Colorado State tackle Sam Carlson considered Minnesota’s defense for a moment as he sat on the podium.
“They held TCU to, I think, 34 points,” Carlson said of the Rams’ upcoming opponent Saturday in Fort Collins, before being corrected by a reporter in the crowd. “Twenty-three points? OK, wow. If you’re doing that, you’ve got some studs on defense, and we’ve got to be able to counteract that and do our job on offense.”
Colorado State certainly has the reputation of being able to do so, after going 10-3 a year ago behind quarterback and eventual NFL draftee Garrett Grayson and All-America wide receiver Rashard Higgins.
If last week’s 65-13 dismantling of Savannah State is any hint, the Rams are ready to pick up where they left off, albeit with a new coach, a new system and a new quarterback.
But the Gophers — and their Top 25-caliber defense — are no FCS team, like Savannah State. And regardless of the gaudy score, Colorado State was far from perfect, a sentiment that took on extra weight this week when news came of Higgins suffering an unspecified sprain. As much as the Rams offense will bring a second consecutive stout challenge for Minnesota’s defense, the Gophers defense similarly will test a Rams up-tempo offense that is still a work in progress.
Most of the Rams’ numbers in their opener were impressive. Colorado State piled up 598 yards of offense while limiting Savannah State to 183. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Nick Stevens completed 20 of 28 passes for 289 yards and five touchdowns in the first start of his career, earning Mountain West Conference offensive player of the week honors.
“I liked what I saw out of him. Hopefully it will give him some confidence,” said coach Mike Bobo, the former offensive coordinator at Georgia. “When he threw it, there was zip on the ball and it was in places where the guys could run with it and do something with it after the catch.”
But the Rams had some rough moments as well, losing four fumbles, missing a few big tackles and turning a would-be touchdown into a touchback after kickoff returner Jordan Vaden returned the ball 99 yards but dropped the ball short of the goal line in a premature celebration.
“When you’re tired, you’re going to have those mental mistakes because you’re just worrying about getting to the ball or getting off the ball rather than what you’re actually supposed to do,” Carlson said.
Higgins missed practice Tuesday and was limited to individual drills Wednesday, but Bobo told reporters he expects the receiver to play Saturday, in a game that will cast a brighter light on what kind of offense Colorado State will boast this season.
“We’re going to have to be balanced,” Bobo said. “I don’t expect us to throw for five or six touchdowns every game. We’ve going to have to [have] five different ways to move the ball, and we’re going to have to run the ball and throw the ball equally effectively.”