October 29, 2020

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 Temple transfer Todd Centeio got the start at quarterback for CSU Thursday.  (Brandon Randall, CSU Athletics.) 

 

 Because of contact tracing/quarantine  complications in the COVID-19 world of 2020, the CSU Rams were without two of their four top receivers --Dante Wright and Ty McCullouch -- for the Thursday night opener at Fresno State.

 

Big deal?

 

Not necessarily. It didn't need to be. 


The Rams let it become one. 

 

 "I mean, they've beeen out for two weeks," CSU coach Steve Addazio said after the ugly 38-17 loss. "Contact tracing. You'd have to take that up with whoever's in charge of all that, OK? I think we get 'em back like tomorrow morning, but it's a player day off tomorrow morning, so that's not really going to matter. Hopefully, we'll have 'em back, but you know what, it's going to be a challenge every week."    

 

Adazzio, finally getting to coach a game 10 months after being hired, was right about that. CSU largely has dropped a curtain over the program, albeit with privacy concerns paramount and practices completely closed, so it's hard to come up with COVID-related specifics that go beyond periodic numbers-only updates.    

 

But in this case -- the football case -- the bigger problem was Addazio and his staff let that, plus a look at Hawaii's success running the ball in a win at Fresno last week, dictate strategy and tie hands. 

 

So they went with Temple transfer Todd Centeio, a far better runner than passer, as the quarterback starter in the opener. Ahead of holdover starter Patrick O'Brien.

 

OK, that's defensible, especially given no outsiders were getting a look at what was going on in practices. But most curious, O'Brien eventually was thrown out there, but it was far too late to do any good, and the Addazio reasoning that Centeio had been knocked around was lame.

 

Even the CSU radio crew was openly wondering why O'Brien wasn't warming up sooner, and it was such as obvious point to raise, it added to the suspicion that there were other reasons O'Brien couldn't go. Injury. COVID-related issues. 

 

But then he was in, after all.

 

Once it got past the point of no return, O'Brien's insertion was surpising.

 

Bottom line: If he could play, he should have been in to open the second half, when the Rams were down 24-10.

 

Make no mistake, there was much more to the loss than quarterbacking. Centeio was 10-for-23, for 141 yards, and did run for 80 yards on 13 carries. The CSU defense failed to make key stops, especially letting the Bulldogs off the hook on third down. The offensive problems also included penalties that Addazio was right to label "ridiculous" and "drive killers."  

 

It just seemed to set a weird tone.

 

"We made a decision that we were down" wide receivers, Addazio noted, also bringing up the loss of Warren Jackson, who during the period of scheduling uncertainty opted out of his senior season to prepare for the NFL draft.

 

He added, "And then we were down two receivers and we just felt like we were going to need his legs in this game. And that we needed a mixture of that in this game. . . We thought that was going to be to our advantage and it seemed like that was going to play pretty well."

 

Kelly Lyell of the Coloradoan pressed him on whether the decision meant Centeio had been selected the starter for the season.

 

"I  make a decision for a game," Addazio said. "God, I don't know what's going to happen next week after that, the week after that, or anything else. . . Toddy had a great camp. I thought Pat competed hard, but in this game, we clearly felt that we were going to need his legs. And as we move forward, I'll make that decision."

 

The other issue is a potentially awkward one. The new coach, inheriting a program under trying circumstances, has installed three Boston Collge transfers as starters in the offensive line and also, at least for one game, went with a Temple graduate transfer at QB ahead of O'Brien, who played well enough to make it clear he wasn't the problem after Collin Hill went down with another knee injury last season.

 

One of the perils in coaching transitions is allowing divisions between the previous regime's guys and "your" guys, at least for the first couple of seasons. This has the look of a coach looking around at what he inherited, not being impressed with what he saw, and scrambling for immediate help from his former programs and elsewhere. There's nothing "wrong" with that, but it's one of the things that can add to the tensions if things don't go well. And at least in the opener, the signs weren't good. This could be the shortest long season in CSU history. Plus, since every program is fighting this, COVID and COVID-related rationalizations should be off limits.     

 

Fresno State had a game under its belt, but it was an awful loss to Hawaii. Now CSU has to try to recover next Thursday night at home in the Border War. That'll be on CBSSN, too, which raises another point. While the exposure of a late Thursday college game is helpful, it's not as if it's Destination Television for staggering Nielsen numbers.               

 

But that's a discussion for another day.