After putting together a must-watch opening act in 2016, the Colorado State offense has their eyes on an encore performance in 2017.
Things were rocky for the Rams to begin as the offense mustered 23.6 points over the first five games. But in the final eight games of the 2016 campaign, CSU put up 43 points per game. Mike Bobo and offensive coordinator Will Friend watched last season as their once benched quarterback teamed with a predominantly unknown receiver to form one of the most dangerous duos in the country.
Per Bill Connelly of SB Nation, the Rams offense flirted with perfection down the stretch. The receiving pair of Gallup and Olabisi Johnson combined for more than 100 catches to go with nearly 1,900 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns.
But it’s not as though the receivers, easily the deepest position group on the team, aren’t striving to be more complete players.
“We definitely need to improve on our perimeter blocking,” Johnson told BSN Denver, saying that it was an emphasis during spring practice. “Just fitting up on guys and blocking for our running backs. And then consistency. Me personally, I wasn’t as consistent as I wanted to be last year. But I have some confidence coming off the bowl game.”
All-Mountain West guard Fred Zerblis, along with honorable mentions Nick Callender and Paul Thurston, won’t be back for the green and gold. But the Rams return Jake Bennett, who’s quietly become one of the top centers in the nation. Colby Meeks, Trae Moxley and Zack Golditch round out an offensive line that, in 2016, ranked inside the top 10 in power success rate according to Connelly.
Continuing to own the line of scrimmage figures to be of utmost importance for an offense reliant on run-pass balance.
Said Bennett regarding the significance of the running game: “I think it helps a lot because there’s timing with the wide receivers that just takes a few games to get going. So if we can try to be the backbone there and let Nick (Stevens) not throw the ball as much and get into a rhythm later in the season, then we can do that for him.”
CSU ball carriers Dalyn Dawkins, Izzy Matthews and Marvin Kinsey totaled 2,199 yards on the ground by season’s end. The trio averaged a more than solid 5.4 yards per carry average. Dawkins and Matthews return, but Kinsey remains out with a torn ACL.
That leaves the door open for guys like Darius May, Rashaad Boddie, Marcus McElroy and others to fight for carries. Matthews believes that there will be no shortage of competition amongst the group.
“Every single one of them is hungry,” Matthews said. “You may see some dynamic this fall where you have four running backs playing because it’s going to be hard to choose somebody to sit.”
Stevens, the maestro of the CSU offense, looked like a completely different quarterback once being reinserted as the starter in the second half Oct. 8 against Utah State. The Rams signal caller partly attested his improved play to having the chance to stand back and take in the game from a different perspective.
Bobo pointed to a new sense of confidence and decisiveness from Stevens that propelled him to a historic second half of 2016.
The Rams desperately want more of a consistent intermediate passing game, which likely means more use of slot receivers and tight ends.
For Stevens, the offense still has a ways to go in terms of making corrections.
“We had success last year, but even in that, we had a lot of mistakes,” Stevens said. “We still had more than zero turnovers and more than zero mental errors. We weren’t where we wanted to be and I definitely think we have a foundation that we can improve on.”
The Rams cap their spring practice with the annual Green and Gold game Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. Fans can catch the action at Lagoon Field on the CSU campus.