When the Rams have the ball this Saturday, don’t turn away, because in the blink of an eye you could miss Michael Gallup galloping down the field to the end zone.
Currently at 4-4, with four games to play, the Colorado State Rams have improved greatly since that Rocky Mountain let-down, and even though there are still many inconsistencies the team can correct, the offense has benefitted from the breakout season of their playmaking wide receiver.
Gallup has caught a touchdown in five of the last six games for Colorado State, with his team going 3-2 in recent games he’s scored in. He isn’t just putting points on the board, though; Gallup has enjoyed numerous explosive plays, going 45, 53 and 60 yards on three separate scores.
“We’ve got one guy at receiver who’s an explosive playmaker right now, No. 4,” Rams head coach Mike Bobo said of Gallup during Monday’s weekly press conference.
Two weeks ago, in CSU’s last game before the bye week, Gallup caught a 36-yard, back-shoulder beauty thrown by Nick Stevens, as well as other key passes. It was a play that could only be made if both the receiver and quarterback were on the same page, which they clearly were, and then Gallup made the extra efforts to spin away from one defender, accelerate, and then spin into the end zone as he was being hit. That score put the UNLV Rebels away as it put the Rams up 42-17, and they eventually won 42-23.
“One on one and he’s not looking, you have the advantage if the quarterback and receiver are on the same page. I thought they were there,” Bobo said of the 36-yard dagger which ended a 17-point UNLV scoring streak. “And it was a result of us finally getting it right.
“We’re getting closer to where we want to be, on the same page,” Bobo continued. “On the post throws, we threw one behind him and then we completed one, then hit a deep ball to him. So, I think Michael’s understanding how to run routes, the quarterbacks are getting on the same page of how he runs it.”
For the junior college transfer, learning the offense was his first major hurdle. He struggled to run the right routes, leaving him on a different page than his quarterbacks. Of course, with three different gun-slingers playing in the first two weeks, it made building chemistry that much more difficult. Gallup and true freshman Collin Hill were connecting before Hill was injured, and Gallup has become Nick Stevens’ favorite target, too.
Gallup’s breakthrough performance came against Utah State, a comeback win which is a season-defining victory to this point. Down 14 to start the second half, against a solid defensive team, the Rams could’ve folded like they did against Wyoming in the second half of the Border War. Instead, the defense forced a punt, then Gallup went to work. He caught a 14-yard pass from Hill to start the drive, then, three plays later, the Georgia boy went 60 yards to the house to lift the spirits of his team and help them rally to the win.
As a first-year player, Gallup wasn’t available to the media until this career game (7 catches, 140 yards), but then told us of the play, “Everybody had their emotions flying after that. The defense played well, and everybody gets a spark after that.”
It wasn’t just the first explosive game for the Rams – after scoring 10 points on their first two drives, CSU punted three times and turned the ball over on downs twice – but it was also the first, meaningful, explosive play of the season for the green and gold.
In fact, as much as that game was season-defining, that play was season-saving. If CSU loses to Utah State, after narrowly losing to Minnesota and laying an egg in the second half of the Border War, and the Rams also lose Hill to the knee injury against the Aggies, their season is likely sunk.
Instead, CSU came back, scoring 21 second-half points, led by Gallup’s where-did-that-come-from catch and run to the end zone.
Now, as the Rams leading receiver with 36 receptions for 570 yards and five TDs, the question isn’t “Who will make a play?” but “When will Michael Gallup gallop to the end zone again?”
“No. 1, he’s made plays with the ball in his hands, after he makes the catch,” offensive coordinator Will Friend said Monday. “I think Mike has done a really good job of that the last couple weeks. It’s hard, as an offense to go 10-, 12-play drives on a consistent basis. I think he’s a guy that can make plays in a hurry for you offensively. That’s been a big plus.”
The most encouraging thing about Gallup is the fact he hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling yet.
“He’s got to keep doing what he’s been doing to improve and get better,” Friend continued. “I think that (chemistry) comes with more time playing together, the more practice time. And I think you’ll continue to see those two (Stevens and Gallup) get better.”
This Saturday, Gallup and Stevens look to lead the Rams offense to a win against a down-and-out Fresno State Bulldogs team. That penultimate game at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium kicks off at 1:30 p.m. MT.