Another week means another potent rushing attack for the Colorado State defense to plan for.
After facing the spread, zone-read attacks of Texas-San Antonio, Utah State and Boise State and the triple-option ground game of Air Force, CSU welcomes San Diego State into Hughes Stadium Saturday.
The Aztecs, winners of four games in a row, roll into Fort Collins riding on the backs of its two-headed rushing monster led by Donnel Pumphrey and Chase Price. Pumphrey, considered the best back in the Mountain West, has racked up 910 yards and 10 touchdowns on 182 carries this year. A season ago, he was just one of two running backs in the FBS (along with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon) to rank in top-10 in rushing yards per game, all-purpose yards per game, rushing touchdowns and rushing yards per carry.
Pumphrey has averaged a solid five yards per carry this season, but it is his big-play ability that caught the eye of the CSU defense.
“We just have to contain him because he’s their big-play guy,” linebacker Kiel Robinson said. “Once he breaks outside, it’s really hard to catch him. We definitely don’t want to allow any explosive plays with these guys. Pumphrey may be their big play guy, but all of their backs are talented and if they get in the open field, they can break away from all of us.”
The Rams, who haven’t faced San Diego State since 2012, don’t have any firsthand experience against Pumphrey, or nearly anyone on the Aztecs’ offense. But if there were one former Aztec to compare Pumphrey to, it would be current Denver Broncos starting running back Ronnie Hillman, who gave the Rams’ defense fits in his time at SDSU.
“I got a chance to see Ronnie Hillman play, so I think he’s pretty much the same back,” redshirt senior safety Kevin Pierre-Louis said. “He’s quick, he’s fast, he can bounce it outside and he can really get you on the cutbacks.”
Against UTSA, Utah State and Boise State, the Rams were gashed time and time again for big plays, especially runs by the quarterback. The zone-read attacks caused communication and execution breakdowns, players say. CSU corrected much of that against Air Force, holding the Falcons to 269 yards, more than 50 below their season average.
The Aztecs bring a more traditional running attack, lining up in a two-back, I-formation look on most of their snaps, something the Rams haven’t seen since they faced Minnesota on Sept. 12. CSU had relative success against the Gophers’ run game, and look forward to the challenge of facing another physical, smashmouth rushing attack.
“It’s obviously just about stopping the run,” linebacker Deonte Clyburn said Monday. “(It comes down to) how you go into the game with that mindset and how you practice that week. Did you practice playing downhill, did you play aggressively, did you hit enough, did you hit hard enough? That all pertains to stopping the run, especially against a team as physical and as good as San Diego State.”
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.