The CSU defense gave up more than 200 yards rushing to each of its last four opponents, all resulting in high scoring losses or blowouts.
The Rams had shown no signs of life since the double overtime stand against Utah State. The way things had been going there was no reason to believe the old defense would come knocking.
With the Mountain Westâ€™s leading rusher Ronnie Hillman coming to town, it appeared all but certain the Rams would again get pushed around in the run game.
But on Saturday, the Rams looked more like the defense that started the season. They looked resolved and determined to stand strong. To prove they were still capable of keeping opponents off the scoreboard.
And they were. The defense played well enough to win the game, but the offense was unable to score at critical moments like so many other times this season.
Despite the 18-15 loss to San Diego State University, improvement was evident on the defensive front. The motor of the entire unit.
â€œIt starts up front and our defensive line played well,â€ defensive coordinator Larry Kerr said. â€œOur guys played physical and really battled.â€
CSUâ€™s defense struck early in the first quarter when a tipped pass launched into the air and fell into the hands of linebacker Mike Orakpo. The interception gave the Ramsâ€™ offense great field position at the SDSU 42, but CSU failed to produce any points.
It wasnâ€™t the first time one side of the ball was incapable of aiding another, and it wonâ€™t be the last.
But there is hope for the future of this team. Running back Chris Nwoke was an obvious example exploding for 232 yards. A fellow sophomore has shone quietly, but brighter each and every game.
Linebacker Shaquil Barrett made his presence felt in the thriller in Logan, Utah, with a fumble recovery for a touchdown and again against UNLV on a pick six.
Once more Barrett flew all over the field Saturday making tackles in the backfield and from sideline to sideline.
â€œShaq Barrett is a physical middle linebacker,â€ Kerr said. â€œ(SDSU) is a team that tries to run the ball down your throat and heâ€™s the kind of guy youâ€™d like to have on your side.
Barrett finished with a game high 14 tackles, half of which came in the first quarter, and nearly came up with his second interception of the season in the second quarter.
The Rams knew coming into the game SDSUâ€™s star running back would have to be the focus. Hillman entered Saturday as the nationâ€™s second leading rusher averaging 149 yards per game.
Shockingly CSU kept Hillman in check surrendering only 80 yards on 24 carries for a 3.3 yard average for the stud running back.
â€œWe felt like we accomplished something today being able to stop a great rusher in Hillman,â€ Barrett said. â€œWe practiced hard on attacking the ball, pursuit to the ball and that helped our confidence.â€
In the end, CSU just could not get the ball back in the second half with SDSU running 35 more plays than the Rams.
SDSU kept the ball for more than eight minutes to start the second half, but were unable to score thanks in large part to the defense forcing the Aztecs into tough field goal lengths. SDSU had more than double the time of possession as the Rams, but only managed 327 yards of total offense.
The Rams were forced to punt with 3:49 left in the game, putting the pressure on the defense to make a stop and get the ball back for the offense. CSU stepped up, forcing SDSU to punt after only taking a little over a minute.
But once more the offense let the defense down. Again, failure to put together a complete game doomed the Rams at the end.
â€œSometimes things donâ€™t go our way, but we need to put ourselves in a better situation so we donâ€™t need to have a break,â€ Barrett said. â€œWe need to get up on the scoreboard so one play wonâ€™t change the game.â€
Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.