Shaquil Barrett went into beastmode Saturday.
Barrett, who's been the leader of a deep and talented linebacking corps for all of this season and some of last year too, went wild against the UTEP Miners.
Simply, no one was stopping “Sack” Barrett from inflicting his will. He did so all game long.
While his offense was starting hot as fire in their orange jerseys for Ag Day – scoring three times on their first four drives – Barrett was attacking the quarterback and anyone else in UTEP's white jerseys. Barrett recorded six tackles, one quarterback hurry and defended a pass in the first half, helping to force the Miners' offense off the field, putting the Rams' O in the position to score.
They did just that, hanging a 28-7 halftime lead on the Miners.
But the Rams were hit hard right out of halftime; UTEP's Jameill Showers let it rain, hitting receiver Jordan Leslie on a 75-yard bomb touchdown.
It wasn't just the huge score that hurt, but that junior cornerback Bernard Blake was also injured. He laid mostly motionless on the turf for minutes as the injury cart rolled out and trainers meticulously placed him on a stretcher, driving slowly off the football field.
That sequence of events seemed to take the wind out of CSU's sails; they started sinking.
The offense – which was nearly unstoppable to this point – coughed up the ball when senior running back Chris Nwoke fumbled it away. Two plays later, UTEP scored again on another deep pass play from Showers to Leslie.
After the offense failed to score again, the Miners capitalized and tied the game up at 28.
Shockingly, the Rams' three-score lead was erased in less than seven minutes. If this were the team of two years ago, they would have folded right then and there. But then it happened.
Barrett knew his team needed a play, something – anything – positive to remind his Rams they should be winning.
Showers dropped back and Barrett hit him hard, forcing a fumble that was recovered by UTEP. Two plays later, the senior linebacker did it again, except when the Miners' quarterback fumbled this time, he was in his own end zone, and when a teammate recovered the ball, it resulted in a safety.
It was the play needed to reverse the momentum that had been building in UTEP's favor all third quarter, and following those two forced-fumble sacks, the Rams never trailed again.
“We needed somebody to step up and make a play. I'm a leader on defense and I love leading by example. So I just put them on my shoulders and tried to get the defense going, get the whole team going,” he said plainly of the spectacular sacks which reversed momentum and gave CSU a chance to win. “It was a total difference. Our momentum shifted a lot. Everybody was back in the game. Everybody was more focused, a lot more energy from the previous series.”
When the game was said and done, Colorado State was victorious, winning 59-42, much thanks to Barrett's breathtaking performance.
Undoubtedly, this was the most dominant game the man from Baltimore, Maryland has ever put together, at least at CSU. His 13 total tackles easily led the team, while he also recorded four tackles for a loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and that defended pass.
In fact, Barrett actually had four total sacks, recording one in the first quarter by blowing past a would-be blocker, which was called back when Joe Kawulok was offside.
That's truly amazing.
On the season, he now has 12.5 tackles for a loss, which leads the Mountain West Conference, along with a team-leading 6.5 sacks.
Now Colorado State is 2-3 heading into their bye week with some positive momentum and Barrett can get some well-earned rest before the second half of the season and conference play kicks off.
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Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. Follow Rich on twitter (@RichKurtzman) for all your CSU Rams news and opinion.