The 9-1 Rams head into Senior Day against a 3-7 New Mexico team that nearly upset Boise State just two weeks ago. The Lobos’ record does not show it, but they have the ability to compete with the best teams in the conference. Here are the key match ups for both teams:
CSU’s running backs vs. UNM’s rush defense
Colorado State’s running game has been powerful this season, averaging over 166 rushing yards per game. The Rams’ top two running backs, Dee Hart and Treyous Jarrells, have combined for 17 rushing scores while backups Jason Oden Jr. and Deron Thompson have added sound running to the lineup. That poses a huge problem for the New Mexico defense that cannot stop the run. Last week in a close 28-21 loss to the Utah State Aggies, the Lobos allowed a touchdown from three different rushers. The week before, they allowed four rushing touchdowns in a high-scoring contest against Boise State.
CSU’s Garrett Grayson vs. UNM’s forced turnovers
New Mexico hasn’t had great success on defense this season, which was evident two weeks ago when Boise State scored 60 points on them, but the Lobos have been able to take away the ball. The defense has six fumble recoveries to go with 10 interceptions, and they’ve sacked opposing quarterbacks 17 times. Those numbers don’t bode well for a Rams offense that fumbled seven times against Hawaii, though Hawaii only recovered one fumble. As the captain of the Rams’ offense, Grayson will need to play smart football and avoid taking sacks in critical situations, which the Lobos will certainly be trying to cause.
CSU’s Rashard Higgins vs. UNM’s defensive backs
Rashard Higgins’s 1,280 receiving yards are 400 more than any other Mountain West wide receiver, and despite sitting out last week with a shoulder injury he’s only 23 yards behind the nation’s leader in receiving yards (Amari Cooper). The Rams did just fine without Higgins against Hawaii, but they will want to see their star player put up numbers against a tough New Mexico passing defense that ranks No. 56 in the nation. The Lobos allow just over 222 passing yards per game, but the Rams average over 314 passing yards per game. Something’s got to give.
CSU’s linebackers vs. UNM’s triple option
The Lobos are the fifth-leading rushing team in the country, averaging 318.3 yards per game thanks to the triple-option they run. A common way to stop that offense is preventing the dive, which CSU head coach Jim McElwain has talked about. To do so, CSU linebackers Max Morgan, Aaron Davis and Cory James must plug the holes to take away the middle of the field.
CSU’s secondary vs. UNM’s rushers
The Rams’ secondary will not have to defend the pass much but they will certainly be forced to make tackles. If CSU can successfully take away the dive it will force runners to the outside where cornerback Bernard Blake and others will have to beat their blocks and make sure to wrap up. While UNM has eight players with over 100 rushing yards, it is running backs Teriyon Gipson and Jhurell Pressley who shoulder most of the workload with 1,546 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns between the two. But regardless of personnel, the CSU secondary must be ready to stop runners outside the hash marks as the Lobos have seven players with runs of 50 yards or greater, including quarterback Lamar Jordan.
CSU’s defensive line vs. UNM’s offensive line
Plain and simple: you cannot run the ball the way UNM does without great blocking up front. The Lobos offensive line is led by senior center LaMar Bratton and ranks in the top-50 according to Football Outsiders’ offensive efficiency rating system. They will have their hands full with CSU’s line led by Joe Kawulok and Terry Jackson. The Rams’ defensive front line cannot afford to get pushed back at all if they want to contain the triple option, and will need to play close attention to detail on their assignments in order to stop the dive.
Collegian Sports Reporters Emmett McCarthy and Steven Jacobs can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22 and @steven_jacobs_.