the Red Zone and a general lack of rhythm on offense for the second consecutive week, CSU dropped another tight one against the Aggies. Going back to 2011, this was the sixth game in the series decided by one possession. Neither team has won by more than two scores in the 11 matchups since USU joined the conference. 

Here are the takeaways we have not yet discussed from Saturday night.  

Red Zone offense remains a struggle

The defense set the offense up when defensive end Mo Kamara absolutely smoked USU quarterback Cooper Legas and linebacker Cam’Ron Carter was able to pick off a floating pass on the Aggies’ first possession of the night.  

Following Carter’s return to the USU 29-yard line, the Rams were in perfect position to establish some early momentum by capitalizing on the turnover with a touchdown. It would have absolutely erupted the fourth-largest crowd in Canvas Stadium history (35,009). It also would have been a gut punch to the Aggies, who were feeling high after upsetting Air Force the week before. 

CSU’s first drive started well when the Rams went into their bag and pulled out the wide receiver reverse pass from Tory Horon to running back A’Jon Vivens on play number one. The trick play went for 19 yards and had the Rams in first and goal from the USU 10-yard line. 

Unfortunately from there the drive stalled quickly. The Rams had to use a timeout when things were disorganized on first and goal. Then after a pair of runs gained a total of four yards, Giles Pooler was unable to connect with Horton on third down and CSU ultimately had to settle for a 23-yard field goal from Michael Boyle. 

Later in the first half, after the Aggies had taken a 7-3 lead but had already missed a pair of field goals, wide receiver Dane Olson blocked a punt to set up CSU at the USU 20-yard line. 

Once again, instead of taking advantage of the situation by throwing six on the board, CSU struggled to get anything going in the Red Zone and ultimately settled for a field goal. After making his first attempt though, Boyle missed from 39 yards and the Rams came away with nothing. 

Much like last season, the Rams have really struggled on offense when the field gets tight this year. A lot of that likely has to do with the team’s collective inexperience and all of the fluctuation within the lineup each week. 

If CSU is going to have any shot at winning these tight games in the future though, they have to work through these struggles in the Red Zone. Obviously you can’t count on scoring multiple defensive touchdowns or being able to connect on multiple bombs downfield every week. When you are in plus territory, you have to be able to make the most of it. 

“In that area of the field, defenses are a little more aggressive and so your execution has gotta be sharper,” Jay Norvell said postgame. “We’ve gotta start finishing in the Red Zone, and I certainly feel that we’re capable of breaking out.”

Norvell continued, explaining that while he does often receive a ton of defensive attention, CSU has to figure out how to get Horton the ball more when the Rams are in good position to score. He’s been their most consistent playmaker all season long but a lot of his damage has come outside of the Red Zone. 

“He’s getting a lot of tight coverage, he’s getting a lot of double coverage,” Norvell said. “It’s just the way things are when you’re a good player like that. We’ve got to find ways to get him the ball more and get him involved. So, you know, that’s on me.”

There is no QB debate

Making his first career start, redshirt freshman quarterback Giles Pooler looked a lot more comfortable in the pocket than what we saw from Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi against Nevada last week. 

It wasn’t perfect — and it was clear that the staff was somewhat conservative at times with their calls for the inexperienced gunslinger — but Pooler’s arm strength was evident on some of the tight throws he was able to make in the intermediate passing game. 

Colorado State quarterback Giles Pooler passes the ball during a game against Utah State at Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins, Colo. on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. Photo: Fort Collins Coloradoan

While he did do some nice things in this one, including getting seven different pass catchers in the mix and not forcing the ball into harm’s way, the lack of consistent success through the air has been a struggle all season but especially since Clay Millen went down against Sacramento State.

The hope is that Millen will be able to return for the Hawaii game but he has not been able to practice over the last couple of weeks, so at this point it’s not a guarantee he will be back out there. I would have to imagine that given the circumstances there will be no rush to get the redshirt freshman back on the field and potentially jeopardize his future if he is still experiencing any type of pain. But if he is ready to go, with the offensive line playing better in recent weeks, it would definitely be nice to see what the unit looks like with QB1 back in the fold. 

That’s not to throw any of the other guys under the bus — both Fowler-Nicolosi and Pooler have played admirably through a challenging situation — it’s just clear that the Rams have been most dangerous as a passing team when it’s been Millen running the show. And ultimately that makes sense given that he has been in the system longer than anybody else, and was the guy that prepped to be the starter all along. 

Avery Morrow looks like CSU’s best back in years

The biggest bright spot on offense over the last two weeks has definitely been Avery Morrow. 

After a relatively slow start to the season the junior running back went over the century mark for the second straight game with 116 yards on 27 carries (4.3 AVG). He now has 353 rushing yards this season but 284 of them have come against Mountain West competition. 

Despite coming up short as a team, Morrow’s individual effort could not be questioned against the Aggies. Much like he did against Nevada, Morrow ran through USU defenders all game long and constantly punished people that got in his way. 

His physicality, patience and explosiveness have really been on display of late. So if he can keep this going, it will be a huge boost for the offense in the second half of the season. 

CSU possesses real talent on the defensive side

It’s unfortunate that CSU’s strong defensive performance will not get the recognition it deserves because of the final outcome, but if you hold an explosive team like the Aggies to just 17 points it means that the unit did a hell of a job. And what was really encouraging about the whole thing was that a variety of individuals stepped up in a major way to give the Rams a chance. 

Making his return to the starting lineup, sophomore safety Jack Howell was seemingly in on every play and finished the night with 16 total tackles. 

Despite not recording a sack, Mo Kamara was in the quarterback’s face for four quarters and finished the night with four hits on the QB and a strip. 

Colorado State defensive lineman Cam Bariteau celebrates after recovering a fumble against the Utah State Aggies on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. Photo: Fort Collins Coloradoan

Defensive tackle Cam Bariteau did a tremendous job of eating double teams throughout the game and really stepped up with a timely sack late in the second half. 

Linebacker Dequan Jackson played his best game of the year with 10 total tackles and a forced fumble. 

It truly was a collective effort. 

I don’t know how many games the Rams will ultimately win in 2022. If they can bring the majority of these guys back next season though, the future looks really bright under defensive coordinator Freddie Banks. 


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