After one game, 2013 doesn't look much better, and once again it hampered the Rams in a 41-27 loss to Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Sports Authority Field at Mile High to open the season.
The Rams were just 2-of-14 on third down against Colorado, not nearly good enough to win a game, especially not when the defense is giving up big plays.
In the end, the Rams only generated 295 yards of total offense, figures that only rise when the team actually has the ball on the field.
"We left a lot of offense out on the field, which is something we've got to get remedied," Colorado State coach Jim McElwain said.
There were plenty of contributing factors. The Rams ran routes short, dropped passes and threw some bad balls.
"We've just got to make plays," said quarterback Garrett Grayson. "That's really all there is to it. We had guys open. I was missing them, we were dropping balls. There were a lot of passes I threw that weren't the best of balls, so I've just got to be more accurate and make plays."
That was the overall consensus from everybody involved. A focus was put on the down during spring and fall camp, but there still was no success for a team that converted just 34 percent of the time in 2012.
"It's just some execution issues," receiver Joe Hansley said. "We go out and practice every day on third down. We have our periods for that, but really, it's just executing. I mean, the coaches put us in a position to win, and as a player, we have to execute."
The game started with the news senior slot receiver Charles Lovett would not play due to an injury he sustained in the second scrimmage of fall camp. Running back Donnell Alexander, who opened the game with a 17-yard run, would join him later with what was deemed an "upper extremity injury." McElwain said after the game that they'd have to see about his hand and his availability for next week.
The only other injury issue the Rams were concerned with was Hansley, who tweaked an ankle in the fourth quarter. Hansley was a big part of the game, catching eight passes for 91 yards and finishing with 183 yards of total offense with his punt returns, including his 74-yard score in the third quarter.
Eleven Rams played for the first time in the game, including true freshmen Rashard Higgins (WR), Deonte Clyburn (LB), Jake Schlager (S) and Austin Berk (DL). Also on the list are Hayden Hunt (P), Terry Jackson and LaRyan King (DL), Davon Riddick (RB), Danny Nwosu (LB) and Jordon Vaden (WR). Many of them saw action on special teams.
Bibbs had the biggest impact of them all, scoring his first two college touchdowns on runs of 7 and 2 yards and leading the team with 70 yards on 15 carries. But he also had a key fumble that Colorado returned for a touchdown that helped swing momentum back in the Buffs' favor.
Hunt wasn't bad, either. He punted seven times for an average of 49.7 with a long of 69, pinning the Buffs inside the 20 once.
The Rams also put a focus on special teams in the offseason; that paid off for them in the game. In addition to Hansley's scoring return, Thomas Coffman had a kick return of 84 yards to set up Bibbs' second touchdown that gave the Rams a 24-23 lead heading into the fourth.
"We work on special teams a lot," Hansley said. "We take pretty big pride in it with Coach Hammerschmidt, and all the guys do their part to block. Really, it was just them springing me to have an opportunity to do something with the ball."
Hansley's score was the first by a Ram on a punt return since Damon Morton in 2006 at Fresno State. Coffman's return is the longest since John Mosure had a 90-yard return against CU in 2008.
Grayson earned the start, something McElwain kept quiet all week. However, he pulled Grayson aside on Friday to let him know he was the guy.
Despite saying during the week multiple quarterbacks could play, McElwain stuck with Grayson the entire game. He was 22-of-39 passing for 201 yards, including six dropped passes.
"He'd like to have a couple of plays back, but I thought he managed it pretty well," McElwain said. "I really do. He missed a couple of plays, made a couple of plays with his feet. We probably didn't push the ball down the field enough, to be honest. There were some seams in there we didn't take advantage of. I thought everything was horizontal today, and that's something we need to take a look at."
He said heading into next week's game at Tulsa, Grayson is still in line to start, adding that Nick Stevens, not Conner Smith, was in line as the backup heading into the opener.
Safety Kevin Pierre-Louis led the team with a career-best 15 tackles, and Bernard Blake had a career day with 11. Shaquil Barrett had 3.5 tackles for a loss. ... Kicker Jared Roberts has made all five of his field goal attempts against Colorado and has made eight straight overall. His last miss came in the home opener last September against North Dakota State.