Garrett Grayson needed to step up Saturday and he did just that.
The junior quarterback – feeling the heat of two backups nipping at his heels – put together one of his best games statistically in his Colorado State career. He also came through on all the intangibles, leading by example and staying calm under duress.
Grayson started off hot, hitting tight end Crockett Gillmore for a 39-yard pass to set up Donnell Alexander's touchdown run on the next play. In fact, he went to Gillmore seven total times, a new personal best for the big man out of Texas.
On the next drive, the Rams' QB dropped back and connected with wide receiver Thomas Coffman on a skinny post, hitting him in stride for 46 yards, which set up the team's first field goal.
Then, his 23-yarder to Kivon Cartwright set up the second field goal, giving Colorado State the 13-3 lead.
In the second quarter, Grayson had maybe his best pass of his collegiate career, squeezing a ball into Coffman just before the smallish receiver was hit by a Cal Poly defensive back. The QB then completed a short one to Gillmore before throwing it backwards to offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo, who rumbled towards the goal line but was short. Colorado State scored on the next play though, to push that lead to 20-10.
Just before the end of the half, Grayson dropped back on third-and-one and calmly hit true freshman Rashard Higgins with a perfect pass in the end zone to push the Rams lead to 27-10 at the break.
His numbers at the half were great; completing 14-17 for 227 yards and 1 TD.
While he had a quiet third quarter, Grayson's first bad decision of the game came at the start of the fourth, when he tried to fit a pass into the double-covered Gillmore, which was almost picked off, but fluttered to the ground harmlessly.
He bounced back, though, putting together a game-finishing drive to secure the victory. Grayson rolled out to the right with the rest of his team, only to stop and pass back left to a wide open Cartwright for the nail-in-the-coffin touchdown.
“I think Garrett played a good game. That's what we expect out of him,” head coach Jim McElwain said of the effort. “Not anything spectacular. But, took care of the football. I thought down there in the red zone there he was growing up there towards the end...He didn't force the ball and those are all things, good quarterback play, and that's good.”
With another poor performance, Grayson was destined to ride the pine, and after the game he explained how it feels to be a starting quarterback with many fingers pointing your way when the team loses.
“It felt really good,” he said of the performance. “Obviously, I had heard what people had been saying about me and all that stuff. It hurt. I'd never been in that position before, so, it didn't feel good. Went out there, me and the receivers stayed after practice every day this week, tight ends, and we just played catch. And I just told them, that's all it is really. Just go out there and play catch. I'll throw you the ball, I'm not going to shy away from you at all. I think that was big.
“Me being doubted by a lot of people, it hurt, and I wanted to go out there and prove all them wrong. Because I know the kind of player I can be. Those first two games were not good on any part. And they weren't me at all. It made me happy to go out there today and show what I can do.”
He has a good point, those first two games from him weren't good, and they weren't really what we've come to expect from Grayson. Of course, we don't expect 297 yards – which tied a personal best – with two touchdowns for a 175.2 rating, either.
Whether McElwain or Grayson will admit it or not, this was arguably the quarterback's greatest game of his collegiate career.
While football games are never won by one person alone, Grayson's play went a long way in earning the team's first victory of the 2013 season. If he manages to play that well again, the Rams will almost certainly win, no matter the week.
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