Jim McElwain is trying his hardest.
Yet, Colorado State still can't put it all together.
Surprisingly the special teams unit has exploded onto the scene this season, the defense has been decent, but the offense still stinks.
Special teams boasts a 74-yard punt return touchdown, an 84-yard kickoff return, a forced fumble on a punt return and a blocked punt, all in only two games.
The defense has come along nicely as well and Coach Mac admitted they made the right play “98 percent of the time” against CU, allowing those two big pass touchdowns to kill them on poor communication. On Saturday night, the defense again held up for most of the game, but broke in the fourth quarter, allowing 13 points scored by Tulsa, and the 45-yard run by Trey Watts to set up the game-winning field goal.
Part of the problem is the defense being on the field for too long due to the offense's ineptitude.
McElwain, Garrett Grayson and anyone watching the Rams knows they have to convert more third downs and sustain drives to be successful, both on offense and by giving their defense the much-needed rest.
On Saturday, Colorado State went 4-17 on third down conversions, which is a pitiful 14.8 percent. Their conversion percentage on the season is 19.4; that won't be enough to win games against Division I opponents.
Part of the reason was Grayson, who threw high and over receivers multiple times on Saturday, even hitting Kapri Bibbs in the feet on a flat route on CSU's final and most important offensive play. Still, there were also many drops by those receivers throughout the contest. Both were problems in Week One as well, and each mistake compounds the offense's inability to move the ball.
While it wasn't nearly all his fault, some of the blame has to rest on the junior quarterback's shoulders. He finished the game 12-29 for 108 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions against Tulsa. It must be noted that both interceptions bounced off of Rams' receivers hands before they floated into the awaiting arms of a Tulsa defender, but in any case, those numbers simply won't be good enough for Colorado State to compete.
To wit, Jordon Vaden's phenomenal 52-yard reception was nearly half of Colorado State's passing total all day, a short pass he took downfield after side-stepping a would-be tackler with ease.
The Rams needed to attack down the field on big passing plays more, McElwain admitted after the Rocky Mountain Showdown loss, and they did just that. Sometimes the missed opportunities were Grayson's fault – he overthrew an open Thomas Coffman by three yards on one bomb – and others weren't. He tossed the pigskin up to freshman receiving sensation Rashard Higgins on on deep ball, and instead of catching the well-placed football with his hands, Higgins let it bounce off his shoulder pads and tumble to the ground.
And what about those talented tight ends everyone was ranting and raving about all preseason? Kivon Cartwright caught three passes Saturday, but for a mere two yards, while Crockett Gillmore has zero catches on the season. It was the unlikely Joe McKay, the backup tight end, who caught CSU's first touchdown of the day.
The one bright spot for the green and gold's offense was the running game, as both Chris Nwoke and Kapri Bibbs enjoyed good days. Nwoke racked up 97 yards and one score, including the 56-yard scamper when he broke through the Tulsa defense in the second half. Bibbs was again electric; he finished with 83 rushing yards and his 9.2 yard per carry average was amazing.
But when it mattered most, they couldn't push the pile, they couldn't get the all-important yards to move the chains and run the clock out on the Golden Hurricane. While leading in the fourth quarter, they went three-and-out twice, giving Tulsa's offense an opportunity to tie up the game. Then, with it tied, CSU went three-and-out and then two-and-out when Grayson intentionally grounded the ball, which set up the huge run by Watts on the Rams' worn out defensive unit.
In Week One, Colorado State held the slight 24-23 edge entering the fourth quarter, and on Saturday, the Rams led by 10 points in the fourth before falling off a cliff.
CSU still has to learn how to finish, how to compete throughout the entire contest, before they can win games.
There have been flashes of brilliance from the football team, but until they can play with more consistency, it will be difficult to argue they're tangibly improving.
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