Run game gains ground

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Mike Bro­hard

FORT COLLINS» There are no com­plaints, rather an un­der­stand­ing.

Colorado State’s main run­ning backs re­turned to the fold, but up front, three starters had to be re­placed on the of­fen­sive line. A se­ries of in­juries led to shuf­fling from the start of fall camp, and only last week did the Rams start the same five up front for the sec­ond week in a row.

The run­ning game has been solid, but as a group — blocker and backs — the Rams know it can be bet­ter, and last Satur­day they had a chance to re­ally iron out some kinks.

Af­ter build­ing a big lead, and be­hind a de­fense that had con­trol of the game, coach Mike Bobo turned to the run­ning game for the bet­ter part of the sec­ond half. It led to 52 rush­ing at­tempts, the sec­ond-most in his ten­ure at the school, trail­ing just the 55-rush ef­fort against UNLV in 2015.

The game also marked the first time the Rams had a back hit the 20-carry mark in a game this sea­son, with both Da­lyn Dawkins (21 rushes) and Izzy Matthews (20) do­ing so.

It was good for all in­volved be­cause the bot­tom line is that’s the type of of­fense Bobo wants, a team that can run the ball even when the de­fense knows it is com­ing.

“We def­i­nitely want to be es­tab­lished a run team first, be­fore our pass game,” tackle Trea Mox­ley said. “I think peo­ple un­der­stand that we do have in­cred­i­ble ath­letes out­side, but we have in­cred­i­ble ath­letes in the back­field, too. We have a great five guys up front who can move peo­ple and al­low for big holes. We need to es­tab­lish dom­i­nance in that way. If we can’t run late in a game, we’re not go­ing to win many games. We’re not go­ing to run out the clock with a big lead.”

De­spite the num­ber of car­ries, Mox­ley felt they strug­gled more in cre­at­ing space later than they did early, though the two big runs in the con­test came in the sec­ond half.

Bobo knew it was go­ing to take time, es­pe­cially since Mox­ley missed time in fall camp, as did ju­nior col­lege trans­fers Tyler Bjork­lund and Ben Knox, who both missed sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of the spring. As the sea­son has played out, Colby Meeks and Jeff Tay­lor have had an­kle is­sues, too.

The only con­stants have been Jake Ben­nett at cen­ter and first-year starter Ni­cho Gar­cia at right guard. Mox­ley has started ev­ery game, but ei­ther at tackle or guard, and Zack Golditch has started ev­ery game, but at one tackle or an­other, lead­ing to eight dif­fer­ent play­ers start­ing this sea­son.

“When you run it 50-plus times in a ball game, you’re go­ing to be a lit­tle bit sore, but I be­lieve we’re built to han­dle that be­cause that’s how we’ve worked, re­ally since I’ve been here,” Bobo said. “And this past year, a ded­i­ca­tion to we’re go­ing to try to be men­tally and phys­i­cally tougher than the team’s we play each week. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily that Satur­day, but be­ing able to re­group and do it again.”

Hav­ing a set five is good, but Mox­ley said chem­istry is gained even when the group has a re­li­able seven or eight in the ro­ta­tion and con­text and fa­mil­iar­ity can be gained. It’s not the ro­ta­tion that’s at is­sue, he said, it’s the ir­reg­u­lar­ity of it in prac­tice and games. Now that’s start­ing to change as the group’s healthy im­proves.

The backs re­main un­fazed by what is hap­pen­ing up front. The 4.8 yards per carry is on par with the first year, but lag­ging be­hind the 5.3 of last sea­son. But the past two weeks the Rams have rushed for bet­ter than 200 yards in a game, the first times they’ve done so against FBS teams.

At the top of the list, the num­bers feel right, with Dawkins rush­ing for 5.5 yards per tote and ex­ceed­ing the cen­tury mark the past two weeks, Matthews at 4.9 per.

“It’s been some­thing that me and Dawk have been wait­ing for, have been ready for,” Matthews said of the run-heavy num­bers against Utah State. “It re­ally helps es­tab­lish a flow you see you there late in games. Just the more than we can flow and the more car­ries we get, the bet­ter we’re get­ting. When we do get into Novem­ber and teams are tired, you’re go­ing to see the run game even flour­ish more.

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