SALT LAKE CITY – Give the CSU defense this much: they know when to step up.
The Rams’ defense won Saturday’s game with the University of Utah by stepping up in crucial moments against a Utah offense that wouldn’t quit.
With the Rams up by eight and 1:01 left to play, Utah quarterback Brett Elliott’s 46-yard pass to wideout Paris Jackson gave the Utes first and goal at the CSU seven-yard line. Fortunately for the Rams, the end of the game is when the defense shifts to a higher gear.
Following a three-yard Elliott scramble that put the Utes on the four, Utah spiked the ball to stop the clock. Elliott again tried to find Jackson on third down, this time in the corner of the end zone, but CSU’s pressure forced the pass to drift out of the end zone. On fourth down, cornerback Rhett Nelson batted Elliott’s pass away from Jackson, stone-walling the Utes’ drive and chances for victory.
“We know it’s going to come down to the last play of every game, every single game,” Nelson said. “There’s no point in speculating why, it’s just a matter of stepping up big at the very end and coming through.”
For most of the day, the Utes found the going easy against the Ram defense. CSU gave up 481 yards of total offense, their second highest yield of the season and nearly double the 251 yards the Rams forced on offense. Of those 481 yards, 309 of them came in the second half. An offense with basically no life in the first half seemed poised to push a tight game into overtime.
“I felt like we played solid for the most part, but by no means is this the best we can play,” said linebacker Drew Wood. “But I also think when we watch the tape, we’ll see we played better than we have been.”
Utah’s offense also played better than it had been. Elliott finished with 265 yards in only his second career start. The Rams also allowed a 100-yard rusher (Brandon Warfield, 119 yards) and a 100-yard receiver (Jackson, 128 yards) for the first time this season. Despite the fact the stats greatly favor Utah, the victory is the Rams’ main concern.
“Every game is going to be a battle,” said David Vickers, the Rams’ strong safety who finished with 10 tackles and an interception. “I don’t think we are wrapping up as good as we can, but it’s not about the stats, it’s about who comes out on top. We stepped it up when we had to and a win is a win.”
Head coach Sonny Lubick was pleased with the defensive effort in spite of the fact Utah, much like Wyoming the week before, was able to put together several lengthy drives.
“Our feeling coming in was that they were not going to drive the ball on us but I eat my words every time I say that,” Lubick said. “They were pinned on the three-yard line, but then they get things going, they get one big pass play and that’s really all you need to get back in the game.”
The Rams were not the beneficiary of good fortune from an officiating standpoint. Several questionable calls nearly cost the Rams dearly, including Rhett Nelson’s apparent interception deep in Ute territory that was ruled incomplete with just over five minutes to play.
“I know I had the pick, and I’m talking to the refs all game and they are saying they they’re calling bad calls,” Nelson said. “He’d say, ‘Yeah, I saw that,’ and ‘Yeah, that last play was a holding,’ but they’re not calling it. That’s just something you have to play through.”
Though the defense wasn’t often successful in stopping the Utah attack, CSU’s sideline remained confident the job would get done.
“Our defense showed up today. They made plays all day and we knew that eventually they were going to come out and stop them,” said CSU running back Cecil Sapp. “Even if they had scored the touchdown, most likely they would have stopped them on the two-point conversion.”
-Edited by Jon Ackerman and Becky Waddingham