In measuring stick game, Colorado State comes up just short against Minnesota

Collin Hill. Credit: Jesse Johnson, USA TODAY Sports

Close but no cigar.

In college football, there are no moral victories, only the ones which show up in the win-loss columns. And after their effort in Minneapolis against the now 3-0 Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Colorado State Rams (2-2) lost a game they could have stolen against a Big Ten opponent on the road.

Back to the drawing board. And back to the film study as the Gophers are who the Rams thought they were, and they let ’em off the hook.

That’s a testament to young, inexperienced players and not a knock on coaching. The fact that Colorado State was able to hang in the game and lose 31-24 – with a chance to win in the fourth quarter – is proof of a good gameplan. Still, youth burned CSU, although, those mistakes can be learned from.

Mistakes like freshman Collin Hill’s interception early on in the game, with his Rams in field goal range. Hill simply looked a little too amped on the throw, leading his receiver Marcus Wilson too much and turning the ball over. Then, CSU’s defense, full of youth, allowed Mitch Liedner to push the Gophers 94 yards for a touchdown drive.

What could have been a 7-0, or at least a 3-0 start for CSU, actually began 7-0 in favor of Minnesota. The Rams would try to play catchup all day from that point forward.

CSU fought back to tie the game, but then the mistake of the game happened when backup tight end Danny Nwosu was asked to block the freaky-good freshman defensive end Tai-yon Devers, who hit Hill so hard the ball popped out and his helmet popped off. Minnesota capitalized on that turnover with a touchdown.

Even when CSU’s defense stepped up to pick off Gophers quarterback Mitch Liedner, just before halftime, the offense couldn’t put points on the board and then Wyatt Bryan wasn’t close on a kick from 46 yards out.

Down 17-7 at halftime, the Rams could have been down only seven if that kick sails through the uprights.

In the second half, the two teams exchanged touchdowns with the Gophers keeping at least a seven-point lead the entire time. Colorado State’s defense missed far too many tackles throughout the game and made other boneheaded mistakes, like when converted receiver to cornerback Jordon Vaden had his back to the ball on Liedner’s rushing touchdown.

Still, youthful CSU kept fighting stalwartly, and with 6:24 to play, Hill connected with wideout Michael Gallup to bring the game to 31-24 Minnesota. When they had to have a stop, the defense forced a 3-and-out, setting up Hill with a legend-building drive opportunity. Faton Bauta actually started the drive, running for a 13-yard gain before being stoned for a two-yard loss. Hill pushed his Rams into the Gophers’ territory with two 10-yard passes to Nwosu, but the drive fizzled when his pass was batted down at the line on 4th-and-5.

Close, but no win.

“At the end of the day, they made more plays on third down, they secured a little bit better, but I believe we are close to becoming a pretty good football team,” Mike Bobo said. “The improvement from Week 1 to Week 4 is what you look for as a coach. I believe we are getting better. You like to get better and have a reward with a victory on the road against a Big Ten opponent, but that’s life sometimes. Like I told the guys, sometimes you don’t get what you want. You’ve got to answer and you go quit or go back to work and I expect us to go back to work.”

No moral victories in college football, but if the Rams’ two non-conference games against Power 5 teams were a measuring stick to evaluate where the program is, they’ve definitely improved over the course of the first four weeks of this season. In the Rocky Mountain Showdown, their lackluster performance wouldn’t have registered a reading on that measuring stick. In Week 4, the loss on the road to the Gophers was just-this-close to going into overtime.

What does it mean moving forward?

There are certainly a few positives to look for if you’re a Rams fan. First and foremost, Hill bounced back – literally bounced off the turf – from the interception and the sack-fumble. He could’ve pouted and complained, but he immediately went back to work. In the face of adversity and constant pressure, the freshman finished 15-30 for 182 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Certainly there were plays he’d like back and, with the way he’s worked to go from mid-year transfer to starting quarterback, he’ll learn from those costly mistakes.

In Hill, Colorado State has a quarterback. He could truly be something special with more experience under his belt.

For the defense, they simply have to continue to improve, as they’re a work in progress which will take all season if not longer. The tremendous turnover in talent as well as leadership — from Tyson Summers to Marty English — has hurt the unit who continues to show flashes of brilliance from time to time.

For Mike Bobo, calling the fake punt down 14 in the fourth quarter was the right call at the right time. Not just because it paid off – going from Hayden Hunt to Braylin Scott for 29 yards, turning into a touchdown eventually – but because it was a sign to his team he’s willing to gamble on them because he trusts them to execute. If and when the Rams are presented with a crucial fourth down again, Bobo and his team know they can convert if need be.

And going into a Big Ten opponent’s house, early in the morning and playing decently in all facets of the game will go far in boosting CSU’s confidence when conference play starts next Saturday with the Border War against the rival Wyoming Cowboys.

If Colorado State went to Minnesota and laid an egg in their first true road game of the season – like they did in the Rocky Mountain “Letdown” to begin the year – alarms would be going off in Fort Collins this morning with people questioning Bobo’s leadership and ability as a coach. Instead, this team, which is writhe with inexperience at key positions – namely quarterback, running back, receiver, linebacker and defensive back – played a tough, Power 5 opponent tough on the road.

No moral victories? Indeed. Don’t be surprised if this loss turns into more actual victories down the stretch of this current season, and ones in the future, too.