3 keys to beating the Rams
LARAMIE -- Colorado State's new head coach Steve Addazio won't mention the Cowboys by name, but that doesn't mean he doesn't recognize and admire an established program when he sees one.
"I have a lot of respect for Craig Bohl," Addazio said on Monday. "I feel like I see things through similar eyes as he does ... They have a great program. They are a big, physical team and are well-coached. It's going to be a challenging game."
Thursday night, for the 112th time in the history of these two programs, Wyoming and CSU will meet under the lights inside Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins.
The unique circumstances surrounding the abbreviated 2020 season have affected Addazio's Rams more than most. Unlike Wyoming, CSU has been forced to quarantine a number of veteran players. There was an external investigation launched by the school in the offseason. That centered around racism and failed coronavirus protocols.
The new staff was all but exonerated.
The Rams home opener against New Mexico was axed, too.
Now, there could be a bit of an open quarterback competition down south.
Temple transfer Todd Centeio got the start in the Rams' opener in Fresno. Patrick O'Brien played in all 11 games in 2019. He started the final nine games for the injured Collin Hill.
CSU fell to the Bulldogs 38-17 in the opener. Centeio completed just 10-of-23 passes for 141 but did run for 80 yards on 13 carries to lead the team. O'Brien played late, connecting on 7-of-10 for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Who starts Thursday night against the Cowboys? Addazio knows, but he isn't telling.
Either way, here's what we think it will take for the Pokes to claim their fifth straight Bronze Boot.
Third and doubt
When you break down the numbers, it's third-down conversions -- and getting Fresno State off the field on that particular down -- that served as the demise of CSU in the opener.
Behind Centeio, the Rams picked up just four conversions out of 15 chances.
Fourth-down attempts didn't come easy for the visitors either. CSU converted just one of those in four tries.
The Rams' defense struggled to get off the field all night, allowing Fresno State to convert 10-of-18 third downs. The 'Dogs also were a perfect 2-for-2 on fourth down.
They were the back-breaking conversions, too:
- On FSU's opening drive, the Bulldogs converted a pair of third downs, including a 3rd and 7. Ronnie Rivers would capitalize with the home team's first touchdown of the night
- Three drives later, Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener picked up 15 yards on a 3rd and 17. FSU picked up the 4th and 2. Rivers would score again
- Fast forward to the next FSU drive. The Bulldogs converted a 3rd and 18, a 4th and 1 and a 3rd and 13. That also resulted in a touchdown. CSU trailed 24-3 at the half.
To make matters worse for Addazio's squad, the Rams punted on four of their five first-half possessions. Two of those were three-and-outs.
Familiar on film
Addazio wants to run the football.
He proved that in his stops at Boston College and Temple.
In fact, this isn't Addazio's first time facing the Cowboys. When he was the head man in Philly, the Owls and Pokes met in the New Mexico Bowl. That result, and the way Temple made it happen, is exactly what Addazio wants to accomplish Thursday night in Fort Collins.
It's his blueprint for success. And it might sound a tad familiar to UW fans.
Not only did the Owls roll to a 37-15 victory over Dave Christensen's Cowboys back in 2011, they physically dominated -- especially on the ground.
Led by Bernard Pierce, Temple ran the ball 51 times for 244 yards and three touchdowns. They chewed up 20 minutes of clock and built a commanding 28-7 lead at the half.
Quarterback Chris Coyer attempted just 12 passes. He completed eight of them while pilling up 169 yards through the air and a score.
That's the game plan Addazio wants.
That's the game plan Bohl executes with regularity.
In the Pokes' win over Hawaii last Friday, Xazavian Valladay, Trey Smith and Levi Williams carried the ball 59 times for 281 yards.
The ate up 38:15 of the game clock.
Williams threw the ball just 18 times.
Wyoming will likely stick to script in Fort Collins. CSU will try. That could be the difference -- who executes?
Who are those guys?
As mentioned above, the pandemic has caused plenty of issues already this fall for the Rams.
In Fresno, CSU wasn't exactly playing at full strength, especially at the receiver spot.
Everyone knew all-world pass catcher Warren Jackson wasn't an option. He opted out to prepare for the NFL. But the Rams also played without the services of Dante Wright and Ty McCullouch.
Wright was CSU's second-leading receiver in 2019, snagging 56 passes for 802 yards and four touchdowns. McCullouch caught just three balls, but racked up 54 yards. That's an explosive 18 yards per reception.
Centeio missed on some long balls last Thursday night. He also dealt with some big drops, including one off the arms of EJ Scott with the Rams attempting to stick with the Bulldogs in the first half.
Auburn transfer Nate Craig-Meyers is still a threat on the outside, and CSU fields one of the best tight ends in the nation in Trey McBride.
What does it all mean?
CSU, especially with O'Brien under center, is still very much a threat to beat you through the air. Will Addazio's play calling allow it? That's yet to be seen. But a young, inexperienced UW secondary has to be prepared for it.
Azizi Hearn, CJ Coldon, Keyon Blankenbaker and crew took a huge step in the right direction last week against Hawaii, allowing just 11 completions and 110 passing yards.
But they are still just two weeks removed from Nevada's Carson Strong carving them up to the tune of 420 passing yards and four touchdowns. Addazio has seen that on film. Promise.
If Wyoming can limit the big play like Fresno State did, CSU could be in big trouble.