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What makes Utah State such a tough matchup for the Rams

Justin Michael Avatar
September 27, 2019

 

 

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Colorado State football has plenty of time to salvage a respectable season, but after starting 1-3 and losing Collin Hill for the year, the Rams will be climbing uphill for the remainder of 2019. CSU’s ascent begins with Utah State on Saturday.

Led by quarterback Jordan Love, the Aggies were the most explosive offensive in the Mountain West in 2018. That’s not hyperbole — USU averaged 47.5 points per game and won 11 games last season. The only two teams that Love and the Aggies could not beat were No. 11 Michigan State (38-31) and No. 21 Boise State (33-24).

Had Preston Williams not been flagged for illegal touching on a hail mary at the end of the CSU game, the Rams would have had an upset win over Utah State last November. But aside from that snowy game in Fort Collins, a tight game against Wyoming, and their loss to the Broncos, the Aggies essentially ran straight through the conference with little resistance.

“I know they didn’t win our conference last year but they were right there in contention all the way to the last weekend,” head coach Mike Bobo said at his weekly press conference.

Against league opponents, in 2018, USU averaged 516 yards of total offense and 45 points per game. A road loss to an experienced Boise State squad in the final week of the regular season ultimately costed the Aggies a chance at a conference championship, but in total, they went 7-1 against the Mountain West before murdering North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl, 52-13.

Love was a big part of that 2018 success, racking up 3,567 passing yards and 32 touchdowns through the air. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound, QB proved to be a reliable weapon in the red zone with seven rushing touchdowns to boot.

So far, in 2019, Utah State appears to be just as dangerous, even without Matt Wells leading the ship. Since Gary Anderson returned to Logan as head coach, the Aggies are 2-1 and scoring 40 points per game while only giving up 21. Between Anderson’s defensive identity and Love’s big-play potential on offense, the Aggies haven’t skipped a beat.

“I know they’ve got a new head football coach in coach (Gary) Anderson, who I have a lot of respect for as a head coach and as a defensive coordinator,” Bobo said. “He’s a guy that I actually talked to when we had this job open here.”

Bobo explained that what makes Anderson’s defenses so difficult to go against is that he does an excellent job of mixing up the personnel on the field. Sometimes Utah State will go with four down lineman, other times they will use three. The only consistency is that Anderson’s defensive lines always generate pressure and play a big role in their success.

Offensively, the Aggies are coached by Mike Sanford, who is in his first season as the OC and quarterbacks coach.

“He’s been doing it for a long time and he walked into a situation where he’s got an experienced quarterback — doing a lot of the same stuff they did last year, with some of the wrinkles that he’s done in his career,” Bobo said.

Through three games, Love has completed 68.2 percent of his passes and is averaging 334 passing yards per game. While the touchdowns have not yet come in bunches for the junior QB out of California, Love has done a nice job of executing the offense, making good decisions with the football and allowing the skill players to help him with the heavy lifting.

In their most recent win over San Diego State, Love completed 30-of-47 pass attempts (63.8 percent) for 293 yards. He did not have any touchdowns in the game but consistently made plays to keep drives alive throughout the contest, and most importantly, he wasn’t responsible for any turnovers for a second consecutive week.

For the Rams, coming off of a pair of frustrating losses to Arkansas and Toledo, USU is pretty much the last opponent CSU would want to face — especially on the road. As Bobo explained earlier this week, Maverik Stadium is one of the tougher venues to play in due to how close the stands are to the field.

“I’ve been there twice now,” Bobo said. “You’re right by their stands (and) they usually have a very good turnout — they’re loud and it’s going to be a challenge for us to stay focused and do our job on the road against a very talented team.”

The only thing that may potentially work in CSU’s favor is that the forecast is calling for temperatures in the forties with a high chance of rain in Logan, Utah on Saturday. While it may not end up factoring into the outcome, there’s always the possibility that the weather brings down the energy in the stadium or causes the game to be sloppy — either way, Bobo told reporters on Wednesday that he hopes it pours.

Regardless of how the weather turns out, the Rams will have a handful in stopping the Love-led offense, though. No. 1o was named the preseason MW Offensive Player of the Year for a reason, and thus far, he is playing phenomenal football.

With a looming road trip to LSU on their slate, Utah State is really going to want to cushion their record with a home win over the Rams. If Love and the Aggies get off to a quick start, CSU will really be in trouble for two key reasons.

1. The experienced QB will simply protect the football and rely on his running back Jaylen Warren to chew up clock. 2. The Rams have struggled to make second half adjustments on the defensive side all season.

Obviously, this has not been the start that CSU was looking for. Going into the season, the team knew that a strong showing in the first month would be crucial — and that was before we even realized how good the league truly is.

Now that the Rams have fallen, they must attempt to climb their way out of this pit of misery. The journey starts with Love and the Aggies Saturday night.

Utah State vs. Colorado State

Location: Maverik Stadium (Logan, Utah)

Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. MT

TV: CBS SportsNet

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