One loss down, one quarterback down for Colorado State football.
After a spring, summer and fall camp worth of competition with one another, head coach Mike Bobo named redshirt junior Nick Stevens the Rams starting quarterback heading into the Rocky Mountain Showdown. When Stevens struggled mightily, he was pulled, and Georgia graduate transfer Faton Bauta was inserted into the game, leading CSU to their only score of the day in the 44-7 blowout loss last Friday.
Following the largest loss of Bobo’s tenure at Colorado State, the head coach said he was embarrassed and that the team embarrassed the school’s name. He also said he’d reevaluate the quarterback competition, which led to Bobo naming Faton Bauta the starting quarterback for this Saturday’s game against the UTSA Roadrunners.
“Faton Bauta will start this week at quarterback,” Bobo explained Monday during his weekly press conference. “Nick didn’t play particularly well. I didn’t think we gave Nick a lot of help offensively, but at the end of the day, we still turned the ball over and failed to make some routine plays. We’ve addressed it with Nick and Faton and Faton’s going to start.
“He gave us a little more energy,” Bobo continued on Bauta.
Stevens certainly played poorly, going 6-20 for only 31 yards with two interceptions. He didn’t make the routine play, as in, he didn’t hit receivers in the hands on short routes. But what was worse from Stevens was locking in on receivers and forcing passes when they weren’t open. It happened twice in a row as he tried to connect with Michael Gallup on deep passes down the seam despite Gallup being double-covered.
And on fourth-and-8, Stevens again locked in, this time on fullback Dalton Fackrell, floating over the intended receiver’s head and into the awaiting arms of a Buffs defensive back. Down 34-0 midway through the third quarter, the game was basically over at that point, which is when Bauta entered the game.
On Bauta’s first play, the Rams ran a reverse with Gallup gaining 12 yards and a first down. Then the team ran with Dalyn Dawkins twice, utilizing Bauta in a read-option like way, adding an element of misdirection. Then, on third-and-4, Bauta completed a pass to Gallup for 8 yards, continuing the drive in CU territory. Again, he connected with Gallup on first down before taking off on a designed run up the middle for 24 yards to the Buffs’ 10. The quarterback jumped up and signaled a first down in what he said following the game was something just in the heat of the moment, down 37-0. And on the first play of the fourth quarter, Bauta found slot receiver Marcus Wilson open in the end zone, connecting with him for CSU’s first and only score of the day.
Simply, the offense had life, found a spark with Bauta in the game Friday night. Though, it was “garbage time,” with the game already decided, so it will be interesting to see how the offense responds with the graduate transfer calling the snaps all game long, Saturday.
Here’s how playing Bauta changes the offense: Being fleet of feet, Bauta adds a new dimension as he’s liable to take off for a run at any time. The Rams playcalling was more diverse, more creative and more effective. It also centered around the run more, with those misdirections being utilized, as well as play-actions.
On Monday, I asked Bobo if playing Bauta changes his offense, he responded, “We didn’t throw the ball particularly well on first or second down, period, either quarterback. You talk about being able to take some pressure off offensively by calling plays, passes, which will help you, whichever quarterback is in there, and I failed to do that in this football game. Whether we complete them or not, calling some first and second down passes.
“We’ve got to figure out what we can do well, what Faton can do well,” Bobo continued. “To make some routine plays. And we had a chance to make some routine plays throwing the ball and we didn’t do it.”
While watching the Rocky Mountain Showdown, CSU’s offense was predictable in calling run plays on first and second downs over and over again. But in football, the element of surprise will help win the day, win the play and ultimately to win games.
That’s where Bauta’s dual-threat ability comes into play. Expect Bobo to run the ball more with Bauta, given that the graduate transfer from Georgia is skilled at making plays on the ground. Expect CSU to run the ball with Dalyn Dawkins repeatedly, as he was the lone bright spot for the Rams offense during the Showdown last Friday. And then, once the run is established, look for Bobo to call a deep passing play or two, setting up the pass with the run.
As Bobo said on Monday, Faton, “Has to hit his targets,” and given his mere nine passing attempts in the Showdown, don’t be surprised if Bauta is limited in his throws this week. While Bauta has a live arm, his throws have repeatedly sailed receivers since coming to CSU, although most of those passes were in practices or scrimmages.
The Rams, who were always expected to be run-first, will be even more run oriented as long as Bauta is in the backfield. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it may lead to more creative play-calling, which worked against the Buffs of the Pac-12.
Simply, CSU needs a win in the worst way this weekend in the home kickoff of the Farewell to Hughes season. Whatever Bobo has to call – be it end-arounds, read-options or QB keepers – he should, and it sounds like he’s willing to do whatever it takes offensively to play winning football.
CSU (0-1) – UTSA (1-0) is scheduled for a 2 p.m. MT kickoff at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 10.