OPINION – Two steps forward, three steps back.
In this, Jim McElwain's second year as Colorado State's head football coach, obstacles which may have looked like foothills have become mighty Rocky Mountains.
The Rams haven't been able to scale the mountain – or ascend the Mountain West Conference – yet.
On Monday, McElwain mentioned his Rams have reverted back to old ways at times, at least in the defensive backfield.
Two steps forward and three steps back?
“It's like me trying to swim,” McElwain explained. “I'm not very good at it. And it seems like sometimes I'm in place. My dog paddle's not great.”
Simply, Colorado State hasn't improved to this point as much as their coach would have hoped.
It hasn't been for a lack of effort or preparation, though. McElwain has been hammering home what he knows are winning philosophies, smartly staying the course rather than abandoning the caravan. His team has slowly come along, learning it's all bout doing their job – and not more than that – on the next play; by having a short memory and doing what they're told, CSU has improved.
70 percent of the way through this season, Colorado State has won as many games – four – as they did in the entirety of last season. And it's not just that they've won, but how, which is encouraging.
In those victories, the Rams have run the ball really well, averaging 252 yards per game on the ground. Running the ball that well by utilizing their outstanding offensive line has helped CSU control the clock and put up a great deal of points. In the wins, McElwain's team has scored an average of 45 points – with two games of 52-plus – utilizing offensive efficiency. A major downfall of the offense to this point has been its inability to convert third downs on a consistent basis, but in the wins, the Rams convert those key downs exactly 50 percent of the time. That's great, especially compared to their total season average of 38 percent.
“We've got to keep producing like we have been.”, explained Weston Richburg, a senior leader on the offensive line. “We had 600-something total yards (against Boise State). We take pride in that. And we want to continue doing that these next four games.
“The style that we've started to develop is one that's going to wear down the defense,” Richburg continued. “We had 109 total plays, that's going to wear down a defense. They had to rotate, a lot.”
Still, the Rams had won two straight games on the road and had an opportunity to beat Boise at home last Saturday but failed to do so. CSU even led 17-14, then allowed the Broncos to score 28 unanswered points to cruise to victory inside Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium.
This team has gotten better, there's no doubt about it, but every time they take two steps forward, it's like they take three steps backward.
“You've got this fine line, I mean it's just so little, from good to great,” said McElwain. “What is that? Part of that is an attack mode mentality. But part of that also is, there comes a time where you've got to put down on paper your beliefs, you've got to put down on paper where you're at. And understanding, take it from the faith, the thought, the belief to tangible evidence. What is that fine line?”
McElwain's Rams are trying to cross over that line from good to great – which would be amazing in only the second year of a rebuilding project – but, unfortunately for fans, it looks like they won't get there this year.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. Follow Rich on Twitter (@RichKurtzman) for all your CSU Rams news and opinion.