Week 4 - Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City
At kickoff, the Hawkeyes were ranked #5 in the country and there were talks that this Iowa defense was only rivaled by Georgia this year. For a Rams team that brutally lost their first two contests of the season to an FCS team (albeit an FCS powerhouse) and a garbage SEC team, my expectations were that the tradition of waving to the children's hospital next door would be the highlight of the weekend. While the wave tradition was incredibly cool, the Rams performance on the field was a highlight. The Rams... actually looked... good?!!
A solid start to the game had the Rams up 14-7 at halftime. The lone Iowa touchdown was a 43 yard pass play, a type of explosive play that we have come to expect with our young secondary. Field position played a big part of our early success, as we started our first touchdown drive at the Iowa 35 yard line after a shanked punt. The following Iowa possession ended in this:
Yep, that is true freshman Robert Floyd perfectly jumping the route and setting up the Rams with back-to-back short fields. Four plays later, the Rams took the lead into the break. Unfortunately for the Rams, the teams were required to come back out and play two more quarters. The Rams wasted no time restoring the correct pecking order - after three consecutive punts to the start the second half, the Rams were backed up to their own 6 yard line where they promptly fumbled and Iowa recovered. One quick play later, the game was tied and the Hawkeyes never looked back.
Going through the stats from the game, the issues plaguing this team throughout the season reared their heads yet again against the Hawks. Centeio's accuracy was suspect, only completing 16 of his 30 attempts for a measly 5.2 yards per reception. One of those receptions was a ball that should have been intercepted, was completely underthrown, but was saved by the badass by the name of Trey McBride. I know that I have been critical of Centeio this year, but his arm was a liability against that defense. We clearly had a safe game plan against this top 5 defense, but the lack of touch and finesse out of the QB kept the Rams from truly competing in the second half. The run game did not help matters, either. The stout Iowa front punished our offensive line and collapsed on any hole that the running game tried to create. Our 48 rushing attempts netted 95 total yards. Oof.
Enough about the bad - let's talk about the good. The 2021 Hawkeyes defense is a turnover machine. After this past weekend, the 6-0 number 2 ranked Hawkeyes are +14 in turnover differential. That includes the CSU game, where it was a net 0. Other than that stupid fumble with our butts in the end zone, we did not make the dumb mistakes that this Iowa team has feasted on this year.
The defense also showed up again in Iowa City. Their rushing attack looked about the same as ours - ineffective and struggling. The Hawks finished with 54 yards on the ground at a 1.7 yard per attempt clip. That is a beastly showing from that front seven. The Iowa passing game was mostly held in check as well. Petras completed 15-23 for 224 yards with 70 of those yards coming on two of his touchdown throws.
All in all, it was great to see an energized and motivated Ram team step up against a top-tier opponent. While a win would have been a nice cherry on top of this performance, I liked the way we closed out our non-conference schedule as we headed into the bye week before Mountain West play.
Week 5 - The Bye
The Rams won this week.
Week 6 - Canvas Stadium, Fort Collins
Conference play! Back to Canvas! Tailgating! Homecoming! Football is life!!
The defending Mountain West champions rolled into Fort Collins for an early afternoon clash with the Rams without some key individuals - namely starting quarterback Nick Starkel. The senior had been a major reason why the Spartans had emerged out of nowhere to win the conference title in 2020 but had injured his arm against Western Michigan earlier in the season. That left the quarterbacking responsibilities to Nick Nash - a running quarterback similar to the quarterback play on the other side of the ball. The Rams had an opportunity to take advantage of a hobbled offense, and boy did they ever. The defense, once again, was dominant along the front line. Patchan, McBride, Jackson, and company were continuously in the backfield disrupting running plays and flushing Nash out of the pocket. The Rams defense ended the day with three sacks and six tackles for a loss and SJSU could never get into an offensive rhythm. It was not perfect, but the effort and execution was beautiful.
The two Spartan touchdowns came on plays similar to ones described on this here website every week - a breakdown in the Rams secondary resulting in a wide open SJSU receiver walking into the end zone by themselves. The first Spartan touchdown happened right in front of us in the north west corner of the stadium. Freshman Jack Howell bit on the underneath route, and Deese ran right past him for an easy score. The second one was a seam route that no one picked up on the right hash. We have seemed improved play out of the secondary with the insertion of the freshmen into the unit and these types of breakdowns should be expected out of this inexperienced unit, but I hope to see more progression in this group as we enter the gauntlet of our conference schedule. Howell still had a great day, collecting his first career interception by jumping a route perfectly.
On the other side of the ball, the offense had their most complete game of the year. A'Jon Vivens and Jaylen Thomas both looked quick to the hole and explosive through the line. The offensive line looked good in both run and pass blocking situations and the team used that success to thump their opponent from kickoff to final whistle. But...
The red zone offense... ugh. It was bad.
- First and goal at the five --> two runs, a sack, and a field goal
- First and goal at the nine --> three runs and a field goal
- First and goal at the ten --> three runs and a field goal
All four trips into the red zone resulted in field goals - not a touchdown to be found. The lack of creativity from the offensive play callers in first and goal situations was disappointing. It almost seemed like they were happy with 3 points and conservatively planned on getting only that. That strategy worked against a team missing its starting quarterback who struggled to put points on the board. The same strategy will not work against the likes of Boise State and our trophy games with Air Force and W(h)yoming. Those possessions need to turn into touchdowns.
Now for a bit of a mea culpa: I have been extremely critical of the quarterback play from Todd Centeio. This was his best game of his career. He started the game on a tear - completing his first 12 passes of the game. He ended up with an 82.6% completion rate (19-23) of mostly short passes. But Centeio finally did what we have been asking him to do all year - he distributed the ball to multiple receivers (8 different players had a reception) and he launched a great deep ball with perfect touch for his touchdown throw to Ty McCullouch. Just watch it. It is gorgeous.
Go ahead, watch it again. I'll wait.
Opposing defenses have collapsed on the run game all year. This was the first game that the offense took advantage of the man coverage and single high safety that teams have been showing against the Rams. We know that Addazio's squad wants to be a run-first balanced team. Showing the potential for a deep ball will only help the run game. We can only hope we see more of this as we get into the meat of our conference schedule.
My children have never seen or experienced a CSU loss to the University of New Mexico in football. The last time that CSU lost to the Lobos was November 21, 2009. I have no desire for that to change this year. A win against the Lobos would bring our overall record back to .500, extend that awesome streak, and get our conference record to 2-0 before a sticky quartet of games (at USU, BSU, at Whyoming, AFA). We need this win like Brian White needs his smoker.
Happy to report that I was wrong about losing to SJSU. My record matches that of the Rams. A victory on Saturday would bring us both back to .500.