Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Washington State Cougars running back Teondray Caldwell (34) fumbles the ball in the fourth quarter against the Colorado State Rams during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. The Rams defeated the Cougars 48-45. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The final three looks in this series won’t be nearly as extensive as the first two. But we’re gonna finish this whole grieving process with more looks back at what went wrong and why it’s not as bad as we’ve made it out to be (as a fan base). Parts 1 and 2 can give you more perspective on this piece.
Let’s go back. There wasn’t any risk in handing the ball to Jeremiah Laufasa, he hadn’t fumbled all season. Cover up the ball and it was really no different than a kneel down, except it took a few extra seconds off of the clock.
Again, the kid runs in short yardage situations all the time and he’s never fumbled the football. But the X-factor was the MWC’s best defender, linebacker Shaquil Barrett. I don’t know how many fumbles he’s caused this season, but the Rams recovered 12 of them and I’d venture to guess he was in on at least a third of them. In back-to-back plays he stripped the Cougars clean and recovered both. One of them didn’t count but it was clearly a skill that he has to grasp and rip. Teams practice it all the time but there are a few that just excel at that type of thing and Barrett is that kid.
Laufasa had both hands on the ball, he just wasn’t strong enough and for some reason was fighting for extra yardage. This is a great learning experience for him in these late-game situations to just get what you got and get down. Unfortunately it allowed CSU to have any chance. But as far as giving him the ball, it wasn’t a bad decision in the least, he’s the most sure handed running back of the group.
On to Teondray Caldwell’s fumble. There is no excuse. After you just watched two of your teammates lose it in back-to-back plays, you should be carrying the football extra tough, extra secure. Caldwell is a sophomore and he’ll learn too, but it really shouldn’t have come to that. He was carrying the ball like a soft loaf of bread and it was smashed out of his arms with all the force of a light tap across the chest.
But this too is not worth freaking out over, it’s kinda weird he was even in the game at that point. For the most part, Kristoff Williams had been returning the kickoffs all day and had more of a feel for the physicality of the moment (obviously) at the time. It was a baffling development to me to even see him back there, but there are so many things that could’ve factored into that decision, it’s impossible to blame anyone. Not only that but Theron West, who was having a monster day at one point, had fumbled earlier in the game. Really, what were the chances that all three of those backs fumble the football in the ball game?
Point is, like George said a couple of days ago, there wasn’t a skim milk’s percentage chance that those two kids that touched the ball on the Cougars’ final two plays would fumble at all, much less back-to-back plays. And for those of you wondering why Caldwell didn’t just down the football to save seconds and give the Cougs the ball at the 25, it’s because he caught it at the 3 yard line, at which point you gotta, go as you can’t let it land except to take your chances on a live ball for anyone to get. These were just unfortunate circumstances that will help the Cougs in future contests (hopefully) in their urgency to keep the ball high and tight.