Story by Mike Brohard,

FORT COLLINS – The offseason was about change.

The goal was to create an offense which could threaten anywhere on the field and a defense, with a few holes plugged, to be extremely stingy. On both counts, Saturday’s opener with Washington State came up with questions still being asked.

Washington State left Canvas Stadium with a 50-24 victory, the Rams’ not showing any punch until after the game was out of reach with 31,494 in attendance, the fifth-best opening day crowd in program history. Colorado State did reach 300 yards of total offense, but the brunt came in the late surge. The defense, while producing a pair of turnovers, yielded 500-plus yards to Cam Ward and company.

“I think we’re capable of playing better. I really do,” CSU coach Jay Norvell said. “I’ve got to do a better job with them. That’s the bottom line.”

The opening drive suggested there was some air in the CSU offense. The rest of the half, the unit was on the highway shoulder with a flat.

After a 12-play, 55-yard drive which included four first downs led to a 38-yard field goal from Jordon Noyes, the final five drives of the first 30 minutes accounted for all of 16 plays, 32 yards and nary a first down.

Because of pressure? Not like last year. The Rams’ rebuilt offensive line didn’t give up a sack until the third quarter, the only one of the game by a WSU defense which collected seven a season ago.

At the break, the game was by no means out of reach. Norvell didn’t see what he hoped coming out for the second half as the deficit was 36-3 by the end of the third.

“I did not like the way we didn’t respond in the third quarter,” he said. “That was disappointing. I thought Brayden came in and did some good things. Clay kind of got dinged a little bit, and I really didn’t like the look in his eye, so we let Brayden play.”

Clay Millen exited the game after taking a hit in the third quarter, a drive after throwing a pick-six, the Cougars scoring touchdowns to bookend the play by defensive back Jaden Hicks on a 37-yard play. The WSU run didn’t end until Kobe Johnson broke loose for a 98-yard kickoff return for a score, the first for the Rams since 2019.

“The first game of the season, we can’t let this define who we are as a team. Offense, defense, special teams, there were a lot of great things; there were a lot of bad things,” Johnson said. “Have a short-term memory and know we can go out there and make some plays. Take some of those bad plays and continue to build on those good plays and we’ll be a good team.”

Ward finished 37-of-49 passing for 451 yards and three scores, adding a rushing touchdown. His only flaw was two fumbles in the game, the second coming off a strip sack by Mohamed Kamara.

Fowler-Nicolosi would generate a pair of scoring drives in the fourth, first hitting Justus Ross-Simmons for a 75-yard touchdown on a post route, then finding tight end Dallin Holker on the sideline in the end zone, a 20-yard score thanks to an acrobatic catch by the transfer from BYU. Fowler-Nicolosi, who started one game last year, had his best showing, throwing for 210 yards by hitting 13-of-20 passes.

“I see a little bit of a lack of confidence in our guys, especially when things weren’t going well,” Norvell said. “We have to fight through and breakthrough, and once you break through with that it kind of builds on itself. That’s something we’ve got to do a better job of.”

The Holker touchdown did allow the offense to hit a benchmark in the Norvell era – 20-plus points in a game for the first time. It’s a change, just not as much as the Rams expected.


Content courtesy of Colorado State University