Saturday, September 18, 2021

2021 Rams Recap - Week 2 - This SECs

I spent a chunk of last Saturday watching the Rams give away their only winnable non-conference game. 

I spent a chunk of last Sunday looking for a win on the remaining schedule. 

We are in trouble, folks. 

Vanderbilt is in (arguably) the best football conference in the country. Surprisingly, they are also incredibly terrible at football and have been for years. In 2019, they were 3-9. In 2020, they were 0-9. In 2021, they lost to mediocre FCS East Tennessee State University in their opening game before heading to Fort Collins. Everything was set up for an easy victory for the Rams and the first half played right into the predicted narrative. Despite two missed field goals, CSU had a 14 point lead when a Ryan Stonehouse punt was tipped and redirected out of bounds near midfield with 1:57 left in the second quarter. The Commodores walked down the field, scored their first points to make it a 7 point deficit at the half, and changed the vibe of the entire game. 

After halftime, the Commodores made adjustments to their failing game plan. The Rams... did not. An early second half Centeio interception led to the tying Commodores score. Then they took the lead with a touchdown on their next possession. Punts were exchanged for a majority of the second half until the Rams reached desperation mode and drove the field to tie the game with a Trey McBride (still really good) touchdown on fourth down. Unfortunately, the Rams left 3:00 on the clock, which Vanderbilt used to get into field goal range, kick a 38 yard field goal, leave 0:19 for the Rams to do nothing with, and tear the hearts out of fans already beaten down and abused by their football program. 

- The Rams racked up 115 yards of penalties including two targeting calls. 

- The secondary continues to be bad - pass interference calls, blow coverages, and open receivers downfield. 

- The Rams missed two field goals in the first half. 

- Dante Wright got hurt. 

- The coaching staff continues to lean on their guys - transfers from Temple and Boston College who just are not getting it done.

- That misplaced loyalty applies to one of the most frustrating positions thus far: the quarterback play was bad. No better way to explain it than this stat: the Rams were 4 of 15 on 3rd down. 

But we should talk about the positives, right coach?

The coach is out here yelling at reporters for asking questions of a coach who has gone 1-5 in his time here, has been an average (at best) head football coach for his entire career, just lost to a team who has not won a football game in two years, and all while the landscape of college athletics is shifting while CSU's terrible football program keeps us on the outside looking in. But yeah, let's focus on the positives... 

Here is a positive, coach. Ryan Stonehouse is a goddamn beast. 

I know we are are only two games into the season but any hope for success is waning rapidly. This is a bad team being coached by a staff that I do not trust to make the improvements across the roster to change the results. I definitely do not trust the staff to make the best decision for the program by making a change at quarterback. Addazio remains ridiculously loyal to Centeio, despite his obvious shortcomings. Addazio will continue to blame the losses on injuries or suspensions or whatever deflects away from the real problem - a mediocre coach struggling to lift up a football program that has been in the dumps for years. Vivens has been the most explosive runner out of the backfield, yet carries for both Vivens and McElroy are hard to come by. The supposed strengths of the program (specifically the OL) has been porous. Our vaunted defensive front has not been able to overcome the shortcomings of the secondary. Our kicker is a liability. And our quarterback is not good enough - his limitations restrict what the offense can do and opposing defenses can feast on our scheme. We are over it. 

Back to my earlier statement: where can CSU dig up a win in the remaining schedule? My preseason post predicted four Rams victories coming over Vanderbilt, New Mexico, Utah State, and Hawaii. We just lost the first of those games and the other three do not look promising. All three remaining games are on the road. New Mexico is sick of losing to CSU and will have extra motivation to beat the dead horse that is this Addazio-helmed squad. Utah State is 2-0, including a butt-kicking of North Dakota and a three point win on the road against the Cougars of Washington State. The Aggies were a question mark coming into the season, but early returns are showing that they are not the garbage team everyone anticipated to see this season. Hawaii lost their first game to top-25 UCLA, dominated their next contest in a barn burner over Portland State, then lost to the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis. Hawaii historically has been a pass-heavy squad, which matches well with the weak secondary unit of the Rams. We might be staring down the barrel of an 0-12 team. Would that be enough to bid adieu to Addazio? 

We continue our quest for a singular win with a trip to Ohio, to face off against the Rockets of Toledo. Toledo is no joke, having just faced off against Notre Dame in South Bend and nearly pulling the upset.  Their three point loss against a top 15 program is a good sign that the folks betting for Toledo to cover the -14.5 point are in good shape. I'd love to be proven wrong, but until then this SECs. 

Flick's Picks

I was right until the Rams decided to not win the ball game in the second half. 

WeekOpponentPredictionResultFlick's Picks
1South Dakota StateLSDSU 42 - CSU 231 - 0
2VanderbiltWVU 24 - CSU 211 - 1
3at ToledoL
4at IowaL
5BYE--
6San Jose StateL
7at New MexicoW
8at Utah StateW
9Boise StateL
10at WyomingL
11Air ForceW
12at HawaiiW
13NevadaL

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

2021 Rams Recap - Week 1 - When Being Right Feels Wrong

Uff da. For those of you who do not hail from the Midwest, that's basically a Scandinavian way of saying "oy vey". And uff da is pretty much the only way I can describe what I witnessed on Friday night in Fort Collins. 

Courtesy of the Associated Press

Just this past week, I predicted that the Rams would lose to FCS South Dakota State. Well guess what? I was right. But man, I was expecting a back-and-forth battle between the two teams with CSU ultimately failing to overcome the Jackrabbits attack. I was NOT expecting the actual butt-kicking that occurred at Canvas Stadium. 

South Dakota State is a good FCS program - they are just months removed from a FCS Championship Game appearance. But they dominated the trenches and that was the difference in the game. That fact is what drives me mad about this Colorado State team. Steve Addazio is lauded as an offensive line guru. Yet our offensive line could not control the line of scrimmage, could not open up running lanes, and could not create a pocket from which Todd Centeio could comfortably get the ball downfield. Offensive line issues are common early in the college football season, but this isn't a new group of guys learning to play alongside each other. The line is the same group of dudes that played together last year. Where is the improvement? The Ram running backs were consistently getting hit behind the line of scrimmage. Any semblance of a hole collapsed on the runners bursting through it. The Rams averaged 3.1 yards per rushing attempt for the game. Three yards per carry. Atrocious. The leading rusher for the Rams, David Bailey, had 19 rushing attempts for 46 yards. Marcus McElroy and A'Jon Vivens only had 5 rushing attempts combined. On the passing front, Centeio was under duress for the entire game and often had to use his legs to escape the immediate pressure. When he did have enough time to set his feet, his throws were zipped to receivers close to the line or they sailed over their heads downfield. Early in the first quarter, he overthrew a wide open Dante Wright for what should have been the opening score. It was the first of two throws that completely missed receivers that could have walked into the end zone. While the stats show some equality (time of possession, drives, and total yards are nearly identical between the two teams), the stats do not fully tell the story of the game. CSU was outclassed when they had the ball. 

The defense was not much better. Last year, CSU games were kept close due to the exceptional play of our defensive line unit. Again, SDSU dominated the line of scrimmage and the Rams could not contain Chris Oladokun. Even when they did manage to create pressure on the quarterback, they could not drop him for a loss. Part of the reason for that is the big question mark coming into the season - the Ram's secondary. The secondary was already behind the 8-ball with the injury to projected starter Linwood Crump, a transfer from Temple. He was expected to start opposite Rashad Ajayi to help solidify that young unit. His injury shortened up an already short bench and it showed against the Jackrabbits. The SDSU receivers spent most of the day roaming freely on the CSU side of the ball. Even when pressure was applied, Oladokun was able to find someone with some space to advance the ball downfield. Miscommunication, blown coverages, and an absence of backfield pressure were the themes of the game. Frustration level - [100 emoji]. 

Courtesy of the Denver Post

All in all, Friday's game was a tough pill to swallow. I did not have high expectations for this team - I predicted them to go 4-8, after all. But I expected to see some progression from a team that had a full offseason to prepare after the COVID infested trial run last year. The play calling from Jon Budmayr was not "explosive and exciting" as promised by Addazio prior to the game. Tough to do that when your offensive line looks like a high school squad. The secondary's inability to cover opposing wide receivers will be exposed even more against aerial attacks like San Jose State and Toledo. 

As an eternal optimist, I am not quite ready to write off this team. However, the issues that we saw are ones that losing football teams have: inability to control the line of scrimmage, consistently finding your offense in 3rd and long situations, consistently giving up big plays when your defense forces a 3rd and long, communication breakdowns in coverage, failing to execute explosive plays. Those are major flaws in a football program that has been overrun with flaws for nearly a decade. It's inexcusable and the timing could not be worse. The second major conference realignment started this summer and CSU is perfectly poised for an invitation to a Power 5 conference - state of the art facilities, basketball programs just starting their ascension into the national conversation, a perennial volleyball tournament team, nationally ranked track and cross country programs, pending upgrades to the softball and soccer facilities, a top tier land grant research institution located on a gorgeous plot of land in a beautiful state where people want to live. The one box that does not get checked just so happens to be the one that matters more than all the others (thanks television contracts) - our football team sucks. And because our football program is mired in the mud, no invite will come and CSU will be on the outside looking in yet again. The alumni and Fort Collins deserve better than that. 

I will leave you with some positives in an attempt to cleanse the palate prior to Saturday's late night matchup with the Commodores from Vanderbilt: 
  • Trey McBride is the real freaking deal. One week in and he showed why draft pundits are high on his future at the next level. Trey was the best Ram on the field, grabbing 13 catches for 116 yards, dragging Jackrabbits for yards after each catch. McBride has that edge that you need to be successful at a high level - throughout the game, you could see how much his persistent effort was agitating the SDSU defense. While they did not appreciate McBride's tenacious play through the whistle, those of us watching from the stands certainly did. 
Courtesy of the Coloradoan
  • Dante Wright can and will be a weapon for CSU this year. Wright's day was a bit quieter than McBride's (6 receptions for 103 yards), but he spent a considerable amount of the evening open in the Jackrabbit secondary. Wright's speed is tough to defend, unless the quarterback overthrows him as he is walking into the end zone by himself. 
Courtesy of the Denver Post
  • Ryan Stonehouse can boot the damn ball. His first punt looked like it sliced off the side of his foot and it still went for 40 yards. His second punt was a thing of beauty. I won't describe it. Just watch... 
  • Vanderbilt is baaaaaaaaad. Like really bad. CSU lost to a powerhouse FCS team that just lost the national championship game. Vanderbilt lost to Eastern Tennessee State University. Without looking it up - what is the mascot for ETSU? If you knew it, stop lying. (They are the Buccaneers.) Not only did they lose to an average FCS team, they were unable to score a touchdown against the vaunted Buccaneers defense. CSU opened as 6.5 point favorites. Let's hope they fix some stuff before Saturday night comes around. 

Flick's Picks

Being right feels so dang wrong. But, prove me right again this week, Rams. 

WeekOpponentPredictionResultFlick's Picks
1South Dakota StateLSDSU 42 - CSU 231 - 0
2VanderbiltW
3at ToledoL
4at IowaL
5BYE--
6San Jose StateL
7at New MexicoW
8at Utah StateW
9Boise StateL
10at WyomingL
11Air ForceW
12at HawaiiW
13NevadaL




Thursday, September 02, 2021

You Play to Win the Game (Part IV)

Let's recap the recent history of CSU football: 
  • Trend upward
  • Lose head coach to SEC
  • Hire former SEC coordinator
  • Gradual decline under former SEC coordinator
  • Former SEC coordinator gets fired and becomes SEC coordinator again
  • Hire head coach from ACC
  • COVID
  • Sadness
And that's where we are at. Sadness. Last year, the Rams were able to get in four total games, compiling a 1-3 record under first-year head coach Steve Addazio. Between COVID and that truncated schedule, it is hard to evaluate the program heading into the full 2021 season. 

What We Know

Very little. 
  • The positions of strength from last year, specifically defensive line and tight end, should continue to be strengths. Toby McBride, Scott Patchan, and Manny Jones lead a group of defensive lineman who were the best position group for CSU in 2020. Trey McBride and a healthy Cam Butler provide an incredibly dangerous 1-2 punch at the TE position. 
  • Dante Wright is back. I worry that the lack of depth at WR could become a problem. EJ Scott and former QB Justice McCoy need to step up so defenses don't key in on Wright. 
  • DeQuan Jackson returns to lead the linebacker unit after a standout shortened season in 2020. 
  • CSU continues to have one of the best punters in the country in Ryan Stonehouse. Unfortunately, the punt coverage team has been horrible to go along with it. 
  • The coaching staff remained relatively intact, with the major exceptions being new offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.
    • Offensive coordinator Jon Budmayr comes to Fort Collins after six years in Madison at the University of Wisconsin. His last three were as quarterbacks coach of the Badgers. Budmayr steps into the role vacated by Joey Lynch when he departed to be the pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Vanderbilt - a team that plays CSU this season. 
    • Wide receiver coach Alex Bailey replaces Kenny Guiton, who left to take the same role at the University of Arkansas. Bailey held the same position at Ball State before joining the Rams. 

What We Don't Know

Damn near everything else. 
  • Was Todd Centeio's performance last year truly impacted by an injury (as divulged this summer)? Should we be expecting a better and more consistent season from him this year? 
  • If Centeio gets hurt or is not productive, is true freshman Evan Olaes ready for college football? 
  • Will Jon Budmayr provide something more explosive and exciting than what we saw from Joey Lynch? 
  • Will the offensive line play up to the expectations of an Addazio-led team? 
  • Will the addition of running back David Bailey from Boston College improve the production out of the backfield? 
  • Will the young secondary (with the exception of senior Rashad Ajayi) make a leap from the disaster we witnessed last year? 
  • Will the special teams be an absolute dumpster fire again? In four games, the 2020 Rams gave up touchdowns on two blocked punt returns, a blocked field goal return, a kickoff return, and a punt return. That is... um... bad. At least CSU hired a full-time special teams coach this offseason. [Whispers from off screen] Oh, they did NOT hire a full-time special teams coach this offseason. Okay then. 

Super Quick Game By Game Breakdown

South Dakota State

The Jackrabbits are 4 months removed from a FCS championship game loss to Sam Houston State. They have been a class FCS team for years now and pose a giant threat to the Rams. I hope my negativity is countered with a solid game from Addazio's squad, but I see this game being a close one won by the team with more experience winning in the last few years. 

Vanderbilt

For the second time in the short Canvas Stadium history, an SEC team will visit Fort Collins. The early odds on this game have CSU as a heavy favorite against the bottom of the Southeastern Conference. This is a winnable game against a bad opponent at home. 

at Toledo

Remember what Toledo did to CSU in Fort Collins in 2019? The Rockets scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to outpace our beloved Rams at home. Granted - that was a Mike Bobo coached team and that was two seasons ago, but going to Ohio to play a team with a recent history of scoring a lot of points with a young and shaky secondary doesn't seem like a recipe for success. 


at Iowa

If you are headed to Kinnick Stadium, enjoy waving to the kids in the adjacent hospital. It might be the best part of the day for Rams fans. 

San Jose State

The Spartans had a dramatic resurgence in 2020 after years and years of cellar dwelling in the Mountain West Conference. The reigning MWC champions are projected to compete with Nevada for the West Division and MWC titles. Even at home, this will be a difficult game for the Rams to win. 

at New Mexico

I was childless when CSU last lost to New Mexico. The end of the ten game winning streak could be this year, with an improving Lobos team under the guidance of Danny Gonzales. I think the Rams will have enough grit to extend this win streak to 11 games. 

at Utah State

Remember when Utah State was challenging Boise State for the Mountain Division title? This program has completely fallen off a cliff with most college football analysts and prognosticators expecting the Aggies to finish in last place in the division. The Rams need to take advantage of two straight games against lower-tier MWC teams. 

Boise State

The Rams led the Broncos 52-38 with 3:00 left in the 4th quarter in 2017. The Rams lost that game 59-52 in overtime. That was the best chance CSU has ever had to defeat the Broncos. Until the Rams win one, I will always pick Boise to win a football game between these schools. 

at Wyoming

The recently refurbished Bronze Boot currently resides in the correct location - Fort Collins, Colorado. The Wyoming game last season was the bright spot of the season last year and I loved seeing the green team running across the field to grab the trophy. I do not think the Rams hold the trophy for another year. 

Air Force

This game is tailor made for a Ram victory - Steve Addazio is known for leading teams with strong line play. CSU's big uglies on both sides of the ball should be able to handle the smaller fronts of the Academy, but history has shown us that the Rams always struggle with the airmen. Add in our inability to cover anyone and Air Force's uncommon yet predictable pair of 80 yard touchdown passes and we will be losing yet another game at Canvas. 

at Hawaii

Another game that we have to win. Hawaii currently is not letting spectators into their events, so the light crowds at Aloha Stadium will not be a factor. 

Nevada

The Wolfpack is expected to win the West Division and challenge Boise State for the overall MWC championship. They will most likely be coming to Fort Collins with postseason aspirations. The Rams get run in the final week of the season. 

Flick's Picks

Tally up the W's and L's and you are looking at a Ram team sitting at 4-8 at the end of the year. Wins in two games against the Jackrabbits, Cowboys, and Falcons would get them to a .500 record and bowl eligibility. 

Honestly, I'm just excited for two things: playing more than four games and physically going to games with my homies. 

WeekOpponentPredictionResultFlick's Picks
1South Dakota StateL
2VanderbiltW
3at ToledoL
4at IowaL
5BYE--
6San Jose StateL
7at New MexicoW
8at Utah StateW
9Boise StateL
10at WyomingL
11Air ForceL
12at HawaiiW
13NevadaL