For three games, the CSU Rams had fooled audiences and opponents alike into thinking they were a one-dimensional offense.
CSU football was smash-mouth football – running the ball down the enemy’s throat, pounding running back Cecil Sapp through the line of scrimmage time and time again. And while the Rams still thrive on the ground game, one might have seen them masquerading as a different type of team on Saturday.
The Rams were still able to run the ball effectively, but they also threw the ball with both accuracy and efficiency. Against the Cardinals, the Rams showed themselves to be a legitimate two-dimensional threat.
“We’ve always been able to do that, we have the firepower and we have the athleticism,” said junior quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt. “It was just a matter of gearing up, getting mentally focused and going after them. I thought we really went after them tonight.”
Van Pelt went at the Louisville secondary early and often. With the Cardinals gearing up to stop Sapp and the ground game, Van Pelt opened things up with long completions to Joey Cuppari and Chris Pittman on the Rams’ opening drive. This spread the Louisville defense and gave Sapp more room to roam as he rushed for the first of his three touchdowns on the night.
From the start, the Cardinal defense seemed to be caught off guard.
“We changed it up real well. They did not know when we were passing, they didn’t know when we were running,” said Cuppari, the Rams’ senior wide receiver. “Hats off to our coordinators, they kept their defense on their heels.”
Indeed, the Louisville defenders were never able to get a grasp on just what the Rams were going to do next.
“They controlled the football game. They threw around us and then they ran over us,” said Louisville head coach John L. Smith. “We didn’t have answers to counter their attack.”
The Rams also used balance in their passing attack to keep Louisville confused. Four different Ram receivers caught three balls or more, rolling up 264 total passing yards for the Rams.
Cuppari was Van Pelt’s favorite target of the night, finishing with five catches for a career-best 99 yards. Van Pelt finished 11-for-25 for 170 yards, and, for the first time this season, he was not the only one calling signals in the CSU backfield.
Touted redshirt freshman Justin Holland made his first career appearance in the second quarter and showed just why the word “touted” so often appears in front of his name.
On his first drive, Holland went 3-for-4, including a 35-yard strike to Henri Childs and a huge fourth-down completion to Chris Pittman en route to another Sapp touchdown. Holland finished his debut 5-of-6 for 94 yards.
“Justin ran the huddle like a fifth-year senior,” Cuppari said. “It’s great to see him throwing the ball with confidence and accuracy like he did.”
Van Pelt replaced Holland for all but two of the game’s remaining series, but even the elder quarterback was impressed with his understudy’s performance.
“I want to be on the field, but I see the light in his eyes when he’s out there,” Van Pelt said. “I see what I saw last year in myself – getting out there and getting the crowd yelling your name. It’s a great feeling and I was happy for him and glad he could get the job done.”
Head coach Sonny Lubick is enjoying having twice the firepower at quarterback.
“We’ve got ourselves two good quarterbacks. Bradlee’s been playing very well for us and Justin will get his series in too,” Lubick said. “We’ll try to play them both. It’s good to have competition.”