As the Colorado State Rams (5-1) prepare to square off against the Utah State Aggies (4-2) in front of an expected raucous Hughes Stadium crowd on Saturday, Collegian Sports Reporters Steven Jacobs and Emmett McCarthy analyze key matchups between the two Mountain West contenders:
CSU QB Garrett Grayson vs. Utah State secondary
Garrett Grayson has played very well this season, racking up 1,823 yards and 16 touchdowns in six games, but when he tries to throw against the Aggies secondary, he’ll find out they are not unlike his own secondary. The Aggies have allowed 253.7 passing yards per game this season, tied with Colorado State for No. 89 in the nation.
Playing safety on an Aggies defense that has 11 interceptions this season is senior Frankie Sutera, who has four of those picks. Sutera is a hard-hitting run-stopper who’s had 34 tackles this season and a forced fumble, but he’s also a smart pass defender with five defended passes.
Utah State, like the Rams, has done a god job at eliminating the big play, but Grayson would love nothing more than to break it wide open. Grayson completed 72.2 percent of his passes against Nevada last weekend, a season high.
CSU Offense vs. Utah State Vigil brothers
The Aggies defense calls themselves a family, and two of the linebackers can say that’s actually correct. Senior linebacker Zach Vigil and sophomore linebacker Nick Vigil are brothers, and they have also happened to combine for 64 solo tackles this season, including 16.5 tackles for loss.
They’ve each had an interception and Nick, the younger of the two, has had two forced fumbles. The entire Rams offense must be aware of the Vigil brothers at all times, because they have the power to change the momentum of a game.
McElwain and his Rams will want to run the ball to set up the pass, but the Vigil brothers and the Aggies thrive on getting offenses into long down-and-distance situations and forcing them into giving up turnovers.
CSU receivers vs. Utah State defensive line
Aside from tight ends, these positions rarely meet on the field, but these groups will be critical in the contest.
The Aggies will want to get to Garrett Grayson quickly, but they can’t if his receivers are able to find space quickly. Grayson always talks about his safety blanket, a target that he always goes to in a tough situation. He will have to go to that receiver often in this game when he’s forced into third down situations, but he now has multiple go-to receivers he can chose from.
Rashard Higgins, who has torched defenses for 10 touchdowns this season, will likely be keyed-in on by the defense, so that leaves big roles for Charles Lovett, Joe Hansley and tight end Steven Walker. These receivers have to be quicker to their routes than the defensive line is to getting Grayson on the ground.
CSU secondary vs. Utah State WR Hunter Sharp
The Aggies found a hidden gem at receiver in junior college transfer Hunter Sharp. It took the 6-foot-1 wideout a couple weeks to get acclimated to the offense, but in the last four games he’s averaged 151.3 receiving yards and 9.5 receptions per game.
To put that in perspective, CSU’s Rashard Higgins averaged 129.3 yards and 7.3 receptions through six games. CSU defensive backs have a tough task ahead in covering Sharp. Nevada targeted cornerbacks Bernard Blake and DeAndre Elliot early on last week, but neither flinched.
Blake had several breakups, and Elliot sealed the game with an interception in the endzone. Both will likely find themselves one-on-one with Utah State’s deep threat throughout the game and need to defend the deep ball.
CSU pass rush vs. Utah State offensive line
Colorado State has the personnel up front to be an effective pass rushing team, and they will have to be in order to disrupt Utah State quarterback Darell Garretson. CSU defensive end Joe Kawulok showed what a terror he can be with 3.5 sacks against Tulsa, and linebacker Cory James is tied for the eighth-most sacks in CSU history only half way through his junior year.
The Aggies offensive line was a question coming into the season with only one starter returning in left tackle Kevin Whimpley, but the team has played well lately, allowing only one sack against BYU. They will have their hands full here.
CSU Linebackers vs. Utah State QB Darell Garretson
Since Garretson stepped in at quarterback for the injured Chuckie Keeton, the sophomore has thrown for 887 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception in the last three weeks. Garretson is not the running threat Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo was by any means, but he can tuck it and go when necessary. Linebackers Max Morgan and Aaron Davis will need to help out to help slow down the Aggies’ passing game.
Collegian Sports Reporters Steven Jacobs and Emmett McCarthy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @steven_jacobs_ and @emccarthy22.