Potentially the most significant takeaway from what was a monumental, signature, come-from-behind victory over Arkansas was the performance of Colorado State’s defense.
After showing no signs of improvement through the first two games of the 2018 season, CSU’s defense displayed that it is capable of being an effective unit. It wasn’t just that the Rams lacked progression, it seemed as if the CSU’s defense may have even regressed from last season before the Arkansas game.
Through the first two games, Colorado State was allowing an average of 606.5 total yards per game. Against the Razorbacks, however, the Rams allowed only 437 yards.
The improvement in yardage allowed, and the fact that CSU surrendered 27 points to Arkansas after allowing 45 to Hawaii and 43 to Colorado reflect a step in the right direction.
“Those guys responded,” head coach Mike Bobo said after the biggest win in his tenure at Colorado State. “It gets tense down there….It gets firey and those guys answered the bell. They didn’t grow weary. They said, ‘We are going to come out and play good defense and do our job,’ and that’s what we did.”
Overall, CSU’s defense certainly improved. However, the Rams’ third down defense was the most encouraging aspect moving forward.
Arkansas simply found no solution in terms of converting on third down. The Razorbacks converted only 4-10 third down attempts in the first half. In the second half, CSU’s defense stood even taller on third down. In total, Arkansas went 5-15 on third down.
Statistically, CSU’s third down defense wasn’t exponentially better than it was in its first two games. However, the key point here is that, unlike against Hawaii or CU, the Rams’ defense came through on third down in crucial situations.
The most relevant instance of this came with 3:40 remaining in the game, after CSU had already erased an 18-point deficit to even the score at 27. Arkansas faced a third and three from its own 36 and desperately needed a conversion to halt the Rams’ rapidly increasing momentum.
The result was an Emmanuel Jones sack. The Razorbacks were forced to punt and the Rams went on to score the game winning touchdown shortly after.
That was one of many pivotal third down stands for CSU’s defense. On the drive before, Preston Williams cut the deficit to three with 11:07 remaining in the game, and then CSU’s defense came up clutch with a third down stop. Pressure on quarterback Cole Kelley forced him to throw the ball away on third and eight, quickly giving the Rams the ball back after a three-and-out.
Simply put, CSU’s third down defense played a major role in controlling the momentum of the game and significantly helped the Rams come out victorious.
Turnovers were key as well. In fact, senior safety Jordan Fogal’s interception on the third play from scrimmage in the game truly set the tempo for CSU’s defense. This undoubtedly gave the unit much-needed confidence that it maintained for the rest of the game.
“It’s huge, especially with the offense we have,” Fogal said of his interception. “If you start out the game on defense and then you have points in the first two minutes of the game, that is huge.”
CSU’s other forced turnover was sophomore defensive end Emmanuel Jones’ interception, which was also key for Rams. Coincidentally, his came on third down as well, late in the first half. Jones tipped the ball up and managed to come down with it. CSU then found a way to wake its offense up and drive down the field for a field goal before halftime.
That leads us into key individual performances within the Rams’ defense. Jones deserves being the first one mentioned here. Besides his game-changing sack and interception, the sophomore had three solo tackles, two tackles for loss, and one quarterback hurry.
Jones provided the most impactful performance of his career. The defensive end seemed to never take his foot off the gas.
“The dude is a monster,” Fogal said of the defensive end. “If you watch him on film he’s just ragdolling tackles and tight ends. We see it everyday. But when he’s mentally locked in the sky’s the limit for him. He’s worked so hard and dealt with all of those injuries. It’s just great for him to have this moment on this stage against that opponent. But it’s just the start for him.”
Fogal, the sixth-year safety, was also an important contributor to the defensive success. Besides his early interception, Fogal provided lock-down coverage on a third and three to force a punt on the Razorbacks’ possession immediately after his interception. That is when it was truly evident that the Rams’ defense came to play.
“We know what we are capable of,” Fogal said. “I think during this week’s preparation we really exposed our true identity. We approached the game that way. Having film on our opponent for the first time this year really helped our confidence.”
Redshirt junior defensive back Braylin Scott supplied more evidence that he will be a difference-maker in the secondary. After missing the entire 2017 season, Scott set a single-game record with 10 total tackles against Hawaii two weeks ago. Scott matched that number against Arkansas last night.
CSU’s defense has reason to take pride in the role it played against Arkansas. However, it was only one game. Obviously, the goal is to maintain this level of play moving forward.
“Obviously tonight is going to give our guys confidence,” Bobo said. “But we have to continue to do the things we did this week to help us make those plays.”