How did Rams defense go from no-show to ‘whoa’ against Arkansas?

Jordan Fogal and Rashad Ajayi celebrate a play in the first quarter. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.
Jordan Fogal and Rashad Ajayi celebrate a play in the first quarter. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.

The first two weeks of this season, “Colorao” State played and lost two games; there was no “D.”

Against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, the run-and-shoot offense obliterated the Rams defense. In their second game, CSU’s defense looked uninterested in tackling, allowing Steven Montez, Laviska Shenault and others to walk all over them, and walk into the end zone repeatedly.

So, when the SEC came to town in the form of the Arkansas Razorbacks, there was no chance for Colorado State to win, right? Wrong.

And what led the Rams to their victory, most surprisingly, was that beleaguered and beaten-down defense.

“I think it started last week, I referred to it after the CU game,” safety Jordan Fogal explained. “I don’t think we prepared hard enough throughout the [Showdown] week and noticed the importance of it. I think this week, we completely changed. I don’t know if it had to do with we finally had film on an opponent or we were just fed up with getting beat.”

In the first half, Colorado State was more a “bend-don’t-break” defense, allowing Arkansas to go down field, but then stiffening up around the red zone, holding the Razorbacks to a mere 13 points in the first to quarters. Josh Watson’s key stop on one third down forced the Hogs into a field goal, and even on their touchdown drive, CSU was able to stop Arkansas and force a field goal, but Anthony Hawkins jumped offsides and the visitors marched in to score six.

Because of that solid defensive effort to begin the game, the Rams stayed within shouting distance, down 13-9 at the break, even though the offense struggled much of the day.

To start the second half, Arkansas was on fire. They scored two touchdowns and pushed their lead to 27-9; it was undoubtedly all over for the home team.

But wait; the offense finally came alive, scoring 25 unanswered points and were pushed by the defense, who allowed Arkansas to convert on third downs only 1-5 attempts in after halftime.

So, what changed? How could a defense who gave up 600-plus yards to Hawaii and 596 yards to Colorado all of the sudden play well enough to lead the team to a victory?

“A lot of that had to do with the preparation,” safety Jordan Fogal said. “This is the first opponent we got to watch film on from this season. So, that had a big impact on it, of course. But, the way we practiced this week, it’s night and day to where it’s been.”

“And one more thing,” senior linebacker Josh Watson interjected. “Just having preparation. This is Week 3 for us but Week 1 for having film on another team that’s played a game this year. Being able to have guys sit down and watch film, being prepared for the game…There’s nothing they showed today that we didn’t see on film.”

As Watson continued explaining, it’s difficult to predict what a team will do on offense this season by looking at film from last year. Personnel changes, coaches change, and so do their philosophies.

“As soon as we turned on the film Monday, it was a different vibe within the room,” Fogal said.

It’s not just that they finally had film on an opponent — which is one downside to playing in “Week 0,” no film for two straight games — it’s that guys like Watson and Jordan Fogal, two integral leaders, were feeling more comfortable in their leadership positions. And, players around them were accepting the on-field coaching, too.

“As a leader, me and Josh talk throughout the week all the time,” Fogal explained. “After the game we had to step up as the leaders of the team. We just weren’t being vocal enough. We weren’t putting our foot down in certain areas we needed to do it.”

After being blown out by the rival Colorado Buffaloes, Fogal questioned what the team needed, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Hawaii should’ve been a reality check, he said, explaining he was going to be a mean dude in the week following the Rocky Mountain Showdown slaughter.

“And I was,” Fogal said of being mean in meetings with his teammates. “I was mean all week.”

So, what changed for Colorado State?

Overall, the team played much more energetic from the first kickoff, showing they weren’t going to back down from Arkansas from the cream of the crop South Eastern Conference. The defense did a better job of containing the edge, something they couldn’t do at even a passable level against Hawaii nor CU, and the big boys up front actually got a push at times, with six tackles for a loss. And most importantly, they believed they could win, and believed in each other.

“This whole week, it’s been about faith and believing,” Watson explained after the win. ”

That win for Colorado State, now 1-2, not only proved to the players they can believe in themselves and the coaching staff, but to believe they can beat anyone on the football field.

Which came at the perfect time because they play against the SEC again, at the Florida Gators (1-1) this Saturday, after an 0-2 start which had even the biggest Rams fans thinking their green and gold would begin this campaign 0-4.

LISTEN: New CSURams Cast with a preview of CSU – Florida —

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