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Week 2 Preview: Colorado State must respond with a home win against Vanderbilt

Justin Michael Avatar
September 10, 2021

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Colorado State hosts Vanderbilt Saturday night in a game that is being tabbed as a ‘Toilet Bowl’ by college football pundits across the country. Though it may sound harsh, considering both teams are coming off big losses to FCS opponents, it’s really not surprising that the Rams and Commodores are the butt of many jokes.

Regardless of whether the game is nationally interesting or not, it’s absolutely a must-win situation for the Rams. With trips to Toledo and Iowa coming up — teams that in Week 1, won 49-10 and 34-6, respectively — CSU simply cannot afford to drop another home game, especially with San Jose State, the reigning league champs then coming to Canvas Stadium to open the conference slate on October 9. 

If the Rams fall to ‘Vandy’ in the ‘Orange Out’ the unfortunate reality is the  likelihood of starting the season 0-5 increases drastically. Even worse though, is the realization that an 0-5 start is plausible before the Green & Gold even play any of their rivals, travel to Hawaii, or host Boise State or Nevada.

Now we all know that weird things can happen in college football. Chaos ensues in the collegiate game regularly, so before this ruins everyone’s day, we should acknowledge that there is always a chance that CSU could swing an upset or two. And if that were to happen, maybe the Rams could carry some momentum into conference play and the whole conversation changes. 

No matter how you look at the situation though, when it comes to Saturday night’s game against Vanderbilt, the Rams cannot afford a loss. Fortunately, as we’ve already alluded to, Vanderbilt is not a very good football team; which is why as crazy as it sounds, CSU is currently favored by a touchdown over the SEC school from Nashville, TN. 

With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about the 2021 Ag Day opponent. 

Background

Since the start of the 2019 season the Commodores have won just three games in total, but it’s been nearly two full years since they were able to beat an FBS opponent. ‘Vandy’ topped Missouri on Oct. 19, 2019. Since then, their only win was over East Tennessee State on Nov. 23, 2019. (Unfortunately for the Vanderbilt faithful, that same ETSU program came back to Music City and beat them 23-3 last week.)

While it’s been a rough stretch for the program, Vanderbilt hopes to have found the right man to turn things around. The school hired former Notre Dame defensive Coordinator Clark Lea this past offseason after a successful stint with the Irish. 

Obviously Lea’s debut was less than ideal, no SEC team ever expects to lose to a school as small as ETSU. That said, he did lead an Irish defense that ranked 14th nationally in scoring and 25th in total defense in 2020. So maybe it’s just a matter of him getting his own players in the system before he’s able to start turning things around as a head coach. 

Familiar Faces

Lea is the head man in charge for the Commodores but there will be a familiar face on Vandy’s sideline this weekend. After just one season with CSU, Joey Lynch ditched his role as offensive coordinator/QB coach for a position on Lea’s staff at Vanderbilt. While Lynch’s title is technically quarterbacks coach and David Raih is the offensive coordinator, it’s Lynch that is tasked with calling the plays for Vanderbilt. 

It’s pretty rare for coaches to return to their old program so quickly, so it will be interesting to see how big of an advantage Lynch’s firsthand knowledge of the program is for Vandy. He knows what Steve Addazio’s offensive philosophy is and can provide tips to Lea and the defensive staff. He also got to go up against Chuck Heater’s defenses every day in practice last year, which could give him a leg up with things like identifying tendencies or patterns in play calling. Don’t get me wrong, this shouldn’t be an excuse if CSU drops this game, but it’s at least an interesting storyline to follow. 

Scouting

Addazio didn’t give much insight into what he expects to see from the Commodores this weekend. He did say that he anticipates Vandy will run more defensive looks than South Dakota State did in Week 1. “They’re more like us on defense,” Addazio said. “They play different fronts, different pressures, different covers.” 

According to Addazio though, it’s tough to scout a team like Vanderbilt because they’re still trying to establish an identity on both sides of the football. He can watch last week’s film and go back to Lea’s time at Notre Dame, but as he phrased things, he doesn’t have much of a book of business on this team. 

On offense Vanderbilt runs a read-zone scheme which features a lot of RPOs. In Week 1 two different quarterbacks saw action but neither performed particularly well. Ken Seals was 20-of-35 (57 percent) for 195 yards, zero touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Mike Wright was 4-of-9 for 41 yards (44 percent) in a limited role as well. Neither guy ran the ball effectively either, as the two combined for 16 yards on 13 carries. 

Defensively the Commodores switch things up but their base was a 4-3 against ETSU. While it was a relatively pedestrian showing for the unit as a whole, sophomore linebacker Ethan Barr stood out with a team-high 11 total tackles (7 solo). His running mate Anfernee Orji had eight total tackles (1.5 for loss) after switching from safety to linebacker as well. 

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying how unfortunate the season opener was. There was an electric crowd and an opportunity to capture a new generation of CSU students, but the Rams dropped the ball. Period. 

At this point the only thing CSU can do is try to put the loss in the rearview and give themselves an opportunity to salvage the non-conference slate. Although somewhat unlikely, a .500 finish after the first month is still within reach. As are basically all of CSU’s season goals. The Rams can’t go undefeated at home but a bowl game is still a possibility. Technically a conference championship is too — at least until the Rams break into league games.

All I know is CSU cannot afford to let one frustrating night compound into a frustrating month and/or season. This clearly isn’t going to be a Rams squad that breaks records or rewrites the history books. But I think there’s too much talent to throw in the towel just yet.

Just win.

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