By Ray McGowan
Does Colorado State belong in a Power 5 conference? No one really knows, but they sure as hell can beat one.
Colorado State faced off against the University of Arkansas Saturday in Fort Collins, the first time an SEC opponent has played in Fort Collins since No. 19 Mississippi State in 1981. The Rams were 14-point underdogs heading into the game and did not give their fans much optimism after a gut-wrenching loss in their season opener against Hawaii and being blown out against their in-state rivals in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. CSU brought in a brand new defense staff and scheme during the offseason that was supposed to be an improvement from last season. What was delivered was two 40+ point loses to start the season 0-2.
The Razorbacks, on the other hand, looked to forget last season after going 4-8, 1-7 in SEC play. Arkansas hired head coach Chad Morris during the offseason, who led Southern Methodist University to their first bowl game since 2012 and immediately saw improvement in Fayetteville. Arkansas blew out Eastern Illinois 55-20 in their season opener at home. Quarterback Ty Storey had an impressive game and convinced many onlookers that Arkansas football was back. With the Razorbacks having nine returning players on the offensive side and eight players on the defensive side, experience and confidence were on their side.
On the third play of Arkansas’ first drive, CSU forced an interception and was able to put 3 points on the board, the first time the Rams have led in a game all season. The CSU defense was able to make another stop but after a punt by the Rams, Arkansas was able to get a rhythm on offense and started to rack up the points. Arkansas’ rushing game shined with three running backs gaining +50 yards on the ground led by Devwah Whaley with 80 yards and a touchdown at the half. The offense was having trouble through the air with Quarterback Ty Storey going 5 for 13 with two interceptions. The Razorbacks replaced Storey for Cole Kelley and took a 27 – 9 lead late into the 3rd quarter. At one point, Kelley went just 2 for 2 for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns while recording an 803.8 QBR. Kelley ended the night going 6-9, 102 yards with 2 touchdowns while the running game totaled 299 yards with Whaley having 165 yards on the night.
Colorado State’s offense sputtered during the first half with the running game being completely absent. The rush totaled just a measly 6 yards at the half lead by Running Back Marvin Kinsey with only 8 yards. The passing had much more of an impact with Quarterback KJ Carta-Samuels throwing 10 for 20, 98 yards and 1 interception. The Rams were unable to score a touchdown in the first half and even had an appearance by Quarterback Colin Hill for the second time this season. Hill was unable to jump-start the Ram’s offense after going 0-3 and being taken out after only one drive. One shining light during the first half was Kicker Wyatt Bryan going a perfect 3 for 3 (4/4 on the night) to solidify his spot as Colorado State’s all-time leading scorer with 300 points. It was the second half where things started to click for CSU. Two touchdown passes to Wide Receiver Preston Williams as well as a two-point conversion brought the Rams to within 3 of the Razorbacks. With another pair of defensive stops, CSU took advantage of the clock and drove down the field. With 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Rams handed the ball off to Running Back Izzy Matthews for a 1-yard game winning touchdown. Carta-Samuels ended the night with 389 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception while the Ram’s run game totaled 40 yards, led by Matthews with 27. In the end, the Ram’s defeated the Razorbacks 34-27.
This season for the CSU Rams has been an emotional rollercoaster. Bringing in a brand new defense, Head Coach Mike Bobo being diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, being upset by an underestimated Hawaii team, being dismantled by Colorado, and now defeating an Arkansas team that belongs to what is considered the best conference in college football. Could this be the turnaround that many Rams have been waiting for?