Video by Travis Green, CTV Sports
The Las Vegas Bowl has been billed as a battle of heavyweights with Colorado State’s high-powered offense versus Utah’s crushing defense, and rightfully so. Utah has some offensive weapons of their own though, starting with running back Devontae Booker.
“He’s probably one of the hardest runners we’ve seen all year,” CSU linebacker Aaron Davis said. “I think he’s very underrated. He runs really hard, makes some really good cuts and he’s a good blocker too.”
CSU’s linebacking corp is going to be tested. They have not faced a running back of Booker’s caliber since early in September when Boise State’s Jay Ajayi scored three touchdowns and gained 280 all-purpose yards. Other than Ajayi’s outbreak though, CSU’s run defense was solid for most of the season. The Rams held opponents to under five yards per carry despite facing run-heavy teams in Boston College, New Mexico and Air Force.
“They are athletic,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “They swarm the football.”
That swarming style can leave the Rams susceptible to the deep pass. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has not posted eye-popping stats but he takes care of the football (only six interceptions) and has a big play receiver at his disposal in Kaelin Clay.
Clay was unfortunate enough to find himself on Sportscenter’s Not Top-10 for costing his team a touchdown by celebrating too early on a big catch against Oregon, but he is still a talented player coming off a good performance against Colorado when he caught 10 passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rams know Utah’s offense can be explosive to say the least. Conversely, the Utes are not overlooking the Rams’ defense. The Mountain West is not known for churning out elite defensive teams but Whittingham knows that 10-win seasons do not come without getting stops.
CSU’s offense is one of the best in the nation statistically. The defense cannot claim those type of stats but that does not mean they are lacking.
“They have got motors,” Whittingham said. “They play excited, inspired football. It’s impressive to watch on tape.”
Inspired play can be expected from the CSU defense but will it be enough to stop Booker, who ranks second in the Pac-12 with 112.5 rushing yards per game? To completely shut down a player like that is nearly impossible but containing him is a possibility for a defense that rarely shoots itself in the foot.
“They don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Utah tight end Westlee Tonga said. “They do things right and that is how they win.”
Granted, the onus is still on CSU’s offense to put up the points, but it would be all for not if Booker and the Utes can move the chains at will. Booker led the Pac-12 with 22.2 rushing attempts per game so he is used to carrying a big workload.
Boise State and Air Force were both relentless on the ground in defeating the Rams so Utah will almost surely look to employ a similar attack.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.