Colorado State (7-1) football looks to keep their hot streak alive on the road at San Jose State (3-4) this weekend. The Rams cannot afford a loss if they want to keep their conference title hopes alive, so here are some of the key match ups to watch out for:
CSU WR Rashard Higgins vs. SJSU pass defense
This season, the Spartans pass defense has allowed the nation’s fewest yards through the air (623) as well as the least completed passes (64) and lowest pass percentage by opposing quarterbacks (48.5). But the fact is, the numbers are highly skewed because teams like to run against the Spartans, where they rank 103rd in the country in rushing defense. The Rams will run the ball, but quarterback Garrett Grayson and receiver Rashard Higgins will not be scared to air it out. Higgins needs another 156 receiving yards to break the CSU record for most yards in a single season (1,293), which he would enjoy doing against the statistically-best passing defense in college football.
CSU running backs vs. SJSU rush defense
The triple-headed monster that is the CSU running game will be foaming at the mouth for this matchup. Last week against Navy, San Jose State absolutely could not stop the run. They allowed Navy running back Keenan Reynolds to gain 251 yards and three touchdowns while allowing another 70 yards and a touchdown to backup Noah Copeland. With Dee Hart, Treyous Jarrells, Jason Oden Jr. and rookie Deron Thompson, who got some game-action against Wyoming, it should be a long day for the Spartans rushing defense, or lack thereof.
CSU offense vs. SJSU forced turnovers
Turnovers haven’t hurt the Rams very much this season, but they’ve been there. Grayson has thrown six interceptions this year and the team has fumbled eight times, losing four of them. Although San Jose State can’t stop the run or matchup against Grayson and receiver Rashard Higgins, they can force turnovers. The Spartans have three interceptions and seven forced fumbles through seven games. Cornerback Jimmy Pruitt and safety Simon Connette will be scouring the field, looking to rip the ball out of the Rams’ hands.
CSU pass defense vs. SJSU QB Joe Gray
San Jose State does not have record-setting quarterback David Fales anymore, who threw for 431 yards and three touchdowns the last time these two teams met. But they do have a competent signal caller in Joe Gray who has thrown for 1,252 yards and six touchdowns while completing over 70.1 percent of his passes this season. The Spartans’ 268.7 passing yards per game ranks third in the MW, and top 40 in the FBS, so the Rams must be ready for the pass.
CSU linebackers vs. SJSU run game
The Spartans employ a running back by committee approach with six players (not including quarterbacks) taking over 20 carries thus far, with Tyler Ervin’s 389 yards on over five yards per carry leading the way. CSU has done well against running backs not named Jay Ajayi, and has tackling machines at linebacker in Max Morgan and Aaron Davis (138 combined). However, the 59-yard touchdown that Utah State’s Joe Hill scored on CSU showed that the Rams are not immune to the occasional big run. SJSU has less than 1,000 rushing yards and is second to last in the MW, but have a few options in their backfield so the Rams will have to be careful on every snap.
CSU secondary vs. SJSU receiving corp
Key cogs in the CSU secondary DeAndre Elliot, Bernard Blake and Kevin Pierre-Louis have all battled minor injuries in recent weeks. The Spartans like to throw the ball and have seven players with over 100 receiving yards. Only three other teams in the conference have spread the ball like that, including CSU and Boise State. If the Rams’ depth in the secondary is limited, the versatility of SJSU’s receiving corp could wear the Rams out.
Collegian Sports Reporters Steven Jacobs and Emmett McCarthy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @steven_jacobs_ and @emccarthy22.