Column: Taking 11 weeks to play their best was too little, too late for Rams

Mike Bobo wearing his Comatose shirt. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Mike Bobo wearing his Comatose shirt. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

Colorado State Rams football nearly pulled off one of the greatest upsets in school history.

The beleaguered Rams, led by Mike Bobo dealing with health issues, had little to play for in terms of their season when Saturday’s game kicked off. At 3-7 pregame, they were already ineligible for their sixth straight bowl game, even if the fact it was Senior Day gave the Rams an emotional lift. But, even that would not be enough against a Utah State Aggies team who had won nine straight games and was ranked No. 14.

Still, Bobo’s Rams found a way to not only limit the greatest offense in the nation — Utah State came in averaging 51.3 points per game and the offense put up a mere 16 — and hang in there until the bitter end.

Literally.

In what was maybe the most bitter ending to a Colorado State football game in their history that dates back to 1893, the Rams took the lead with 1:36, lost the lead with only 43 seconds left on the clock, and then seemingly gained the lead and victory with the final play of the game.

Collin Hill tossed up a Hail Mary pass to freaky athlete Preston Williams, and Williams jumped up to secure the ball in the end zone. Game over, Rams win! Colorado State stormed the field; not the fans, there weren’t any in the stands at that point.

Not so fast. Williams ran out of bounds on his way to the end zone, a minor mistake that was costly in a major way. Since he was the first one to touch the ball after going out of bounds, it was ruled illegal touching, and the game was over. Rams lose.

“It was the ultimate high and then, pretty low,” starting quarterback Collin Hill said after the loss. “Thinking we won the game and then it gets kind of reversed on you.”

The Rams had beaten the best team in the Mountain West and one of the best teams in the entire nation, and then, they hadn’t.

But, what matters most is the way they played.

OK, what really matters most is winning the game, and Colorado State came up short. They fell to 3-8 on this long, dreadful season while Utah State improved to 10-1.

Still, losing 29-24 — and basically beating the Aggies before the play was overturned — is a drastic improvement on both sides of the ball than we’ve seen for most of this terrible season.

The fact that it came in Week 11, though, was too little, too late in the season.

“I was proud of the effort and the fight and the heart,” Mike Bobo said after the loss. “I thought we looked like a football team today, really the first time all year.”

College football is a crazy concept. For nine months of the year, people talk about college football; the games played the last year, the upcoming matchups, the could-be starters and more.

Then, once September arrives, the actual college football season comes and goes in a mere three months. One Saturday after another, football teams grind through their seasons, and most of the time, they gradually improve over the course of those 12 games.

This year from Bobo’s Rams, we’ve seen small, minor improvements, and even some of those have turned into regressions, depending on the week. And in every game the Rams have won, they’ve had to come back.

Simply, they’re not a good team, and that starts at the top, where Bobo has been quick to take on the blame.

That was again the case this Saturday, as Colorado State came back to beat No. 14 Utah State, but then didn’t. The difference here is that the Rams played a complete, solid game against the Aggies; it was clearly their best game played all year long.

The Rams out-gained the best offense in the nation 506-310 in yards, nearly doubled them up in first downs 29-16, and basically out-played the opponents in every facet.

So, what took so long?

“Sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want,” Bobo explained. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen the way you want. It’s been one of those years where we haven’t taken it from the practice field to the game field for whatever reason.”

For the Rams, we’ve seen a perfect storm of sorts come together this year. First and foremost, they returned a lowest in the nation 35 percent of their production from 2017; the lack of experience on both sides of the ball has been clear as day every Saturday.

Secondly, it wasn’t just the turnover on the field, but on the sidelines, too. Bobo brought in six new coaches and that shook up the hierarchy.

But that leads to the biggest factor in that perfect storm; Bobo’s health. Missing meetings to see doctors early in the season left him as the head coach, but it left more responsibility on the assistant coach’s shoulders. The key example was quarterbacks coach Ronnie Letson having to take over play-calling duties for the first four games.

Maybe that’s why Bobo stood on the sideline, in 28 degree weather Saturday — even with the peripheral neuropathy — in just a T-shirt. Not to just show he’s tough, but to show he’s boss.

As Bobo shivered through the postgame press conference, and showed his emotions a bit, it was clear losing that game hurt.

Make no mistake, losing any game hurts Bobo as much as it hurts his players. He’s bought into this program and he wants to build a winner. And as much as he and the players said there are no moral victories, his team played better today than they had all year long.

Wait, he’s right; there are no moral victories in college football.

And for his team to just now, after 10 weeks, play like they could — and maybe should have — all year long, is inexcusable.

This year is all but over, save the Thanksgiving bout against Air Force. But if the Rams take this long to find success in 2019, it’ll spell the end for Bobo in Fort Collins.

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