Who has the edge? CSU Edition Part II
LARAMIE — People like to say that the game of football is not played on paper.
They are right — but it’s still fun to look.
Today, we will breakdown the defenses of the Colorado State Rams (4-6, 3-3) and Wyoming Cowboys (6-4, 3-3). The two Border War rivals will meet Friday night at War Memorial Stadium. What’s on the line? Plenty. These two play for the Bronze Boot.
Not to mention this will be the 111th tilt in the long history of the series. CSU has to win its last two to become bowl eligible. Wyoming needs to solidify a bowl berth.
So, who has the edge on defense?
Javaree Jackson was limited in practice Tuesday with a knee injury, according to Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl. The junior from Wisconsin has been doing plenty of heavy lifting as of late. The defensive tackle has been nothing short of destructive in back-to-back losses in Boise and Logan. Last week against Utah State, the 6-foot, 5-inch, 276-pounder batted a Jordan Love pass out of the air on the Aggie first drive. Before the ball could touch the ground, he laid out for it to snag his first interception. That's just part of what the Cowboys defensive line brings to the table Friday night against CSU. Wyoming is No. 1 in the Mountain West in sacks with 30. Solomon Byrd has 6.5 of those. Garrett Crall has 4.5. Cole Godbout and Mario Mora have been beasts up the middle, too. Veteran end Josiah Hall has also added 2.5 sacks. The Cowboys allow just 98.3 yards per game on the ground. That't good enough for ninth in the nation. It all starts with this unit. CSU gave up eight sacks in last week's home loss to Air Force. Wyoming must get to the passer to slowdown the Rams potent passing offense.
CSU's weakness has been stopping the run and tackling this season. That doesn't bode well in this matchup. The Pokes will run the ball. That's a guarantee. The Rams surrender 207 yards per game on the ground. Wyoming's now-healthy offensive line will smell blood in the water. So will Xazavian Valladay, who is nearing 900 yards on the ground this season. CSU's best lineman is defensive end Jalen Bates. He has 42 tackles and a sack this season. He has also picked off two passes, which is tied for the team lead. Jan-Phillip Bombek and Ellison Hubbard have had the most success getting to opposing quarterbacks. They have 4.5 and five sacks this season, respectively. The Rams are known for their fast starts on both sides of the ball. They are also known for wearing down. Expect Wyoming to stay on the ground and try and break the Rams will.
The accolades just keep rolling in for senior linebacker Logan Wilson. The Casper product is an All-American candidate, was invited to the Senior Bowl, is the only non-Power Five player on the Butkus semifinalist list, just passed San Diego State legend, Kirk Morrison, for fourth on the conference's all-time tackle list and after an interception for a touchdown in Logan last week, has four career touchdowns. That's tied for most in the country among active players. Yeah, he's good. Wilson is having a career years for the Cowboys. He leads the team with three interceptions, is second with 80 tackles and has a sack and a forced fumble. Along with fellow senior Cassh Maluia and Chad Muma, this group has been a strength for the Cowboys all season. They have faced some of the best tight ends in the game -- and shut them down. Rarely does a running back get passed them, either. This unit has accounted for five interceptions and eight pass breakups. Last week in Logan, this group held tight end Caleb Repp to just two catches. They also aided in keeping the Aggies rushing attack at bay.
Dequan Jackson, Cam'ron Carter and Tron Folsom are three of the most athletic linebackers in the Mountain West Conference. This trio has combined for just two sacks, but they have racked up 178 tackles. These guys are good, but they haven't forced enough turnovers or made game-changing plays, though freshman Mohamed Kamara did return an Air Force fumble for a touchdown last week. CSU is minus-8 in turnover margin this season. That's 122nd in the nation. The Rams did a nice job containing Air Force's high-powered rushing attack last Saturday night in Fort Collins, however, it was the pass that burned them in the 38-21 loss. Donald Hammond completed just 5-of-11 passes, but three of those went for touchdowns against an unsuspecting CSU defense. They missed way too many tackles and let receivers get lost in the fray while selling out to stop the option. The very same thing could happen against the run-heavy Cowboys.
Utah State had plenty of success through the air against a Cowboys secondary that surrenders 282 yards per game. Love and the Aggies tallied 317 yards, including an 80-yard scoring strike. That is music to the ears of CSU head coach Mike Bobo and the Rams, who feature one of the top passing attacks in the nation. CSU is No. 12 in the country, averaging 315 yards per game off the arm of Patrick O'Brien. Warren Jackson, a 6-foot, 6-inch receiver, poses a major issue for a Cowboys secondary that has been decimated by injury and suspension. Tyler Hall, Wyoming's best cover corner, will have to figure out a way to contain Jackson and Co. Dante Wright is another CSU receiver that has given opponents fits during his rookie season. If these guys can figure out a way to limit big plays, something they struggled with in Logan, Wyoming's defense should be in good shape. If not, the Rams could be holding up a trophy at midfield after the game. Azizi Hearn, Jordan Murry and Braden Smith will have to step up -- big time. Alijah Halliburton, the Cowboys leading tackler with 93 stops, and Rome Weber, will also have to help contain Trey McBride, CSU's big, play making tight end. Nickle back, Keyon Blankenbaker, will also draw that responsibility. This might be the biggest test of the season for this unit.
Obviously the CSU secondary can share in the responsibility of letting Air Force throw for three touchdowns last Saturday in Fort Collins. The Falcons confused these guys and lulled them to sleep with the rushing attack. Sound familiar? However, Saturday was more of an exception than the rule this season. The Rams secondary allows just 184 yards per game through the air. That's 17th in the country. A lot of that has to do with a pair of hard-hitting safeties, Jamal Hicks and Logan Stewart. Hicks leads the team with 94 tackles. Stewart has added 65 and a pair of interceptions. Andre Neal is the Rams top cover corner with two interceptions. He also has a pick-six this season. Marshaun Cameron is not afraid to come up and make a hit. He has 30 tackles from the corner spot. This is one of the deepest positions for the Rams. Nine cornerbacks have played this season, including Keevan Bailey, son of NFL Hall of Fame corner, Champ Bailey. You might remember him from his college days at Georgia. He made life miserable for the Cowboys in Athens in 1998. Anyway, the Rams will not allow Tyler Vander Waal to much time to make decisions. That's not good, considering the sophomore tossed three interceptions last week at Utah State. Wyoming will try to make these guys tackle more than pass defend.
ADVANTAGE: Colorado State