Colorado State played their hearts out against No. 1 Alabama last Saturday, only to lose the game 31-6.
Everyone that watched knows it was a closer contest than the final score indicates, as the Rams defense held 'Bama's offense without a third down conversion for nearly the entire game while allowing them a mere 10 points scored through three quarters.
Yes, CSU lost, but there were still many lessons to be gained.
“We came off a great learning experience,” head coach Jim McElwain said Monday. “Learned a lot about our team; who we are and what we're capable of...I'm proud of our effort and how hard we played that game.”
McElwain's now seen what his team can do, that they can go toe-to-toe with the top team in the nation, now it must carry over to the rest of Colorado State's games this season. Starting with this week.
“To me, the tale for that question is on the horizon,” coach Mac said on what they've learned. “How we practice today; are we going to feel sorry for ourselves or are we going to go out and get better? How are we going to practice tomorrow? Am I going to have to get into their shorts to hit the accelerator? Well, if I do, then we haven't learned anything.”
“This football team cannot hide,” McElwain continued. “This coaching staff cannot hide. We put sound gameplans in, in all areas. Guys went and executed for the most part, at a high level. In other words; passionate, effort, physical, all that stuff. We are not talented enough to get an explosive play here and there and go win a game. We've got to play every single down with a passion and a vigor. We have to impose our will to get results, every down.”
It's a similar refrain to what he said last season following a win. He's seen what they can do, how hard they can play; now there are no excuses.
And at the same time, McElwain has come to grips with what his team is, that they must – as he always says – win every play in order to win any games.
“I think the proof is what we do here on out,” McElwain explained. “What did we get out of it? We'll find out when we play UTEP. We'll find out how hard we work in the bye week. We'll find out when we start conference play. We'll find that out as we move forward, with a lot of games left on our schedule, and one this week that – guys, it's Aggie Day, it's an orange out, it's a historical game for this university. It's their responsibility to give back to what came before them. We'll see what they do.”
Simply, after playing up to the level of the National Champion Crimson Tide, Colorado State should beat the pants off of 1-2 UTEP this Saturday.
If the Rams bring that same intensity on defense – that emotional fire which led to huge hits and timely stops – the Miners will find it difficult to run the rock. To wit, CSU allowed a mere 66 yards on the ground to Alabama, a feat in itself.
If CSU's special teams play well like they have all season – save the allowed punt block last week – it will help in the field position battle, certainly.
And if the green and gold offense can put together drives that end in touchdowns – like they did in the lone win of the season over Cal Poly – Colorado State will win easily.
But, if they forget how they played last week, if they go back to taking plays off and not paying attention to the details in practice, it will carry over to the game. The Rams will again lose the game while also losing all the confidence they gained in Tuscaloosa.
The telling contest kicks off this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. MT inside Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium. It will be an orange out to celebrate Ag Day and the Rams would love to have a big crowd out supporting them this week.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. Follow Rich on twitter (@RichKurtzman) for all your CSU Rams news and opinion.