O-line is Rams’ foundation for success
boise, idaho» Nick Stevens wasn’t being critical in recalling the story. He was genuinely shocked. With reason. “I’ve got time back there. I haven’t been sacked since ... I think it was one a few games ago, then it was like five games,” the Colorado State quarterback said. “Last game I did get hit and I was in the wet grass, and it didn’t feel good. I just wasn’t really used to it. I gave them a little grief for it, but it wasn’t their fault.”
“Them” refers to the offensive line, a group Stevens sums up succinctly: “They’re great. That definitely is what they are. They are one of the best if not the best.”
It’s a group that is very good — judging from allconference recognition, where four of the five were honored — and mad, based on the all-conference results.
“First of all, 61 should have gotten some too,” second-team center Jake Bennett said about tackle Zack Golditch, the only starting lineman left out. “It just shows that we stayed together, stuck to a plan and came together at the end. I thought we were capable of doing that all year.”
As shocked as Stevens was to be hit against San Diego State in the team’s final regular-season game, the final results were not surprising to coach Mike Bobo, whose team plays Idaho in the Idaho Potato Bowl on Thursday (5 p.m., ESPN).
Bobo expected the group to be good, but he downplayed the expectation before the season started. That was good, because bringing it all together took time.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino called the Rams a physical team, a reputation that is growing, one Bobo wanted to establish when he took the job two years ago.
What surprised him is how it happened.
“I’ve been at places when we’ve been a physical football team, and a lot of times that started with the running back who’s had the physicality and got the linemen’s confidence: a Todd Gurley, a Nick Chubb, by the way he runs and the way he breaks tackles,” Bobo said. “I think it’s been the other way around here, where our linemen’s physicality and the way they approach the game and try to finish has built the confidence of the guys around them.
“I think our line has changed the culture of our football team.”
The Rams are an offense of balance, averaging 228 yards passing and 223 yards rushing per game, the 451 total offensive yards per game the fourth-best single-season average in program history. The offense is averaging 34.1 points but 47.4 over the final five. They can do what Bobo craves, and that’s run the ball when the defense knows what’s coming. That’s being physical. “I think it was our attitude,” said guard Fred Zerblis, a first-team all-MW selection. “I think we’re very comfortable up front with whoever is in there.”
And they protect Stevens like a museum piece. He’s been sacked just twice since taking over as the starter six games ago.
Colorado State had sold 445 tickets as of Tuesday afternoon. It was allotted 8,000. Idaho, less than 300 miles away from Boise, had sold 5,750 of the 6,000 tickets it was allotted.