At some point in the middle of defensive end Jesse Nading’s 96-yard fumble return, the CSU defense officially earned a title it’s lacked in recent years.
Never mind that the play got called back due to an inadvertent whistle, those near-100 yards symbolize how far this defense has come just since last season. This year’s group has shown signs of dominance in every aspect of the game.
Had the fumble return for a touchdown stood, the Rams’ defense would have scored more points than its opponent’s offense on Saturday. The 14-yard interception return for six was bad enough, but a school-record 96-yard fumble return would have been downright cruel.
It’s nice to know for the offense that it didn’t even need to score to at least be tied.
“It makes it a lot easier on the offense when we don’t even have to go on the field for a score,” said receiver Damon Morton following the game. “I mean we like going on the field, but if the defense can stop their offense and put points on the board? I’ll take that any day.”
After getting ready to celebrate Nading’s touchdown, only to see it called back on a controversial call, the defense had to walk back the entire length of the field to face a fourth-and-two situation. A call that disappointing can sometimes deflate defenses. CSU responded by holding UNLV to a 1-yard run play. Turnover on downs.
Head Coach Sonny Lubick commented on the called back fumble after the game.
“If this game had been 7-7 and we had lost this son-of-a-buck, [the officials] would be getting lynched,” joked Lubick. “And I’d be at the front of the lynch crew.”
Despite one let-down in a road loss to Nevada, the CSU defense has been remarkably reliable. A team that can keep a lead has a remarkable advantage over a team who doesn’t know.
“The defense played superbly,” Lubick said. “Standing on the sideline I know that one play can change a football game, but we knew it was going to be difficult for them to score on us.”
The Rams were especially in sync on third downs, allowing only a single conversion in 13 Rebel attempts. CSU also allowed no points from inside the redzone.
“Especially in the last two games we’ve felt like if we get a lead, we can keep it,” said Nading.
The longer you let a team hang around, the more dangerous it becomes. Even with the game well out of reach, the Ram defense was relentless late in the game. Both touchdown plays (including the one called back) came in the fourth quarter.
“We take a lot of pride in finishing the game,” Nading said. “We didn’t want to let them score in the fourth quarter.”
Work their strengths:
Most people with football knowledge would be able to see that the Rams are a bit undersized on the defensive side. It’s made up for by stacking the line with safeties Mike Pagnotta, Klint Kubiak and Jake Galusha, and using speed techniques over traditional power mindsets.
The defense knows it’s small, but that it can still play big.
“We’re not the biggest in the world, but we use our speed and our heads,” said Pagnotta. “It’s all about people taking care of their responsibilities. As long as we do that and play with confidence there’s no reason we can’t keep this up.”
Football beat writer Brett Okamoto can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.