When I walked into Hughes Stadium on Saturday afternoon, I was really looking forward to eating a lot of crow in my column this week with how critical I’ve been lately of the CSU defense –/the secondary in particular. I was also looking forward to convincing everyone that eight wins during the regular season was still a possibility as the Rams’ first four losses of 2009 came in the nation’s most difficult four game schedule.
Well, now the only way the CSU football team can get eight wins is if they win out and are able to add a bowl victory on the end of that. But honestly, a five-win season is looking optimistic at this point.
I have to give credit to CSU’s offense on Saturday, John Mosure in particular, for doing their job to keep the Rams in the game. Mosure carried the ball 20 times for 130 yards and a score and added a 23-yard touchdown pass to fullback Zac Pauga out of the wildcat formation (or as I like to call it, the “battering ram”). Granted, once again, this offense stumbled in the second half, scoring only seven of their 28 points in the final 30 minutes.
Still, I ask the defense: What is going on? While it felt like the secondary lapses were giving away just a couple of close games, this loss has to make you wonder if the season is going to hell right along with the Rams’ yards-allowed-per-game average.
Three of CSU’s five losses have featured 14-point leads blown in the second half thanks to prolific passing attacks by the opponents, but none of the losses were as ugly and embarrassing as Saturday’s. What makes this one so bad was the fact that it came to one of the Mountain West Conference’s three bottom-dwellers. Not only that, but San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley, who averages 238.3 yards passing per game, put up 459 yards in the air and six touchdowns. Yes, that’s correct, six touchdowns.
What really enabled the Aztecs to have such success through the air in the second half was their ability to convert on third down. The Rams were stout, stopping SDSU on first and second down, but on third, the Aztecs converted 13 of 18 on the afternoon.
This is rough. And I almost feel like I’m beating a dead horse this week with the topic of my column, but it’s overkill that needs to be addressed.
I’ve always believed that college and pro athletes should never have be told to “step up,” because that should naturally be engraved in their heads. This is their job, they get paid for it (yes, college athletes get paid by scholarships. It’s a nice $10,000 to $20,000-a-year job). But the question has to be asked: Who is going to step up?
I still believe, despite whatever we saw on Saturday, that the pieces are in place in this secondary. No one is going to question (well, at least I don’t question it) the talent of Nick Oppenneer, Elijah-Blu Smith and Momo Thomas. Losing Klint Kubiak hurts, but I think that Ivory Herd can be solid at safety –/he’s a hard hitter and wide receivers should be scared to come across the middle against him and Smith. But what is it going to take?
I fully respect defensive coordinator Larry Kerr and his secondary staff with Tim Duffie and Larry Lewis, but something has to change. I’m not saying personnel, but adjustments need to be made on defense when the opposing offense starts making changes –/the ones we’ve seen so far this season haven’t worked.
The student/fan in me is trying to stay optimistic. There’s nothing I love more than cool, fall weather and game day at Hughes Stadium. I love supporting this team. But the journalist in me is concerned.
In order to become bowl eligible, CSU must win three of its remaining four games –/two of which are on the road and the Rams have not won outside the state of Colorado all season. While a 6-6 record and either a New Mexico Bowl or Humanitarian Bowl berth might be good enough for some, I honestly feel that it would be a step backward. Well, maybe not directly backward, but at least a lateral pass.
It’s just time to focus on the Air Force Academy, who is coming off of another close loss to the Utah Utes, this time in overtime. The Falcons are going to be angry, but a win over the Rams’ rival from down Interstate 25 could propel CSU to that undefeated rest of the season we’re all looking for.
I’m really hoping that the CSU defense will stop Air Force next Saturday and let me gladly eat some crow –/I don’t care if you PETA supporters don’t like it. But in order to do so, the Rams are going to need more support than the mere 6,500 students that showed up for the SDSU game.
I still have faith. Do you?
Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.