For a few brief moments, it looked like the Colorado State football team could pull off the near-impossible.
The Rams trailed 34 points early in the third quarter on Saturday before mounting a furious rally.
CSU cut him down to two touchdowns and several times he had the ball to cut him down to one touchdown, including once reaching Middle Tennessee 21, but he never got close.
Middle Tennessee held on and won 34-19 at Canvas Stadium.
Here are three takeaways from the Rams’ home opener with Jay Norvell.
The comeback that wasn’t
CSU (0-2) was down 34-0 less than 2 minutes into the third quarter, Canvas Stadium had emptied, fans booed the team multiple times. Everything was wrong.
Then the CSU came to life.
Clay Millen hit Tory Horton for a 48-yard touchdown pass. The duo then connected for a 69-yard touchdown. Then a 17-yard touchdown between the two.
Suddenly, it was 34-19 in less than 12 minutes of play after Middle Tennessee went up 34.
The Rams continued to stop Middle Tennessee and get the ball back for offense. The best opportunity to cut further came when CSU reached MTSU 21 early in the fourth quarter, but a penalty and sack pushed the Rams back and ultimately missed a field goal.
That was the last best chance to make it a one score game. It seemed like it could happen, but ultimately it was too big a hole.
Millen finished the game 20-for-30 for 256 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He was fired nine times. Horton rushed for 186 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Why was the return necessary?
The reason CSU needed the return offer was because of an atrocious first half (and the start of the third quarter).
Everything was off.
On the first play of the game, Millen’s pass was returned for a touchdown when his connection attempt to Horton was deflected, deflected, and intercepted.
CSU’s A’Jon Vivens fumbled inside the MTSU 10 as the Rams trailed 17-0. Millen was caught and released, leading to another MTSU touchdown to make it 27-0.
A defensive penalty erased a red zone stoppage and allowed MTSU to score a touchdown as well.
The Rams had an amazing 35-yard drive in the first half (MTSU had 250). The Air Raid was nowhere to be seen.
As a step:Live updates as Colorado State Football hosts Middle Tennessee at Canvas Stadium
What does this mean?
The first half was filled with online panic from CSU fans and all kinds of great reactions.
The reality is that this is a great project. There are 54 new players, a whole new system and at least five years of football struggles at CSU.
There are valid reasons for fans to be upset. The offensive line is a big problem, the first half plays were unnerving at times and there were too many mistakes.
But it’s also week 2 of a big rebuild. This program was broken. Fans don’t like it, but it’s not an overnight solution.
CSU needs to find a way back into the win column — it’s now eight straight losses since last season — but this game doesn’t necessarily portend more dire things to come.
Expect offensive line changes
CSU has allowed 16 sacks in two games (nine on Saturday after seven last week at Michigan). That is an alarming number.
Part of that lies in Millen holding the ball too long at times, but the unit has been overwhelmed and any hope of a solid full-season win hinges on improvement, but it will be a challenge.
Starting left tackle Brian Crespo-Jaquez did not dress for the game and coach Jay Norvell revealed after the game that Crespo-Jaquez is out for the season after suffering a knee injury in practice this week.
Ches Jackson started in his place. Starting right tackle Dontae Keys was injured in the first quarter with what Norvell later called a relatively minor MCL injury. Keys attempted to return but was unable to. That brought up Owen Snively.
The offensive line was a concern from the start and that made it worse.
“We have to protect (Millen) better. We may have to make some adjustments to be able to do that,” Norvell said. “The guys we put in are very inexperienced and they were very busy today.”
Expect changes. Jacob Gardner has started at center the first two weeks, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to move to left tackle, where he played two seasons at Nevada. He moved there sometimes on Saturday. Other changes could be in store in advance as well.
Follow sports reporter Kevin Lytle on Twitter and Instagram @Kevin_Lytle.