Middle Tennessee State football allowed 21 unanswered points in the second half and fell to Colorado State on homecoming Saturday, 31-23.
The Blue Raiders (1-3) led 17-10 at halftime before allowing three consecutive touchdowns, the third coming on a turnover.
MTSU got inside the CSU 35-yard line on the game's final drive, but couldn't score.
"We've got to get better," MTSU coach RIck Stockstill said of his team, which travels to rival Western Kentucky Thursday for their Conference USA opener. "We did some good things tonight, both sides of the ball. We're just so inconsistent right now."
Here's what we learned about MTSU's third loss in four games to begin the season:
Unusual plays dominate game
One of the biggest plays in the second half was a 15-yard fumble return for a TD by Colorado State's Mohamed Kamara after MTSU's Kellen Stewart fumbled a lateral sweep. That put the Rams (1-2) up 31-17 with 11:19 left in the fourth.
It wasn't the only unusual play in the game.
The Rams scored on a fake 41-yard punt in the first quarter on a play in which fourth-string quarterback Giles Pooler tossed a 24-yard scoring strike to Dallin Holker as the play appeared to be headed for a sack. Pooler hit Holker on a left-handed pass as he was being knocked to the ground.
Pooler isn’t the team’s normal holder, as punter Paddy Turner usually handles those duties.
MTSU got a first-half interception when it appeared CSU’s Caleb Goodie was going to haul in a deep pass from Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi, but Goodie began stumbling during the catch and lost control, and the ball landed in the hands of MTSU’s Deonte Stanley for the pick.
"That's how football is about . . . momentum," said MTSU linebacker Sam Brumfield, who had seven tackles. "Whenever you can get an interception or turnover, that can make a huge impact for a team."
MTSU avoided further trouble when a sure interception went through the hands of a CSU defender and into the hands of Blue Raiders receiver Justin Olson.
Blue Raiders dominate first half before faltering
MTSU led 17-10 at halftime but dominated in total yards, outgaining Colorado State 271-139.
The Blue Raiders allowed just 1.5 yards per carry (2.3 sack-adjusted), had a sack and forced a turnover.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Nick Vattiato had a big half, going 13-for-21 for 170 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for a team-leading 46 yards and a TD on nine carries.
The Blue Raiders averaged 4.2 yards per carry in the half.
MTSU finished with 436 total yards to Colorado State's 363. Vattiato finished 30 of 41 for 274 yards and three touchdowns, plus 58 rushing yards and a TD.
"(In the first half), we let go of a lot of opportunities that the defense gave us, in terms of field position," Vattiato said.
MTSU returned seven starters who had missed last week’s win over Murray State. Four of them were dressed against Colorado State, including junior running back Frank Peasant.
Peasant carried 11 times for 44 yards. Sophomore Jaiden Credle, who had more than 100 yards rushing for the Raiders in Peasant’s absence last week, added 11 carries for 46 yards.
Wide receiver Holden Willis, who made an impact in the game, also returned. Linebacker Devyn Curtis and Jonathan Butler, who both missed the Murray State game, were dressed out but did not play.
Willis had nine receptions for 118 yards and a first-half touchdown that gave MTSU the lead.
"Nothing on our mind but playing football," Willis said. "We don't go out there expecting a big game. Nick played his hind end off."
This article originally appeared on Murfreesboro Daily News Journal: MTSU football: What we learned from homecoming loss to Colorado State