With so many intriguing aspects of CSU’s 19-14 victory over No. 7 Colorado, it is difficult to single just one out.
There was quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt spiking the ball off a CU player’s helmet just as he entered the endzone with the go-ahead touchdown.
There was Jeff Babcock missing two field goals and an extra-point attempt after a perfect performance against Virginia the week before.
And of course there was the dramatic finish at the goal line that was all too familiar to the Rams after a similar ending in Charlottesville.
But the most crucial theme to the win was undoubtedly the performance of the CSU defense.
The main focus going into the game was whether or not CSU could stop the Buffs’ running attack. The main focus after the game was the fact the Rams shut down that formidable running attack for three quarters and allowed just one offensive touchdown.
This came only a week after the same defense allowed 29 points and over 400 yards to a lesser Virginia team.
“Defensively, I thought we played very sound throughout the whole football game,” head coach Sonny Lubick said. “We were just playing so consistent and so steady, and you usually don’t get that this early in the season. We were picking up the run very well. They didn’t have a lot of huge plays, and we made them work for everything.”
Coming into the game, the Rams’ coaches and players admitted that they wanted to force CU quarterback Craig Ochs to beat them with the pass. However, they would have to be able to contain the running back trio of Chris Brown, Marcus Houston and Bobby Purify.
It was not lost on the Rams that the Buffs offense put up 62 points on Nebraska last season and averaged over 400 yards per game. Still, CSU’s defenders believed they were up to the challenge.
“We knew CU’s runners were going to get their big runs in,” linebacker Eric Pauly said. “But we knew if we stepped up and contained them as best we could, we would win.”
In the end, the defense did better than it had hoped. As for the long runs Pauly was worried about, the longest run of the day for any Buffalo running back was 15 yards. None of CU’s big three out of the backfield gained over 100 yards and the Rams were out-rushed by only seven yards.
Those numbers impressed CU head coach Gary Barnett.
“They never let us break anything, they were always there to make a tackle,” he said. “We just couldn’t get anything going.”
The Rams’ first defensive stand set the tone for the game. On third down, Ochs attempted to force a pass through the middle where Pauly was waiting to make an interception. Although CSU could not capitalize on the turnover, it proved the game plan of containing the run and forcing Ochs to make a play could work.
Throughout the rest of the game, the bend-but-don’t-break defense stifled drive after drive. The Rams’ defense was downright stingy on third down, allowing CU only four out of 16 conversions.
The Buffs finally got their first points of the game on the first play of the fourth quarter when freshman Jeremy Bloom returned Joey Huber’s punt 75 yards for a touchdown.
On their next possession, the Buffs put together their only scoring drive of the game, marching 81 yards on eight plays with Brown scoring on a one-yard touchdown run.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time and I think our defense played with heart,” said linebacker Drew Wood, who finished with six tackles and CSU’s only sack of the game. “I don’t know that I’ve played with a bunch of guys that played harder than we played today. This shows we’ve got heart. We’re coming after everyone on our schedule this year.”
Strong safety David Vickers was one player who made play after play for the Rams. The senior recorded a game-high 13 tackles, including 12 solo stops.
Vickers also had a tackle for loss, a pass deflection and a forced fumble and was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his effort.
“He made every tackle he could have,” Lubick said of Vickers. “He was just suburb for us. They don’t come any better than David Vickers.”
The defensive effort did not come as a surprise to the Rams players who had prepared for the Buffs’ rushing onslaught. For them, it was the realization of weeks of hard work, and redemption for giving up 41 points to the Buffs in 2001.