Dangerous Ground for Colorado State
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 16, 2010
Nevada’s five turnovers helped, but one could only be impressed with Colorado State’s 35-20 win over the Wolf Pack on Sept. 19, 2009, a win that pushed the Rams to a perfect 3-0 heading into their Mountain West opener. The win, while somewhat surprising, gave second-year coach Steve Fairchild a sterling 10-6 mark early into his second year — a fine improvement over Sonny Lubick’s 7-17 record from 2006-7. It was clear — it seemed at the time — that Fairchild, the former C.S.U. quarterback, knew what he was doing. Nearly one year later, the Rams have lost 11 straight, many by a lopsided margin; the offense has disappeared; and if recent results are our guide, have forgotten what it means to play defense at Colorado State. In short, Fairchild’s happy start has disappeared in a fog of questions about his ability to lead this program back into yearly M.W.C. contention.
Even in losing six games in his debut season, Fairchild impressed. The six losses came against premier competition: Colorado, California, T.C.U., Utah, B.Y.U. and Air Force — pretty good company. The offense was strong, if not spectacular. Nevertheless, the 327 points scored was a program-best since 2003; not surprisingly, that fall marked the last time C.S.U. won seven games in a season.
The defense wasn’t great, no. The Rams ended the year tied for 92nd nationally in scoring, allowing a little less than 30 points per game. In a sense, Colorado State’s final record was made all the more impressive because of its relative ineffectiveness: Fairchild pulled seven wins out of a team that was average on offense, significantly below average on defense.
Rookie coaches are supposed to improve over time, are supposed to become more adept at game-planning, motivation, what have you. And so we return to Sept. 19, 2009: at this point, it seemed the Rams had continued to progress under Fairchild’s watch. A win over Nevada was joined by a win over rival Colorado in the season opener; we were still unaware of how bad the Buffaloes would be.
We were also unaware that C.S.U. would not win another game, dropping nine straight to end the year among the most disappointing non-B.C.S. conference teams in the country. In Fairchild’s defense, however, a few losses were by the slimmest of margins.
The Rams largely outplayed Idaho in a 31-29 loss, with a failed two-point conversion and late interception allowing the Vandals to escape with the two-point win. A week later, C.S.U. coughed up a 17-10 fourth quarter lead against Utah, eventually losing, 24-17.
A loss to New Mexico came only by a late U.N.M. field goal, though that does little to lessen the embarrassment of losing to a one-win team piloted by the least impressive coach in the country. The season ended in familiar fashion: despite outplaying Wyoming — gaining 352 yards to Wyoming’s 233 — the Rams lost by a single point following yet another fourth quarter field goal.
Well-coached teams find a way to win these games, particularly against teams with far inferior talent, such as with New Mexico; well-coached teams find a way to avoid fourth quarter collapses, such as we saw in games against Utah and Wyoming.
That brings us to 2010: through two weeks, it seems the bottom has dropped out.
The year began with a disheartening performance against Colorado: 49 yards rushing, 3 turnovers, 1-12 on third down, three points. Only Colorado’s own inefficiency prevented the final score from being worse than merely 24-3, though the margin doesn’t reflect how one-sided the result truly was.
Last week, C.S.U. gave up 631 yards of offense in a 45-point loss to Nevada. This isn’t Colorado State football, a program with a tradition of playing solid, stout defense — though stopping the run has been an issue as far back as 2004, when the Rams finished in the bottom 10 nationally in yards allowed per game.
For those expecting a turnaround — hoping for a turnaround — the first two weeks have been a sincere disappointment. This Saturday presents one of Colorado State’s best opportunities at breaking this 11-game losing streak: the Rams travel to Miami (Ohio), a similarly proud program entering a significant lull under a new head coach.
From there, it’s home for Idaho and T.C.U., on the road for Air Force and back home for U.N.L.V. before heading to Utah. The road certainly doesn’t get any easier; there’s no F.C.S. opponent this fall, as there had been in each of Fairchild’s first two seasons. Most significantly, however, there’s no avoiding the question marks surrounding Fairchild’s hand in C.S.U.’s decline.
There’s blame to be laid upon Lubick’s doorstep; as high as the program reached under his watch, its recent slide began over his final four seasons. The onus is on Fairchild to both bring C.S.U. back into bowl eligibility while reversing his meaningful losing streak. The two goals are related, of course. Through two weeks, however, it seems that the decline has worsened — the Rams are in a very dangerous place, teetering on the edge of irrelevance.
Tags: Colorado State, Steve Fairchild
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