Like a ripe spud, cut up meticulously, then dipped in hot oil, the Colorado State Rams football team was fried in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Thursday night. They were also mashed and then smashed, losing 61-50.
In wild fashion, the Rams jumped out to a 7-0 lead when Olabisi Johnson flew into the open field — following an Idaho defender slipping on the ice rink…er…blue turf — and Nick Stevens connected with his receiver for an un-touched touchdown.
Maybe, at that very moment, CSU got overconfident. Maybe they thought they’d walk all over the Idaho Vandals, a team who’s dropping from the FBS to the FCS soon. Rams fans expected a blowout win. But what they got was a blowout loss which wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
Colorado State couldn’t wrap-up — a problem we saw this season, especially early on in the year — as Idaho ran the ball all over the Rams and ran the score up, too — 41 unanswered points by the Vandals. Fourty-one.
Where was the fight? Where was the will? Where was that championship mentality and that attitude of being “never satisfied?”
While the defense — depleted due to suspensions (O’Shea Jackson, Deshon Mayes) and injuries (Kevin Nutt’s concussion during the loss) — played like a shadow of the unit we saw against New Mexico and San Diego State to end the season, the offense was even worse, save that touchdown drive.
CSU’s series to start the Potato Bowl looked like this: Turnover on downs, interception, punt, punt, touchdown, punt, punt, end of half.
Meanwhile, Idaho put three touchdowns on the board just before halftime, including an embarrassing 26-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Saunders which featured multiple missed tackles. Still, it was 20-7 at the break, and the Rams had a chance to fight their way back into the contest.
Instead, they rolled over — and slipped all over the place — while Idaho ran the score up. It was 55-21 with 24 minutes to go, and the game was over at that point. Unfortunately for Colorado State, the offense finally came alive, but the three straight touchdowns were too little, too late.
CSU lost 61-50 in the Potato Bowl, a second straight bowl loss under Mike Bobo and a third straight as a program.
But when you look closely at this 2016 season, the bowl loss was indicative of the type of year the Rams went through.
Tumultuous. Turbulent. Loaded with turnover.
To begin the season, Colorado State looked like a high school team trying to play with Colorado. It would be a long year on the defensive side of the ball, and after one game, the team had played its top two quarterbacks already, while failing to find a run game. But it was early.
The Rams ran off two wins against lower opponents they had to beat (UTSA and Northern Colorado) before a close loss in Minnesota. Inexperience at quarterback and running back, with true freshmen Collin Hill and Marvin Kinsey turning the ball over in Minneapolis, left the team at 2-2.
Then, the blowout loss in the final Border War in Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium history left fans, and the team, in dismay. Somehow, they bounced back to beat the Utah State Aggies the next week, pulling to 3-4, but the Rams lost Hill with a torn ACL.
That’s when the 2016 Rams finally, truly took shape.
It was Stevens’ team again and he played lights-out to end the regular season. 1,400-plus yards, 14 scores and only one interception? It was enough to earn him All-MW honorable mention.
Stevens nearly led a comeback at Boise State — that same cursed, blue turf the Rams have never won on — but that fell short.
Over the team’s last five games, they went 4-1, a season finish which was similar to 2015’s 4-0 ending. Mike Bobo brings his team together and they clearly improve as a cohesive unit as the season goes on. It’s a trend we’re witnessing unfold in Fort Collins currently.
Remarkably, it wasn’t just the offense — which set the world on fire in some games — but the defense, too, which was much-improved in the second half of the season. Marty English’s group, which looked completely lost in Week 1, held Boise to 28 points, UNLV to 23 and then shut-out Fresno State. It was Colorado State’s first shutout since 1997, nearly 20 years ago.
Of course, Air Force and the triple-option offense, which always gashes CSU, destroyed that defense which was on a high. Even Stevens and breakout receiver Michael Gallup couldn’t do enough to beat the Cadets in Colorado Springs, losing 49-46.
But the defense bounced back once again, slowing New Mexico’s triple-option and the best running team in the country, to win 49-31 and become bowl eligible.
And Mike Bobo’s Rams didn’t just quit there, they weren’t satisfied to become bowl eligible, they went into San Diego and destroyed the Mountain West champion San Diego State Aztecs 63-31 in a dazzling display of offense fans hope becomes the signature of CSU’s O. 63 points set a new Rams record under Bobo and gave everyone ideas of putting an insane number on the scoreboard once again.
Instead, the Rams fell flat on their faces — literally, due to the icy and dangerous field in Boise, Thursday night — and figuratively, too, while they were Vandal-ized on national television.
To be beaten is one thing, to allow an opponent to run 41 straight points up — and 61 total — on ESPN is embarrassing. Especially when that opponent is Idaho.
But, that’s why this 2016 team will forever be undefinable. They weren’t terrible or amazing on offense, they were inconsistent while showing flashes of brilliance. They weren’t horrible at tackling all the time, but they weren’t the defense that shut-out Fresno, always, either. Again, inconsistencies ruled the day on defense.
One thing is for sure, though: This could’ve been a transitional team which lost far more games, one which could have missed out on a bowl all together.
Instead, they rallied around Stevens, around Gallup, around Kevin Davis and Bobo, too.
Sadly, that Rams rally, which could’ve defined the entire season, ended short and the team finished 7-6.
But a loss this stinging as the last game of the year? Better believe Bobo will use it to motivate his boys going into 2017.