O-line is Rams’ foun­da­tion for suc­cess

The Denver Post - - OFF & RUNNING - By Mike Bro­hard

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.

Foot­note.

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.

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