We all knew this was coming, it's just taken a little longer than most expected.
Jim McElwain was hired for his offensive mastery, yet gains on that side of the ball took much time to formulate.
Finally, after 19 games as Colorado State's head coach, players have both caught on and bought-in. In fact, they truly started making strides at the beginning of the season, scoring at least 27 points in every contest but one, against the defensive juggernaut of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
According to CoachingSearch.com, the Rams' offense is the eighth-most improved in the nation. CSU's O, led by coordinator Dave Baldwin, is scoring 33.1 points per game this season, 11.9 more than last year. In fact, the team only scored 27 or more in three of their 12 games last season, or one-quarter of the time. This season, it seems easy, at times, for their offense to produce.
Take the last three games for instance; Colorado State's scored 59, 27, and most recently 52 points in the Border War win. When the Rams ran up the score on UTEP a month ago, it was the first time they scored 50-plus points in nearly 10 years, and you have to go back to 1997 for the last time the green and gold scored 50-plus twice. Their average of 516 yards of total offense during those latest contests is stellar, and it's been the balance of both ground and aerial attacks that the Rams have relied upon.
Junior quarterback Garrett Grayson has stepped up and taken more of a leadership role, as McElwain called his interaction with senior center Weston Richburg in the locker room at halftime of the Border War a “passing of the torch” leadership-wise.
“I was talking to Weston (Richburg) at half and he was telling me, 'We've never had that boot, we've never even touched it. We don't know what it's like. Just please, get it for me. Get it for me.' I looked him in the eye and said, 'I'm going to do it,'” Grayson explained after the team's latest win.
At the same time, Grayson's play has elevated; he's averaged 279 yards, three touchdowns and one interception per game the last three weeks, playing with confidence and letting the game come to him. Grayson has checked down to shorter routes much more often and seems to simply be more comfortable in the offense. His three touchdowns passed the latest three games represent the first time a Rams QB has done so in 31 years.
Many times this year, he's connected with tight end Kivon Cartwright, who has found himself on the John Mackey mid-season watch list for the nation's top player at the position. Cartwright has scored six touchdowns to lead the team, the most for a tight end since Kory Sperry in 2008, who later played in the NFL.
When Grayson's not passing, he's handing it off to capable runners Kapri Bibbs and Donnell Alexander.
Bibbs is lightning in a bottle, constantly churning his legs, looking to push for the hard-earned yards and then – boom – he's gone for an explosive touchdown scamper. Bibbs now has nine total touchdowns, which is closing in on the total rushing touchdowns the team enjoyed last year, 12. He easily leads the team with 630 yards on the ground, fourth most in the Mountain West Conference.
Alexander, a more stand-up runner, enjoyed a break-out game last week with 111 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. While he ran well, mostly to the outside on zone-blocking plays, his spectacular one-handed catch down the sideline for a score in the third had to be a boost of confidence for both he and Grayson.
Over the last three games – in which CSU went 2-1 – they've averaged 226 yards per game rushing, including the extraordinary 290 yards when the offensive line dominated Wyoming's front. The Rams have been controlling the clock and keeping opponents' offenses off the field, which in turn, allows their defense time to rest and regroup.
Now, with woeful Hawai'i (0-6, 0-4 MWC) next up, allowing an alarming 35.3 points per game, the Rams (3-4, 1-1) have to continue their momentum and execute efficiently. If they do, Colorado State will be back to .500 and in need of only three more wins to make a bowl game for the first time since 2008.
Of course, good teams play well in all three phases of the game and CSU has benefited from decent defense and strong special teams play throughout the season. But if the Rams want to turn this program around, right now, they'll have to do it on the offensive side of the ball.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. Follow Rich on Twitter (@RichKurtzman) for all your CSU Rams news and opinion.