Cornerback is arguably the most difficult position to play in the game of football, requiring guesswork regarding which way a receiver will break, and when, before reacting and making a play on the ball without so much as touching the receiver.
It’s almost an impossible task, and yet, a fearless few take on that tough test every week. That difficulty increases with the lack of playing time, which is a problem Colorado State knew they were facing when the season kicked off.
For Rams’ senior cornerback Kevin Nutt, though, his experience led to his ability to read and react with quickness when he stole the football away from Colorado receiver Devin Ross for an incredible interception as the two tussled on the turf at Mile High in Denver.
“First of all, I saw the formation they came out in,” Nutt explained post-Rocky Mountain Showdown Friday night, reading the Buffs’ playcall before the snap. “Normally, in that formation, they run a deep ball. The way he runs it is, if I’m on top of the route, he’s going to cut it down short and stop… When I turned back to the man, I saw the quarterback had released the ball, and I sprinted as fast as I could to get there. And when we went down to the ground, I saw him bobbling the ball. So I just hurried up, reached in there, took it out and rolled over with it.”
That interception was not only amazing, it was timely. The Rams had just stalled on another drive, when Nick Stevens pushed the ball slightly too high for Cameron Butler to reel in at the CU 1-yard line for a first down, and CSU trailed the Buffaloes 17-3. But with 8:14 left in the first half at the time of Nutt’s interception, it was just the kind of play the Rams needed to get back into the game. Alas, the offense – which coach Mike Bobo said missed assignments in his post-game presser, as well as opportunities – couldn’t gain a first down or score off the forced turnover.
Near the beginning of the fourth quarter, with the game still sitting at 17-3, Nutt again picked off Buffs’ new starting quarterback Steven Montez, this time in the end zone. CU, driving well, decided to go for it all on first-an-10 from the Colorado State 33-yard line. Instead, Montez put a little too much air under the ball, and Nutt was able to stay step-for-step with Ross, then turn around and steal the football once again.
“We were [working] to get the quarterback out of the pocket,” Nutt said of the second interception. “It was really [Montez’s] first time being the man at CU. And we knew that if we rattled him up a little bit, he’s going to make some mistakes. That was the main thing going into this game; make him get out the pocket and feel uncomfortable.”
With 13:35 left to play, Nutt — and the entire CSU defense, for that matter — had given the green and gold a chance to come back and win the game. Again, the offense — which had held this team up throughout the second half of 2016, as well as in this season’s opener — faltered and couldn’t turn the turnover into points.
When the all was said and done, Colorado State had lost for a third straight year to Colorado, 17-3, and the Rams fell to 1-1 on the season. Still, the defense could hang its hat on their performance, and Nutt enjoyed a great game himself, with five total tackles and the two interceptions. That superb play can’t get lost in the massive footprint of the Rocky Mountain Showdown, a game which featured blown penalty calls and stellar play at cornerback on the other side of the ball as well.
In a transitional year for Colorado State’s defensive backfield, Nutt is the senior stud the Rams must have play at an elite level for the green and gold to reach their lofty expectations. After all, they are starting a converted wide receiver to cornerback in Anthony Hawkins opposite of Nutt, and Hawkins was not only picked on against CU but in the ‘Week 0’ game against Oregon State as well. At safety, there’s Utah transfer Jordan Fogal and sophomore Jamal Hicks, while Jake Schlager is getting playing time, too. Simply put, it’s a completely new unit, and one which is struggling to find chemistry immediately, only two games into the season.
Now in his fourth year with CSU, Nutt has always played second fiddle to someone else, while also contributing on special teams. Nutt, the 5’10” senior, is the best corner in green and gold this year, and it’s clear he’s put in the work in the film study room to get the most out of his physical attributes. Speed is first among those; Nutt ran track in high school and returned a kickoff 96 yards to the house in 2015 for the Rams against Fresno State.
For his first two seasons, Nutt was more a specialist, working on the return and kickoff coverage units for his team. He worked and he waited, starting 11 games last season and recording a career-high 29 tackles with two tackles for loss and a pass breakup. He did lose his starting job, and yet, he worked through that challenge as well to gain it back.
“You’ve always got to stay confident,” Nutt said on Friday night. “Just because you lost your job doesn’t mean you lost it forever. When you lose your job, it helps you grow as a player and as a person, like, ‘OK, I need to be on top of my stuff and do better.’ You’ve got to look at it as a positive; just to keep on winning.”
He’s done just that, staying positive and setting up what is already looking like a special senior season. Through only two games, Nutt has recorded a total of 10 tackles, with two interceptions and a fumble recovery he enjoyed in the 58-27 win over Oregon State.
It’s not just an improvement for Nutt, who’s standing out early, but for the Rams’ defense on the whole. Last season, the defense struggled mightily, especially early, and improved as the year went on. What the group didn’t do well was force turnovers, with only 14 on the entire season. This year, through only two games, Colorado State has forced seven turnovers, with a plus-2 overall in that department.
“It’s just a different mindset we have as a secondary and as a whole defense,” Nutt explained. “Swarming to the ball, making plays, practicing even harder. The past two years, I don’t think we took practice as seriously as we should have. But this year’s a whole new defense; a whole new mindset. A fighter’s mentality is what we’re going to have all season.”
That “fighter’s mentality” is what former boxer and defensive coordinator Marty English wants the defense to have. When they do, they’ve got a “puncher’s chance” of winning games from the defensive side of the ball.
If they play as well as they did against CU — a high-flying offensive group — the defense will swarm Abilene Christian this Saturday at the new, on-campus stadium. It’s a game the Rams need to win as a bounce-back from the tough Showdown loss, especially with a meeting against Alabama in Tuscaloosa only two weeks away.
When the Rams host ACU this Saturday, wearing their orange ‘Ag Day’ jereys, look for No. 10 to continue to impact the game — and hopefully, in the turnover department once again.