The CSU Rams were crowned the Mountain West Conference champions after Saturday’s game with UNLV, but their performance was anything but championship-caliber.
UNLV ran all over the Rams’ defense and the Rebels’ defense stood strong in clutch situations as CSU dropped a 36-33 decision at Hughes Stadium.
The loss ended CSU’s hopes of becoming the first team in school history with a perfect conference record. And even though the Rams were presented with the Mountain West championship trophy and Liberty Bowl invitation following the game, the mood was hardly celebratory.
“It’s just a shame to go out like this,” said Doug Heald, one of 13 Ram seniors who played their final home game at Hughes Stadium. “We wanted to make history today, go out 7-0, but we didn’t do that.”
Fellow linebacker Drew Wood agreed.
“You don’t want to end like this,” wood said. “There’s really nothing left to say. We played like (crap) and that’s the way it goes.”
The Rebels’ success was keyed by an explosive running attack, which exploited the CSU defense for 390 rushing yards — the most allowed all season by the Rams.
UNLV also used big plays to stun the Rams. The Rebels ran off three rushing plays for 50 or more yards and 10 plays for 10 or more yards. For a CSU defense that usually prides itself on not giving up big plays, each long run was a dagger into their confidence.
“They did some great things, but we didn’t do our job and it hurt us,” Wood said of a defense that surrendered a season-worst 575 yards of total offense. “We just weren’t ready to play as a defense. We didn’t play well at all.”
The blame for this loss could also be shared by the CSU offense. Even though the Rams did rack up 450 yards of total offense themselves, the Rams had five possessions inside the UNLV 25 yard line where they were forced to settle for field goal attempts — one of which was wide left.
“We needed to get the ball in the end zone. We’re kicking too many field goals and that’s the difference in the game,” said CSU tight end Matt Bartz. “I’m going to put the blame on the offense for not putting the ball in the end zone.”
Despite the loss, the Rams will move on to the Liberty Bowl Dec. 31 to take on the Conference USA champion.