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Rams use big second half to get first win @ MTSU, 31-23

Led by their star pass catchers and an excellent night from the defensive line, Colorado State secured their first win of the 2023 season

Jay Norvell and the Rams celebrate their first win in the locker room

As the second Middle Tennessee Hail Mary attempt hit the ground, the weight of a winless season was no more. Led by their formidable pass catching duo of Tory Horton and Dallin Holker and a defensive line that caused the Blue Raiders fits, the Rams won their first game of the 2023 season. They trailed for much of the first half, but the passing game gave them the lead back, and Mohamed Kamara’s perfectly timed fumble recovery and touchdown scamper was all Colorado State would need to get in the win column.

Scoring Timeline

1st Quarter

9:26 - 31 yard field goal from Jordan Noyes

Colorado State 3, Middle Tennessee State 0

7:09 - 49 yard TD pass from Nick Vattiato to Holden Willis (Rankin PAT)

Colorado State 3, Middle Tennessee State 7

5:03 - 24 yard fake FG TD pass from Giles Pooler to Dallin Holker (Noyes PAT)

Colorado State 10, Middle Tennessee State 7

0:58 - 31 yard field goal from Zeke Rankin

Colorado State 10, Middle Tennessee State 10

2nd Quarter

0:16 - 4 yard TD run from Nick Vattiato (Rankin PAT)

Colorado State 10, Middle Tennessee State 17

3rd Quarter

8:20 - 7 yard TD pass from Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi to Tory Horton (Noyes PAT)

Colorado State 17, Middle Tennessee State 17

4th Quarter

11:34 - 7 yard TD pass from Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi to Tory Horton (Noyes PAT)

Colorado State 24, Middle Tennessee State 17

11:19 - 5 yard fumble return TD from Mohamed Kamara (Noyes PAT)

Colorado State 31, Middle Tennessee State 17

6:34 - 10 yard TD pass from Nick Vattiato to Elijah Metcalf (Rankin PAT BLOCKED)

Colorado State 31, Middle Tennessee State 23

By the Numbers

BFN’s big day (part two)

The offense has clearly turned the corner from last year, finding its groove under Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi. He played arguably better than he did in his first start, with his only interception being essentially an arm punt that only happened because of a crazy deflection. He found his playmakers in space consistently, with Holker (11 catches, 112 yards, TD) and Horton (10 catches, 99 yards, 2 TDs) shining all game long. After that performance, there’s no doubt that BFN will be the starting quarterback going forward. He’s the first Rams QB to throw for 320+ yards in back-to-back games since Patrick O’Brien in 2019, and that’s in his first two starts at the college level. It appears as though Colorado State had their answer at QB on the roster, it just wasn’t the one we expected coming into the season.

Defensive line domination

The depth of the Rams defensive line was on full display. In just one half of football, thanks to a targeting call in OT of the Rocky Mountain Showdown, Mohamed Kamara still had a sack and the scoop and score that put Colorado State up for good. Redshirt freshman Nuer Gatkuoth had a breakout game, stuffing the stat sheet with eight tackles, three TFLs, a sack, two forced fumbles, and a deflection. Grady Kelly had his best game with five tackles, as well as blocking the Blue Raiders final extra point attempt. Veteran James Mitchell also played well with a sack and two tackles. Overall, the Rams DLine racked up 8 TFLs and 3 sacks, and when you factor in the two takeaways, that’s a pretty good day at the office.

33 rush yards on 19 carries

While the 1.7 yards per carry shows how unproductive the run game was overall, it doesn’t factor in the real reason this will be an issue going forward. Both primary running backs, Avery Morrow and Kobe Johnson, suffered injuries. Morrow’s appeared to be a knee injury, and it’s likely to be a long term issue. Johnson hurt his back, which isn’t expected to be season ending, but will likely cause him to miss some time. Check this paragraph later for updates after the testing results come back, it’ll be added here.

For the next few weeks, the Rams run game could be in trouble. With Morrow and Johnson healthy, they have two starting caliber running backs. Without them, Coach Norvell turned to sophomore Vann Schield, who had 12 yards on six carries and a 12 yard reception. Other than him, expect to see true freshmen Damian Henderson II and Justin Marshall get some reps. Henderson II is a big back that still has phenomenal speed, while Marshall provides more of a receiving threat, as well as good speed. CSU did win this game, essentially, without running the ball, so they may still be able to get it done, but the bottom line is that as it stands now, opposing teams won’t have to gameplan too hard against the run.

Eye Test

The Offense

The air raid has been working better than ever under BFN. His top priority is getting the ball to his playmakers. He’s already fifth in the Mountain West in passing yards and tied for third in TDs, so it’s incredibly exciting to think about how good he’ll be if he starts for the rest of the season. Tory Horton and Dallin Holker have made it very clear over the last two games that they are future NFL players. Horton was already a preseason OPOY candidate, but Holker’s dominance has been out of nowhere. He’s already got more touchdown catches than he did in his entire three year stint at BYU, and has established himself as one of, if not the best tight end in the conference. The offensive line, while it did have its fair share of penalties, was solid. BFN was only sacked one time, and usually had time to survey his options without being hassled. Expect this side of the ball to put up crazy numbers against a struggling Utah Tech.

The Defense

While they didn’t set the world on fire, the defense got the job done. The defensive line forced Nick Vattiatio to scramble all game long. It hurt them at times, but for the majority of the contest, the big guys were making their presence felt. Both starting linebackers, Justin Sanchez and Chase Wilson, had 11 tackles, with Wilson adding half a TFL and a deflection. The secondary had some trouble with Middle Tennessee’s size, but they only allowed the one home run play in the first quarter, and really limited the Blue Raiders weapons from doing enough to comeback. This may have been the least talented offense the Rams have faced, they still went out in a hostile environment and won the ball game.

The Special Teams

The specialists didn’t make too much noise, but they were good enough to get the job done. Jordan Noyes hit his only field goal and was perfect on extra points. Paddy Turner had one semi-shank of a punt, but still had two punts inside the 20 yard line and 192 total punt yards. The return game was fine, but with both main returners out for the foreseeable future (Morrow and Johnson), Louis Brown IV got sent out in their place and should be there next week, too.

Going Forward

Colorado State has a talented roster, great facilities, and proven head coach. They had everything but wins. Winning changes everything. As fruitful as the worldwide reach of the Rocky Mountain Showdown game may be recruiting wise, nothing changes your program like winning. It all starts from there, and now, with the band-aid ripped off, the Rams are off and running. A tune-up game in Utah Tech, and the gauntlet of the Mountain West conference play begins. The offense is finally turning heads, the defense is making plays, and most importantly, the team won a game. It all starts from there.

What were your takeaways from the game? Let us know in the comments down below!