Colorado State did what they needed to Saturday, they handily defeated the sorry San Jose State Spartans 42-14.
Outside of SJSU’s quick, early score to take the 7-0 lead, it was basically a perfect game for Mike Bobo’s Rams on Senior Day, the finale of this 2017 regular season.
Colorado State came back after allowing that touchdown to score five straight TDs of their own and cruise to victory by both running the ball down the Spartans’ throat and passing well, to wide open receivers, and allowing them to make some magic on the way to the end zone.
Senior Dalyn Dawkins was dynamic, running for 138 yards and a score while also catching three passes for 37 more yards. Freshman tight end Cameron Butler caught a pass up the sideline and cut inside to juke a defender, while Olabisi Johnson’s juke-TD was something special.
“I was proud of the guys for coming out and finishing,” Bobo said of his seniors as well as his team in general. “It’s been a difficult last three weeks, but our guys responded and came out and finished the way I wanted to in the regular season. And now we’ve got to finish the school year, focus on academics. And then get ready to play a bowl game, wherever we go to and hope they finish strong.”
It was a difficult three weeks for CSU Football and the win against a sad, 1-11 San Jose State team was much-needed in Fort Collins.
After starting conference play perfectly, at 4-0, they were completely blown out by Air Force in a game which the defense didn’t show up. Then, the defense ran out of steam in snowy Laramie, coming up short against a second rival team in two weeks. A third straight loss, this time to Boise State – likely the most devastating one due to the collapse at the end – dropped the team out of Mountain West Championship consideration as they fell to 6-5 on the season.
But the Rams showed resolve, picking themselves up from those three straight losses, leaning on senior leadership from players like Dawkins, linebacker Evan Colorito and quarterback Nick Stevens.
“It’s important as a quarterback to ignore the positive things and the negative things. You can’t ride too high or ride too low,” Stevens said after the win. “I think I’ve been able to stay steady and worry about the guys in the locker room, the culture we’re creating. And do what I can to contribute to success.”
After throwing three interceptions against Air Force, Stevens – like his team – bounced back to toss five touchdowns compared to one interception (and one fumble) in the Rams last three games. He didn’t get down on himself, but instead, was stalwart in his approach to winning football games.
It wasn’t just Stevens’ leadership, but a whole host of seniors listed here and ones we haven’t mentioned in this piece, who helped steady the ship and finish the regular season with a victory, to end the year 7-5 for a third straight season.
And, next year, the Rams will lose a lot of that senior leadership. But, they all have one more game to push themselves and their teammates, one more game to play at the college level, one more chance to win.
This season started, as Nick Stevens told us during Media Day, with high expectations. His expectations were “…to go 14-0 with a Mountain West Championship.”
Those chances sailed in the three-game skid, but what they can do, and need to do, is win the bowl game.
Colorado State, at 7-5, is one of at least six Mountain West teams to become bowl eligible already, and UNLV can do so with a win this week. What it means for the Rams is likely playing in the Idaho Potato Bowl for a second straight year, playing in the Hawai’i Bowl, or possibly the New Mexico Bowl. There are a few other possibilities as well, but no matter where Colorado State plays, winning the bowl game must be the focus.
In the inaugural Arizona Bowl, CSU was unlucky to face conference foe Nevada and the Rams were beaten in the end 28-23 as time ran out when Jordan Vaden failed to get out of bounds. Last year, the Potato Bowl was played on an ice rink, which for some reason, didn’t affect the Idaho Vandals as negatively as it did the Rams. Idaho scored 41 straight points during the second and third quarters and even a late-game scoring fest for CSU couldn’t overcome the deficit, losing 61-50.
This 2017 season has already come up far short of expectations, both from inside and outside the locker room, where fans and media thought the Rams could compete for the conference championship for the first time since 2002. But, where they can still salvage something positive, outside of the win over SJSU, is to win in the bowl game, wherever they play, and whomever they play.
For Bobo, three years have netted a decent, winning 21-17 record. He’s recruited well, getting bigger, faster, stronger athletes than Colorado State was used to in the past. He has a mostly solid coaching staff and delivers consistent messages to the team about never being satisfied.
But, in the “big games,” he’s gone 3-15. Those include games against P5 schools, games against Boise, Wyoming and Air Force and in the two bowl contests.
Winning this December may just be an “exhibition” bowl game, but it would do three positive things for Bobo’s Rams.
First and foremost, it would be Bobo’s first head coaching bowl win. Secondly, it shows recruits the Rams are continuing to develop something special as their program takes another step forward in growth. And, finally, it sends the team off on a high note, as 2018 will be truly something special in Fort Collins.