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
3at ToledoL
4at IowaL
6San Jose StateL
7at New MexicoW
8at Utah StateW
9Boise StateL
10at WyomingL
11Air ForceW
12at HawaiiW

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