How does the old adage go? Players win games and coaches lose them? Well that can certainly be attributed to this 30-27 loss to Tulsa. There were mistakes made by players, but just like last week, the coaches looked more intent on playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
After trading the lead back and forth for most the game, the Rams found themselves with the lead going into the fourth quarter. The Rams had four possession in the quarter; all they needed to do was move the ball, run clock, and put something on the board. Instead, the Rams had four consecutive three and outs, totaling under six minutes. Some of the blame can be attributed to poor play, but the coaches did them no favors with a unimaginative combination of inside runs and "dink-and-dunk" short passes the Rams have become synonymous with.
Yet the Rams still had a chance to take the game to overtime if they could just stop the Golden Hurricane offense. With the game tied at 27 a piece and just over a minute left on the clock, Tulsa wide receiver Keyarris Garret suffered a gruesome leg injury leading to an extended injury timeout. The first play after the timeout, running back Trey Watts got the carry to the left side and made several Rams miss before he reversed field to the right running for 45 yards and pretty much clinching the game. Three plays, and four timeouts later, Tulsa kicker Carl Salazar put it through the uprights as time expired to solidify a disappointing 0-2 start for the Rams.
The Rams struggled offensively on the ground and in the air for much of the game. Quarterback Garrett Grayson was inconsistent throughout the game, and when he did make accurate passes, it was about a 50/50 chance his target would catch it. Grayson finished the day with a pedestrian 12-29 for 108 yards and two touchdowns and interceptions against a mediocre, at best, Tulsa secondary.
The Rams wide receivers were just about nonexistent with leaders Charles Lovett and Joe Hansley out with injuries. Freshman Rashard Higgins had issues catching the football for the second week in a row and his stock is quickly falling. Jordon Vaden showed his ability with three receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown. Thomas Coffman was the only other receiver with a reception, catching three for sixteen yards.
Just like last week, the "talented" tight ends were nowhere to be found. The Colorado State media relations department does not keep statistics for receiver targets, but by my count the tight ends were only thrown to four, maybe five times. What did those targets result in? Four receptions for four yards and a touchdown. Crockett Gillmore could have a show in Vegas with the disappearing act he performs on gameday. After two games this season, Gillmore has yet to record a reception despite his size and speed advantage. Kivon Cartwright isn't doing much better with five receptions for only 24 yards. Coaches must do a better job of exploiting this supposed strength.
The run game continues to be a beaming light of hope for the offense. Kapri Bibbs showed he is not a one-hit wonder with nine rushes for 83 yards, and showed great vision on a 42 yard run through Tulsa defenders. Chris Nwoke proved he can still run like he did in his 1000-yard 2011 season; he had 97 yards and a touchdown. There are still too many negative rushing plays, but the Rams are developing a consistent threat on the ground.
The Rams defense played much better mentally than they did in the Colorado game. There were no blown coverages leading to wide open wide receivers, but they did struggle against a read option offense, which does not bode well for conference season. If they allowed Tulsa to run for 215 yards, what will Nevada, Air Force, Wyoming, Utah State, and New Mexico do to them?
Once again, they struggled to put pressure on the quarterback only recording one sack and one quarterback hit. Part of that was due to the running ability of Tulsa's quarterback Cody Green and their quick passing offense, but it is still disappointing to see the lack of pass rush from guys like Cory James and Shaq Barrett.
The linebackers were disappointing after a good showing last week. Max Morgan led the team in tackles, but was in a position to prevent Tulsa's first touchdown but misplayed it. Aaron Davis had a big whiff on Trey Watts run to set up the game winning field goal, and they struggled stopping the run game as a whole. They failed to generate a pass rush and did not have a single tackle for loss.
The defensive backs were much improved since the Colorado game. They had fewer mental errors, and when they did, they were able to recover nicely and prevent to much damage from occurring. Cornerbacks DeAndre Elliot and Bernard Blake played exceptionally well. They plagued the Tulsa wide receivers all game and made several great plays in the end zone to prevent touchdown passes. Together they had a total of six pass breakups. The safeties were slow to provide help over top a couple times, but were mostly solid and did a good job supporting the run. Worth mentioning is freshman Jake Schlager who made several great tackles on special teams coverage, one forcing a fumble.
What needs to improve?
Quarterback play has to improve. Whether that means a change at quarterback, or changing up the play calling to give Grayson different looks, something has to be done to make the offense more dynamic. So far this season, opposing defenses have put nine in the box consistently because the Rams offense cannot threaten them deep. Eventually this season a change will have to be made if Grayson cannot progress his game. Freshman Nick Stevens was already pushing Grayson for the starting job before his troubles in the past two weeks, and you have to think the internal dialogue will start to heat up this week. It may be time to start thinking about the future and give Stevens a chance to start against FCS foe Cal Poly and see what he can do.
But the Rams' problems do not surround just the quarterback. The lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks has left the defense vulnerable in the pass game. The secondary played well this week, but if they have to stay with receivers for five or six seconds every passing play, they are going to get worn down over the course of the season.
The Rams play FCS school Cal Poly on Saturday at 3:30 Eastern. Even though it is early in the season, this might be a must win for a team that desperately needs a confidence boost, especially with a date with #1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa coming in two weeks.