The past four seasons the Rams were long counted out of the bowl game race midway through November with no more than four wins each of the past four years. This season the Rams have a chance to make it to a bowl game for the first time since 2008 and for head coach Jim McElwain, that’s a different feeling for this squad.
“We practiced today a little bit like a team that is in uncharted territory, uncharted waters,” McElwain said after Tuesday’s practice. “You could tell maybe some guys were unsure about where they’re at and it’s natural when you’ve never been some place before.”
The Rams (5-5, 3-2 Mountain West) need to win at least two of their three remaining games to be bowl eligible, starting with a trip to New Mexico on Saturday to face the Lobos (3-6, 1-4 MW).
The Lobos are coming off a 45-37 win against Air Force in which they racked up 451 yards on the ground with their option attack that accounts for an average of 328.9 yards rushing per game, ranking them first in the MW in rushing offense and second in the nation. Running back Kasey Carrier accounted for 179 of those yards against Air Force and quarterback Cole Gautsche added another 140 of his own and two rushing touchdowns.
“He’s huge and he’s nifty,” assistant head coach and linebackers coach Tim Skipper said of the 6’4″, 227-pound Gautsche. “He makes guys miss. You would think he just ran through people but he can stop and go a little bit. We’re definitely going to have to wrap up and move our feet and gain tackles; it’s going to take more than just one guy being there.”
The last time CSU faced New Mexico was last November when the Rams pulled out a 24-20 victory. The Lobos where held to 137 yards rushing, but Gautsche was not the quarterback. This season he’s torched opposing defenses with his feet, but the Lobos don’t present a balanced offense. Last week Gautsche attempted only three passes, completing one.
For McElwain, having a run-heavy offense could also pose as a problem for CSU when they do decide to pass. If the Rams are caught off guard because they are too focused on stopping the run, they could miss defending an explosive pass play.
Still, the Rams have had more success defending the option this season and even more success defending the ground game. They held No. 1 Alabama to just 66 yards rushing and Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, who had racked up 420 yards on the ground in six previous games, to just 12 yard in the Border War.
“Since we started this program, every day has been just get better,” Skipper said. “Just get better every day and I think we’re progressing that way but any given Saturday you have to be ready to go.”
The Rams and Lobos will kickoff at 5 p.m. MT on Saturday at University Stadium in New Mexico.
Football Beat Reporter Katie O’Keefe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.