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The CSU defense started the season well enough.
Standout performances late in games against the University of New Mexico and Utah State University set the tone for a 3-1 start and talk of the Rams defense playing the best it had in years.
But in the last three games, teams have run rampant on CSU (3-4, 1-1 MW). And the defensive slide has coincided with a three-game losing streak highlighted by opponentsâ€™ running backs.
First it was San Jose Stateâ€™s Brandon Rutley running for 131 yards and two touchdowns as SJSU won 38-31. Then it was Doug Martin running for 200 yards and three touchdowns as Boise State routed CSU. And in a game the Rams called a â€œmust-winâ€ last week, University of Texas-El Paso running back Vernon Frazier ran for 167 yards on just seven carries in a UTEP win.
â€œWe started out tackling and flying around pretty good, and the last three games, weâ€™ve not been as effective,â€ coach Steve Fairchild said. â€œWeâ€™ve got to play a little stouter up front. You can always talk about missed tackles, but Iâ€™d like to tackle you in a little closer quarters. Iâ€™d like to have some help.â€
The defensive outings of the past weeks have been so poor that sophomore linebacker Mike Orakpo called a meeting this week to address the defense, hold players accountable and make sure that everyone was in the right mind frame.
â€œInitially, we were polished. Everything was good,â€ Orakpo said. â€œThen people started getting lazy and youâ€™ve got people overcompensating for what people werenâ€™t doing. When youâ€™re not doing your job and you try to do somebody elseâ€™s, that frees up plays where you would have been.â€
The leaders of the unit insist that the necessary corrections will be made and that, despite the poor run, they are confident of turning it around.
â€œWeâ€™re definitely not hanging our heads about anything,â€ cornerback Elijah-Blu Smith said. â€œWe know what we need to do because we shouldnâ€™t have lost to UTEP. We know what we need to do, and our confidence is back to where it needs to be.â€
The Rams now face a UNLV (1-5, 0-1 MW) team that focuses on run first, led by Tim Cornett.
Cornett averages over five yards a carry and has shown big-play ability, with a long run of 80 yards on the season.
Orakpo, who had the hit of the season on Cornett last year when he knocked his helmet off at the goal line, insists that the defense will bounce back.
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at email@example.com.