The CSU Ram football team is taking a well-deserved break from the practice field. The time away should not only give the Rams’ bodies a chance to heal, but their minds as well.
Judging by some of their thoughts following their 36-33 loss to UNLV on Saturday, the Rams will be trying to think about other things besides football until they return to practice sometime after Dec. 13.
“This isn’t bittersweet; this feels awful,” said CSU senior wideout Joey Cuppari, one of 13 seniors who left his home finale with a sour taste in his mouth.
CSU head coach Sonny Lubick said the feeling while accepting the Liberty Bowl invitation following a loss was strange.
“It was a tough way to accept an award,” Lubick said. “But we’ll accept it and we’ll play a lot better down there.”
The “there” of course, is Memphis, Tenn., where the Rams will on New Year’s Eve face a Texas Christian squad making its fifth consecutive bowl appearance.
And while the promise of the Liberty Bowl was the sunbeam through the cloud of Saturday’s outcome, many players found it hard to see the light.
“It’s hard to explain what happened,” CSU linebacker Drew Wood said. “But I do know this: we didn’t play well at all.”
What Might Have Been
CSU cornerback Rhett Nelson, who already had made one interception in the game, had a chance to lower the boom on the Rebels in the fourth quarter with his second.
Nelson was able to step in front of a Kurt Nantkes pass and, had he been able to hold on, would probably have run 100-plus yards to a CSU touchdown.
As it was, the ball fell from his grasp, and the Rebels scored on the next play to take a 27-22 lead.
“I’ll be sleeping when I’m 40 and wake up in a cold sweat, thinking about that play,” Nelson said. “That play will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Drawing a Crowd
While Saturday’s crowd of 28,877 was the smallest home attendance of the year, it gave CSU an average of 30,461 per game and a total number of 152,307 on the season. The average attendance was the third largest in school history (31,292 in 1998 is the record), while the total attendance figure is a new record for a five-game home season.
Long Train Runnin’
CSU gave up an almost unthinkable 390 rushing yards to UNLV – including 222 to Rebel junior running back Larry Croom on 20 carries – making it the team’s worst performance against the run all year. Croom, like other Rebels, was able to bust out on several long runs against a Ram defense that had trouble containing the big plays all day.
“It was us not being able to make the big plays,” Nelson said. “I think we lost our focus and they made the big plays.”