To the casual viewer’s distaste, an ugly and largely dysfunctional affair quickly materialized between Colorado State and Toledo on Saturday.
But that didn’t matter to the CSU football team. Coach Steve Addazio’s squad didn’t need the action to be pretty.
As two-score road underdogs with key injuries on both sides –– whose chances of proving triumphant appeared to resemble a pipe dream heading into the Week 3 clash –– all the Rams needed was a shot to seize its first taste of victory this year.
The Rams were able to seize this opportunity thanks to a dominant defensive performance and a balanced offense. And that wasn’t all. Addazio’s squad pulled the long-awaited rabbit out of the hat upon shocking the Rockets with a 22-6 win at Glass Bowl Stadium.
“Honestly, I’m just happy we won,” Trey McBride, junior tight end, said. “We’ll fix what we need to fix this week. But ultimately, we needed a win, and we got one. So I was happy this team came through. Now we know what we’re capable of, and we’re excited to build on it.”
As previously alluded to, in a contest where both offenses essentially decided to take the day off, CSU’s defense outmatched a Toledo unit that entered the festivities fresh off impressive containment of No. 12 Notre Dame.
While penalties –– 10 to be exact –– hindered the Rockets all game long, the Rams’ defensive line and linebacker corps provided equal fits for the hosts.
Discombobulating Toledo out of the gate, CSU forced the Rockets to punt on four of their first five possessions as the first half eventually ended deadlocked at 3-3 –– after Toledo mustered just 38 total yards.
Photo courtesy Colorado State athletics
Colorado State senior Thomas Pannunzio bursts free for a 70-yard punt return touchdown while the Rams defeat Toledo on the road at Glass Bowl Stadium on Sept. 18, 2021. (Photo courtesy of CSU athletics)
“I thought our defense played lights out,” Addazio said. “We really improved there. We played a great pass-rush. We were playing with an awful lot of young guys in the back end, and they played well. It was just a really gritty performance from our defense. I’m proud of our team overall and how they fought today. It’s just one brick, but it was an important one to get on the road.”
The detrimental defensive disruption only increased as the Rockets’ typically high-powered attack concluded the game with just 284 yards to their name, the lowest total CSU has held an opponent to since defeating Western Illinois in 2019.
Notably, the Rams ferociously stifled Toledo running back Bryant Koback as the junior averaged 1.9 yards per touch after running all over CSU’s Canvas Stadium for 228 yards in 2019.
The Rockets’ Rockets gunslinger Carter Bradley was also put under pressure by the green and golden, with six sacks as well as 10 total tackles. Senior Dequan Jackson was the leader with 13 takedowns, while Mohamad Kamara, a fellow linebacker, added a career-high 3.5 TFLS and 2.5 sacks.
“We just bought in,” Jackson said. “We had a great week of practice. We kind of knew what they were doing, and we had some extra meetings as a defense. We came out and played lights out. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. We played physical, fast and kept believing.”
The Rams also proved potent in the secondary, where freshman Jack Howell rose to the occasion of his first career start amid Logan Stewart’s first-half absence by posting nine tackles.
CSU’s defense put together as solid a performance as you could hope for.
“Jack Howell is going to be a hell of a player,” Addazio said. “He’s got great football in his blood. His dad was a great player, and he’s gonna be a great player. He’s just gonna grow from here. We’re playing with a lot of young guys back there, and that’s good. They’re gonna develop.”
Offensively, to absolutely no one’s surprise, star tight end Trey McBride assembled another 100-yard outing while snagging nine of quarterback Todd Centeio’s 11 completions on 27 pass attempts.
After missing the opportunity last week, the Rams were able to rely on David Bailey as their main running back down the stretch. Bailey converted 30 carries into 132 yards by helping CSU to dictate the time of possession battle.
Still, concerning points, the offense didn’t attain much to write home about. That’s where special teams came in on Saturday.
Namely, supplying the game’s only touchdown, Thomas Pannunzio dashed his way to paydirt for a 70-yard score in the third quarter to push the visitors ahead 13-6 –– an advantage CSU never relinquished.
“I’ve been waiting a whole year to get another shot at (punt returning),” Pannunzio said. “So it felt good. I just saw they were giving me like five yards of space, and I knew I could make a play out of it. Then I hit a few holes, and I was gone from there.”
Initially, the Rams utilized freshman Gerick Robinson as Saturday’s starting punt returner as versatile junior Dante Wright sat out while nursing a knee injury. Robinson muffed a pair of punts in the first half, one of which allowed Toledo three points.
CSU made an expected switch. And Pannunzio surely didn’t let the opportunity go to waste.
Speaking of timely opportunities, kicker Cayden Camper certainly prospered upon attempting to regain his squad’s confidence after botching both of his tries last week versus Vanderbilt.
The junior was a perfect 5-for-5 with three field goals of 42 yards or more at Toledo. Over the recent week of practice, CSU prioritized the creation of chaos and distractions during Camper’s kicks so he could learn how to operate under pressure.
“We addressed the problem this week in practice,” McBride stated. “We put him in tough situations. We had the whole team screaming in his ear. We had guys running in front of him and throwing stuff at him. I mean, we probably put him under the most pressure that he’s been under in his life. And he came out and showed it. A lot of kicking is mental, and he was able to turn that around.”
Photo courtesy Colorado State athletics
Colorado State running back David Bailey breaks loose in the backfield as the Rams face Toledo on the road at Glass Bowl Stadium on Sept. 18, 2021. (Photo courtesy CSU athletics