The 2013 rendition of the Centennial State's best collegiate football rivalry came down to three plays:
2. Colorado TD 11:12 4th Quarter - Greg Henderson 53 Yd Fumble Return (Will Oliver Kick)
3. Colorado TD 03:36 4th Quarter - Paul Richardson 75 Yd Pass From Connor Wood (Connor Wood Pass To D.D. Goodson For Two-Point Conversion)
Two blown coverages, and an inopportune turnover (resulting in a scoop and score) equals an 0-1 start to the 2013 campaign for the Fightin' Rams. As it usually does, the Rocky Mountain Showdown delivered another emotionally charged, pulse raising affair that saw momentum swings and plenty of trash talking both on the field and off. But in the end, the Rams couldn't overcome their colossal errors and a seemingly ill prepared game plan.
It only took CU two offensive plays to find the end zone, as the surest NFL caliber talent on the field, Paul Richardson, blew by the Rams secondary for an 82 yard walk into the end zone. The closest Ram defenders were the guys standing on the sideline, as the 11 eligible tacklers seemed to have a collective blackout and momentarily forgot that stopping #6 was priority #1.
With the offense failing to generate any sort of sustained attack, the Rams relied heavily on their defense in the first half of the game. The defense stood up at times, but seemed to be run down as the half wore on and they found themselves on the field for long, grinding Buffaloes drive after long, grinding Buffaloes drive. After starting RB Donnell Alexander went down early with a hand injury, the Rams leaned on returning starter Chris Nwoke and JuCo transfer Kapri Bibbs. While many expected Nwoke (he of the 1130 rushing yards as a sophomore in 2011) to shoulder the load in Alexander's stead, it was Bibbs who rose to the occasion and flashed the skills that earned him "Chicago offensive player of the year" honors as a senior at Plainfield North High School. The Rams offense finally got into the endzone with 1:13 left in the half as Bibbs plunged in from 7 yards out to bring CSU to within a touchdown at 17-10.
Controversy would follow on the ensuing drive, as CSU linebacker Cory James was flagged for a personal foul that kept the CU drive alive. They would ultimately capitalize with a 41 yard field goal from Will Oliver to take a 20-10 lead into the locker room.
The second half started with a bang for the Rams, as they forced a 3-and-out and saw speedster Joe Hansley return the ensuing punt for six points. Hansley showed guts (he had two CU defenders in his jersey when he caught the punt), elusiveness, burst and the kind of big play ability the Rams have been lacking for the better part of the past four seasons.
Later in the third, it was Thomas Coffman's turn for a highlight reel special teams play, as the Junior out of Austin, Texas returned a kickoff 84 yards from his own end-zone to set the Rams up in the red zone. With Bibbs establishing himself and hitting the holes hard, the Rams went to him three straight times as he forced his way across the goal line and gave CSU their first lead of the game.
It would be short-lived, however. As the Rams controlled the 3rd quarter, CU asserted themselves and dominated the final frame, outscoring CSU 18-3. Two of the three game-changing plays for CU happened in quarter four. First, after Will Oliver showed proved his worth once again with a 52 yard field goal to put the buffs up 26-24, the Rams committed the first turnover of the game when Bibbs coughed it up while trying to extend a reception into extra yards. The effort and intent were great, but the timing couldn't have been worse. CU d-back Greg Henderson pounced on the loose ball, looked up and saw nothing but 53 yards of green grass between him and a 33-24 Buff lead. Much to the Rams chagrin, he did not trip on his own shadow.
The Rams still had their chance, but were unable to make the plays they needed to down the stretch. After Jared Roberts' 2nd field goal of the game brought the Rams within a score, the defense once again made a critical error. Expecting the Buffs to be conservative and grind out clock, the Rams brought an aggressive defensive front and left their corners in man-to-man coverage. Seeing this, CU quarterback Connor Wood made an adjustment and Richardson did the rest, beating his man for a 75 yard score in which he once again went untouched.
CSU Players of the Game:
Offense: Kapri Bibbs - 15 carries, 70 yds, 2 TD
Showed great burst, and hit the hole with authority. This kid runs HARD, and if given the opportunity, he could be the catalyst for the Rams offense. Honorable mention to the O-line who paved the way for Bibbs and gave Grayson lots of time and space to operate (though he did very little with that time and space).
Defense: Bernard Blake - 11 tackles (6 solo) 1 TFL and 2 passes broken up.
This kid was everywhere. He was my pick for defensive player of the game just from watching the game, then I went to check his final stat line and WOW! He played with swagger, confidence and had an attitude. On multiple occasions he showed great coverage instincts and broke up a surefire touchdown completely on his own. He also likes to hit people very hard, which is fun. Seems as though the Rams might have a lock-down corner on their hands.
Where were they?
Defensive line: Wood had all day and all night to throw, as evidenced by his 71% completion percentage. And only 1 sack? Unacceptable from a front seven with this kind of talent. Shaq Barrett admitted as much in his postgame comments. Glad to see him stand up and take accountability.
Rams coaching staff: Following up on the previous note, the coaching staff certainly didn't help matters. The defensive plan seemed to be a combination of letting the underneath receivers get open at will, or conversely send the house and leave gaping holes down field. And when sending the house, the Rams way too often chose to send delayed safety blitzes that took ages to develop and proved fruitless. Rather than adjust, the d-coordinator continued to call crappy, slow, ineffective blitzes from the safety position.
On offense, the coaching staff failed to take advantage of their starting quarterback's strongest trait - his running ability. When Grayson is on the move, he seems much more comfortable and can make things happen. So... let's keep him in the pocket all night. Great idea.
Crockett Gilmore: Dude needs to get involved, period. He's a giant, GIANT man in the middle of the field. Call him Keyshawn and throw him the damn ball.
Two main positives to take away were the emergence of Bibbs and the fact that outside of two plays, the defense looked pretty solid. They were on the field way too often, but they tackled well, hit with a purpose and made some athletic plays. At times, it felt as though the d-coordinator was holding them back, putting them in position to fail. On the offensive side, CSU proved to be vanilla for most of the game with only a few exceptions. Not even good vanilla. Like crappy, french bean vanilla. They need to get some swirl on offense... otherwise defenses are going to know exactly what's coming which could make for a long season.
Next up, CSU travels to Tulsa to take on the Golden Hurricane - a team licking their wounds after a 34-7 dismantling by Bowling Green State in week 1. The game is on Saturday, September 7th at 5:00pm MST and will once again be on CBS Sports Network.