The gravity of the Rocky Mountain Showdown might be lost on some out-of-towners.
Every state has a rivalry, every school has a must-win game — but this rivalry runs through native Coloradans’ veins.
Even without being the state’s biggest rivalry game, Friday night’s meeting between the University of Colorado and Colorado State University should be an exciting match-up.
Since head coach Jim McElwain arrived in 2012, the Rams are 1-1, making Friday’s game a tie-breaker of sorts. Though there were some holdovers, Colorado State has faced an entirely different Colorado team each year.
In 2012, the Rams surprised the Buffs, led by then-quarterback Jordan Webb, and won 22-17.
Last year, in current CU head coach Mike MacIntyre’s first season, the Colorado offense, led by Connor Wood and Paul Richardson, lit up the Rams’ defense in a 41-27 victory. Richardson set sail for the NFL, and after being benched midway through last season, Wood left the team.
Still, the memory of burned coverages, namely an 82-yard touchdown completion to Richardson, were hard to forget.
“You’ve got to have the shortest memory known to mankind to play defensive back, because you’re gonna get beat,” McElwain said. “I can’t think of one guy, ever, who hasn’t been beat some time in their life. With that, we have choices of guys who can go out there.”
Yet again, the game has changed. Now, the Rams are up against Wood’s replacement, 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pound sophomore Sefo Liufau and a young, but talented, group of receivers.
In eight games last season, Liufau threw for 1,179 yards and 12 touchdowns, while also rushing 30 times for 118 yards last season, giving him an edge as a dual-threat quarterback.
“We’ve been working hard this week on pass-rush, so hopefully we can keep him in the pocket,” senior linebacker Max Morgan said. “It starts up front, so if he has the heat on him all day, the back seven can really keep him in check.”
The Rams are doing everything they can to eliminate any surprises when the game kicks off at 7:05 p.m. at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. First-game jitters can be overwhelming for some athletes, especially when a year of bragging rights is on the line. Junior defensive end Joe Kawulok recognizes this, but said he believes this team will react better than it did last year.
“I think we will be able to keep our composure, we have a lot of guys with field experience from last year, and that will help us,” he says. “Most of us are really excited, and of course we will get nervous come game time, but we just have to stick to our jobs and nothing more.”
Liufau may be young, but he is certainly dangerous, and a win for the Rams will depend heavily on the defense’s ability to contain both the run and the pass. Though getting a sack on Liufau would feel great, Morgan knows it will be a team effort to keep him in check.
“I’m a big guy in playing my role in the defense,” he said. “If I’m not blitzing and someone else gets the sack — awesome. It’s just a great opportunity for us to go out and play ball.”Collegian Sports Reporter Cali Rastrelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @c_rasta5.