3 keys to beating the Rams
LARAMIE -- Steve Addazio has never been to the state of Wyoming before.
He mentioned that -- twice -- during his weekly press conference.
He expects a hostile environment. Naturally, that comes with any rivalry game.
When it comes to the opponent, though, in many ways, Colorado State's second-year head coach thinks it will be like looking in the mirror.
"They are a very prepared and a very talented football team," Addazio said. "You know, they kind of remind, in some respects, of us. (They're) probably disappointed in their record, but they are a very physical, very tough, very talented, and a scary team to have to play."
Craig Bohl had some compliments for the visiting Rams, too.
"They've taken on the likeness of their head coach," he said. "I think they're a tough, physical team. Their lines of scrimmage -- on both the offensive and defensive line -- are very impressive."
There's no skirting around it -- these programs are similar in many ways.
They want to run the football and play solid defense. At times, both have done just that. But the other commonality between these two bitter rivals is a lack of consistency. That has handed Wyoming lopsided losses to visiting Fresno State and New Mexico. For CSU, their black eyes came against Vanderbilt, Utah State and in the second half of last week's setback against Boise State in Fort Collins.
So, who will flinch first? Who will make the crucial mistake? Who will make the big play?
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday inside War Memorial Stadium.
Here are a few keys to a Wyoming victory:
Trailing 27-14 early in the fourth quarter with the ball resting at their own 1-yard line, Levi Williams and the Cowboys offense went to work.
Xazavian Valladay busted consecutive 11-yard runs and Titus Swen blew through the Spartans' front four for a 23-yard gainer. Aside from a few short passes, this drive was all about the traditional running game for Craig Bohl and Co.
In fact, 72 of Wyoming's 84 yards on that 15-play drive came via the ground game.
That drive ended with an incomplete pass on a 4th-and-2 inside San Jose State's 15-yard line.
Sure, there were no points for the visitors and theoretically that turnover on downs was essentially the third of four turnovers on the day for the UW offense.
But it worked.
It was the hurry-up approach.
SJSU featured zero pass rush on Williams' four pass attempts. Brent Brennan's guys didn't have time to substitute, either. For the first time all afternoon, the Cowboys' rolled right down the field, imposing their will.
Actually, it was the first time since a Week 4 win at UConn.
Wyoming's next drive, a lightning-fast four-play possession that culminated in a 12-yard touchdown reception to Isaiah Neyor, was also a product of getting to the line and making the defense reactionary.
Time and time again this fall -- late against Montana State, Northern Illinois and UConn -- this scheme has been more than effective.
Bohl said it was apparent that his offensive line had the leverage in the second half inside CEFCU Stadium. Pad level was low, legs were driving.
That will happen when a defense is dog tired.
"We made a couple slight adjustments, but more than anything else, just staying diligent and staying with the running game," he said. "That was going to give us our best chance to win."
Like going up-tempo?
"When that did occur, we were able to begin to dent them in the running game," Bohl continued. "When we were able to not substitute and go right back the line of scrimmage, we had softened that front up. They couldn't substitute and that's what really gave us some ability."
CSU features one of the top run defenses in the nation, holding its opponents to just 108 yards per game on the ground. Scott Patchen, Toby McBride and Manny Jones are three of the best defensive lineman in the league, accounting for 16.5 of the Rams' 31 sacks on the season.
This would be a great time to neutralize that, right?
"I think there are times that it can be good," Bohl said of speeding up his offensive attack. "... I'm cautious to say, 'OK, were going to be an upbeat, fast-tempo team if you're not being able to do something successful.' It was good, it worked, it did give us a shot to win. It was not enough."
Maybe it wasn't enough because it was utilized too late?
Will we see that offense Saturday? Who knows.
Should we? I'd say the proof is in the pudding.
A BROKEN RECORD YOU ACTUALLY WANT
If Valladay picks up 11 rushing yards against CSU, he will be the No. 3 running back in the history of Wyoming football, surpassing Ryan Christopherson (2,906).
If the junior tailback tacks on 57 more, he will move into second place all-time ahead of Devin Moore (2,963)
With a 105-yard performance, he will really enter some rarified air, joining fellow Illinois product, Brian Hill, as the only Cowboy running back in history to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark.
Why is all of that important this Saturday?
When Valladay rushes for 100-yards or more, Wyoming is typically on the right side of the scoreboard. That's nine wins, four losses.
In the two previous meetings with CSU, Valladay has made light work of the Rams, rolling up 301 yards on the ground on 55 carries. He has also added a touchdown.
Last week in the Silicon Valley, Valladay had his best rushing day of the season. He went for 172 yards on just 22 carries. He broke a 67-yarder in the third quarter than immediately vaulted the Cowboys back into contention.
The praise went to Valladay, but if you ask UW guard Logan Harris, that sparked the visitors and made the offense feel normal again.
"I think we really had a good week of prep work," the senior from Torrington said. "(SJSU) is big up front. We wanted to move the first level so the backs could take care of second. That kind of showed in the second half. The running backs had a strong showing."
CSU head coach Steve Addazio saw plenty of that on film.
"Up front, they're big up on the offensive line and they've got a couple of good tight ends with a bunch of starts on their O-line," he said.
Wyoming must lean on that experience and toughness that hasn't always been a consistent part of their game through eight games.
Bohl said last week he thought the blockers -- as a whole -- were better than he has seen in recent memory. If that carries over, the Cowboys can get back to playing their game -- grind it out, clock management and keeping their defense on the sideline.
Get Valladay past the century mark and good things can happen.
David Bailey is not the easiest running back in the league to take down.
We all know Trey McBride, CSU's all-world tight end, is a horse.
Dante Wright is elusive. We got a firsthand glance at that last November as the Rams' speedy wide out dodged and weaved all over Canvas Stadium to the tune of 146 yards on 10 receptions.
Todd Centeio, the visitors' junior signal caller, can also turn on the jets if left unattended. He's the team's second-leading rusher with 329 yards on 83 carries.
Typically, the focus is shifted to Wyoming's offense and what it will have to do to pull one out of the fire, but last week we saw some alarming missed tackles, along with bad angles, that tossed all positive momentum out the window.
Nick Nash carried the ball 11 times for 112 yards and scored a touchdown. SJSU's quarterback had a long of 48 yards that took on the appearance of a video game. He eluded the rush, patiently waited for a hole to open, then made his move. It was fun to watch -- if you aren't a Wyoming fan.
The Cowboys played the majority of that game without the services of starting senior safety, Esaias Gandy. Bohl said he was dealing with a "stinger" that he couldn't shake off.
Boy, did the Pokes miss him.
The Spartans exploited it to perfection.
"Esaias is an excellent tackler," Bohl said, adding that he is in hopes he can play in the Border War. "... I think Isaac White is a very, very capable player and you can be sure that whoever is out there, we have full confidence in who's going to be out there."
Nothing against White, who is a solid young player, but the Cowboys better hope it's Gandy and his 42 tackles.
"Gandy is a hell of a player and is in the box most of the time," Addazio said. "He's a real run defender and very, very athletic."
You have to believe this unit will bounce back. Those swing and misses in California were an aberration. Chad Muma, CJ Coldon and Easton Gibbs don't make habits of whiffing on ball carriers.
What has unfortunately become the norm for these guys is the inability to create turnovers. Opponents haven't given the ball to the Pokes one time since the first half of the Air Force game. That was nearly a month ago.
Tackle, strip, win.
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