The success of Colorado State's 2017 season may rest squarely on the shoulders of the defense. For all the video game-type numbers that Mike Bobo's offense put on the board down the stretch in 2016, it was the defense that gave up a combined 110 points in shootout losses to Air Force and Idaho.
It wasn't all bad for the Rams defensive unit, however. CSU held opponents scoreless in six halves throughout the campaign, which included a shutout of Fresno State. But when taking into account the fact that the Rams still gave up 30 points per game even with those performances, it was maddening.
“We knew it was going to be a roller coaster last year a little bit," defensive coordinator Marty English told the media at his spring practice press conference last week. "I expect that roller coaster to start flattening out. We don’t need to have so many ups and downs. I think through experience and maturity and then obviously us seeing those things that I keep talking about, our fundamentals and details, those are the things that we need to work on. And I think it’ll take a lot of up and down out of it. Do we think that everything’s going to be perfect? We don’t. But it’s got to be better.”
CSU's defensive splits from a year ago were mind-boggling. In their seven wins, the Rams allowed a mere 21 points per game. But the green and gold gave up a whopping 42 points per game in their six defeats. So how exactly is the defense trying to achieve more consistency in 2017?
“You have to look at what we did right in the games that we were able to get those shutouts and you’ve got to look at what we did absolutely wrong to be in the bad games that we had," said senior safety Jake Schlager. "It’s just looking at what we did right and work on the little things and fundamentals. Just doing those every single time and not slipping or letting something go because when you do that, that’s when those big plays happen. That’s when the touchdowns and bad games happen.”
A season ago, Schlager and recently graduated Kevin Davis led a young, inexperienced Rams defense. In some of 2016's marquee matchups (Colorado, Minnesota, Wyoming, Boise State, Air Force and Idaho), the Rams looked lost and out of sync far too often.
The CSU coaching staff hopes that a second year in their defensive coordinator's system will yield a much more positive result. But for defensive lineman Jakob Buys, the excuses need to be eliminated.
"Last year, we used a lot of excuses," Buys said. "You know, we're young, we're not there yet. They weren't helping us. We used them for escape routes. This year, we can't use those anymore. Even in some games, we knew we could play with teams and we did. But we just never finished. This year, we've got higher expectations. We're expecting to shut out more people and play better. We can't use excuses anymore."