Colorado State moved to .500 on the season with a 41-20 win over Utah Tech on Saturday night.
In an extremely unusual game that featured two lightning delays spanning roughly 80 minutes, the Rams managed to pull out a three-score victory in a matchup that was closer than most expected coming in.
While there is much to clean up — and we’ll dive into it all — the 21-point win is CSU’s largest margin of victory since 2021 when the Rams beat New Mexico 36-7 in Albuquerque. The 41 points scored is the most CSU has had in a winning effort since the 2019 trip to Fresno State (41-31). And while the win is the most important thing to come out the weekend, multiple Rams played their way into the record books with their individual performances in this one.
Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi, making his fourth career start, finished with the third-most passing yards by any quarterback in school history (462 yards). The redshirt freshman started the night by completing his first nine attempts, including a pair of touchdown passes to Tory Horton. And while there were a couple of mistakes over the course of the night, the gunslinger out of Aledo, TX, showed what he’s really made of by guiding the team to multiple scoring drives when the game was on the line in the second half. It’s the second straight week he’s done so.
When it was all said and done, “BFN” finished the outing 26-of-32 with five total touchdowns (4 passing). His 4-yard rushing TD in the second was CSU’s first score on the ground in 2023. And while he will need to cut back the turnovers — the rising star threw two picks and was stripped while trying to scramble out of pressure — BFN is one of the biggest reasons the Rams won comfortably in the end.
CSU has insane talent at the skill positions. If you can get the ball to them consistently and keep the sticks moving, good things are going to happen, especially with the way the pass catchers are producing yards after the catch this fall. BFN has done a really solid job of simply giving his guys an opportunity to go out there and make plays.
“I’m proud of (him),” Norvell said postgame. “He’s a young kid, he gets excitable sometimes.”
Norvell continued, explaining that Fowler-Nicolosi needs to learn from the experiences. Like when he’s running with the football, he needs to keep both hands on it. And when he’s trying to throw the football away, make sure it goes into the stands and not into a defender’s hands. What’s truly encouraging, though, is that while there is room to grow, the young QB continues to show he isn’t scared of the moment.
“He’s a really talented kid,” Norvell said. “He’s not afraid. And you know, we’re able to do some special things offensively (with him).”
While CSU’s passing offense as a whole has flourished under Fowler-Nicolosi, the biggest benefactors have definitely been Tory Horton and Dallin Holker.
Horton finished with 10 catches for 227 yards and three touchdowns in this one. Over the last three games, the senior wide receiver has produced at least two total touchdowns and 10 or more grabs every time. His 227 receiving yards were the most by any player in the country this week and the seventh-most by any player in school history. Not to mention that he joins Rashard Higgins and Michael Gallup as the only Rams with multiple three-touchdown games in their career.
“I thought that Tory Horton was outstanding tonight. He’s an amazing player,” Norvell said. “We just can’t find enough ways to get him the ball.”
“He’s a great dude,” BFN later added. “I know a lot of people don’t get to see that, but he’s awesome.”
“On the field, he’s something different. He’s special. We can all see that I think. It’s really nice to have a guy who you can look out there and know he’s gonna get open. They tried to double cover him and it didn’t work, so they put three dudes on him. It’s different when you have that type of talent surrounding you.”
As things currently stand, Horton leads the FBS in total receptions (45), receptions per game (11.3) and receiving yards per game (135). He’s top 10 in total receiving yards and touchdowns as well, with 540 and six, respectively.
When asked about whether this pace is sustainable or not, Horton told reporters that while he feels fortunate to put up big numbers, he didn’t come to CSU to break records, he came here to win games. And that ultimately the production is a product of the hard work he and his teammates are putting in during practice.
Horton talked about how he and the younger receivers have spent a lot of time working on creating yards after the catch, and that we’re seeing them reap the rewards on game day. Of CSU’s 464 passing yards in the win, 266 were created after the catch. And what’s great is that while Horton did account for roughly half of CSU’s YAC, five different players finished with at least 15 yards after the catch, including Holker who continued his hot streak with four catches for 94 yards — 69 of which came after the grab.
With a crucial 42-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter, Holker put the Rams up two scores and gave the squad some breathing room after things became a little too close for comfort in the second and third quarters. He has at least one touchdown reception in every game this season and has become one of CSU’s most dependable weapons on offense.
“He just energizes our team when he catches the ball and makes plays after the catch,” Norvell said of Holker.
Flipping things over to the defensive side, the biggest standout for CSU was once again Mohamed Kamara. After taking over in the second half of the Middle Tennessee State win, the fifth-year edge rusher was a monster against the TrailBlazers with eight total tackles (3.5 for loss) and 1.5 sacks. He surpassed Adrian Ross in the win for the fifth-most sacks in school history.
Outside of Kamara, linebacker Chase Wilson led the Rams with 15 total tackles. Safety Jack Howell was second with nine total tackles and also recorded a timely interception in the first half.
What’s concerning is that while the defense did buckle down and hold Utah Tech to just 3 points in the second half, the fact that the visitors were able to rush for 127 total yards on 5.5 yards per carry in the first half was glaring. As were the missed tackles and blown assignments in coverage on third down.
If the defense plays like they did early on against teams like Air Force, Boise State and Wyoming, the Rams can forget about Mountain West Championship aspirations. All of those teams will gladly run the ball down your throat all night if given the opportunity.
The silver lining, of course, is that despite not having played a complete game this season, the Rams are 2-2 going into the league slate. If you asked most fans coming into the year if they’d be satisfied with that position, the answer would have overwhelmingly been yes.
That doesn’t mean that the job is done. The mission is far from accomplished and this group has much improvement to make over the final eight weeks of the 2023 campaign. But on a night where the circumstances did not play out in CSU’s favor, the Rams showed the type of resilience that has long been missing in Fort Collins.
Would we have liked to see CSU step on Utah Tech’s throat earlier in the game after going up double digits out of the gate? Of course. The Rams have too much talent to be in a 1-point game with a lowly FCS squad. But much like what we said about CSU’s gritty performance on the road against MTSU the week before, what’s nice to see is that the Rams are finding ways to win ugly.
The truth is that this program has found ways to lose winnable games time and time again over the last decade. We aren’t in a position yet where you can just expect CSU to come out and be perfect every single time. I hope to see the Rams get to that place sooner rather than later. But becoming a winning program is a process that takes time.
Let’s see how this group responds in the coming weeks.