Saturday night is big news for Colorado State football as they head northwest to Boise, Idaho to take on the Boise State Broncos at 8:15 p.m. in a nationally televised matchup on ESPN2.
The team has said their goal for the season is to win the Mountain West Championship and beating Boise would cement the first stone on a very long path.
Boise is three-for-three against CSU in their short history and has a long history of excellence in football. If the Rams want to walk away with the win, they will need to focus on these five keys:
1. Shutting down Grant Hedrick. Although Hedrick’s performance in Boise’s 35-13 loss to Ole Miss last week wasn’t his best, he has caused problems for CSU in the past. Last year, Hedrick threw for five touchdowns and 305 yards. 96 of those yards and two touchdowns went to his No. 1 weapon, wide receiver Matt Miller, who is now a senior. The CSU secondary cannot let them work in tandem, or the result could be disastrous.
2. Halt Jay Ajayi in his tracks. The junior running back has legs like lightning, good hands and a motor that doesn’t quit. Last week, Ajayi caught Boise’s lone touchdown, took 82 of 85 snaps at running back and racked up 179 all-purpose yards. Although BSU offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said Ajay’s snapcount was too high, he is one of the Bronco’s biggest weapons. He will get plenty of chances to bust through the Rams defensive holes, so the front seven must hold their ground against a big Broncos offensive line.
3. Improved play from CSU receivers. Garrett Grayson will take the blame for the abysmal numbers produced in the air against Colorado. But anyone watching saw at least three good passes dropped by receivers. CSU head coach Jim McElwain was not shy in expressing his disappointment in his receivers, and says they need to elevate their play. Boise plays heavy man-to-man coverage, similar to what CU did, so the Rams will have to make changes to avoid another passing shutdown.
4. Repeat of the Showdown run game. While having two backs with 100 yards each is a tall order, the Rams will need a big performance from their “thunder and lightning” duo to keep the Broncos’ offense off the field. Still, Boise will look to capitalize on CSU’s passing struggles, so the Rams may need to rely on moving the ball on the ground. Juniors Dee Hart and Treyous Jarrells had phenomenal performances, but Boise’s front seven are big and hungry so look for Jasen Oden to see a few more reps Saturday. His bigger stature and bruising running style should help the Rams to control the clock.
5. Keep their heads. Last week saw some first-game jitters from CSU, as well as some nervous mistakes. The Showdown is an important game of pride, but this game against Boise carries an even bigger weight. McElwain will have to build his team’s confidence enough to forget the sting of three straight losses, while instilling how paramount a win is.
Collegian Sports Reporter Micky Rastrelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @c_rasta5.