FORT COLLINS — Joe Parker has dented too many fenders to point fingers. But the more CSU’s athletic director thought about that fiery 12-car pileup in Pullman, the one that lit up college football’s express lane Friday night, the more he appreciated his call to keep the Rams trucking along the local.
“I love what (coach) Jay (Norvell) is doing,” Parker told me Saturday after CSU’s 30-20 win over Nevada pulled the Rams (5-6) to within one win of a bowl berth with a game to play. “I believed in him the moment that we had our first conversation through the (interview) process.
“And every day he just affirms that he’s got an incredible way to kind of focus on the things that matter. And what matters most is culture, building a program where every player in the locker room understands the points that they’re going to be held accountable for. And when it becomes less of coach leading those conversations, but more of the players really holding themselves and each other accountable, in a way, that’s healthy.”
CSU football’s coming. Loveable. Flawed. But still coming. The Rammies are creeping in the slow lanes, lurching ever forward. In September, Norvell’s squad averaged 10 penalties per game. In November, that number’s been trimmed to 6.3 flags a week. Giveaways have dipped from 2.5 per game in September to two per tilt in November.
That said, It feels as if the Rams are sometimes throwing the ball to try and prove a point when running it more might actually score them. You’d prefer to see the game in the hands of freshman tailback Justin Marshall — he’s piled up 217 rushing yards on just 37 carries the last two weeks — than in the mitts of fearless but erratic quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi, truth be told.
That said, the latter’s strung together a quietly nice year (20 touchdowns thrown and 3,143 passing yards) with all kinds of upside bubbling underneath that skinny frame. When BFN is on, the kid’s touch is sublime. When he’s off — the Texan’s tossed 15 picks, and his two at Wyoming proved fatal — or gets locked into “hero mode,” best hide the sharp objects.
“I think he has to really get a handle on his process of playing,” Norvell said of Fowler-Nicolosi. “And when you’re a young player, I think you kind of think you’ve got it handled. But you really have to prepare yourself for all those situations. And he’s a young excitable guy. He’s full of confidence. We don’t want to take that out of him. But he just has to control his process to be a more consistent player week-in and week-out.”
Most nights, the Rammies are an enigma strapped to a roller-coaster. Yet this is also the healthiest CSU has been come late November in six years. That’s both a compliment to Norvell and a scathing indictment of the mess he inherited, a program at 5,003 feet fighting rug burns.
The hosts were far from superlative against Nevada, but the superlatives kept rolling in anyway. CSU just capped its first November with multiple victories since 2016. Its four wins at home were the most since 2017, when Canvas Stadium opened. Attendance for the woebegone Wolf Pack — 20,121, roughly 55% of capacity — was the highest for a CSU home football finale in six years.
Basically, the Rams are clearing some awfully low bars. Which is still good, even if the good’s hugging an asterisk. The next step?
“We really want to go undefeated (at home), to be honest with you,” said Norvell, whose postseason fate hinges on a sneaky-tough tussle at Hawaii (4-8) next Saturday. “But we want to play well in front of our home fans. We want to play well and get that good feeling when we’re in the stadium.
“And I’m gonna be honest — at the beginning of the year, it wasn’t (there). We did not have that good feeling in Canvas. But we’ve developed it and we’ve worked for it, and I believe we have it now.
“We want people to have a hard time when they come here. We want it to be a tremendous atmosphere. And I think we can be. And we have a lot to look forward to next year, (given) the schedule, and the type of atmosphere this place can be. And we’re excited about that.”
CSU lost by 26 points at home to Washington State in Week 1. CU just lost by 42 to those same Cougars in Week 12. Discuss.
“I think Jay has built a really strong model,” Parker said. “I see it every day.”
He smiled. Slow and steady doesn’t always win the race. Then again, what’s the point of being easy to find if you’re so dang hard to watch?