Colorado State and Wyoming face off Saturday in the 106th edition of the longest-running football rivalry west of the Mississippi – the Border War. The Rams have won the last two match-ups handily, but both teams come into this year’s game reeling. CSU has struggled this season, losing three of its first four league games while falling to 3-5 overall. Things have been much worse for the Cowboys, though, who have just one win this season over Nevada. Wyoming has surprisingly had one of the better offenses in the league when it is fully healthy. Quarterback Cameron Coffman was one of the most efficient passers in the MW before being hurt, and running back Brian Hill already has more than 1,250 yards this season. This is a rivalry game, and as players and coaches from both sides will point out this week, anything can happen.
Here are three keys for the Rams to knock off the Cowboys and move one step closer to bowl eligibility.
Eliminate the mistakes
Realistically, this has been the key to just about every CSU loss this season. The Rams are second-to-last in the FBS in turnover margin, giving the ball away 22 times while only creating eight takeaways. In losses to Utah State, Minnesota, Colorado and San Diego State, CSU has shot itself in the foot over and over again. If CSU is able to avoid those mistakes – and they should – against one of the worst statistical defenses in the country, the obvious talent gap will show. The Cowboys are also among the worst teams in the country in turnover margin, so whoever can manage to hold onto the ball will likely come out victorious. Just don’t be surprised if CSU takes a knee on three consecutive downs and punts, like head coach Mike Bobo suggested Saturday. Just kidding, of course.
Ground and pound
Most people will clamor for more passes to Rashard Higgins, Joe Hansley and Kivon Cartwright, but CSU has to establish its ground game against the Cowboys. The Rams had a lot of success against San Diego State’s “vaunted” rushing defense last Saturday, but they got away from the run after the midway point of the second quarter, and it resulted in Nick Stevens throwing three costly interceptions. Wyoming ranks No. 112 (out of 128 teams) in the FBS against the run, and CSU has three very capable running backs in Jasen Oden Jr., Dalyn Dawkins and freshman Izzy Matthews. Running the ball is the best way to avoid those pesky interceptions, and judging by the Cowboys’s struggles this year, CSU should have a field day in Laramie.
Stop the run
Equally as important for CSU to have success with its own run game is to stop Wyoming’s rushing attack. Reserve quarterback Nick Smith, who will fill in for the injured Cameron Coffman, is a potent running threat alongside back Brian Hill. Smith has played in just three games, but is Wyoming’s second leading rusher, averaging 45.3 yards per game. He presents a much different look than Coffman, and the Cowboys have even implemented some jet sweep and zone-read plays to get the ball in his hands even more. CSU has been dominated in the past weeks in the run game, and Wyoming presents another tough challenge. Smith is by no means the passer that Coffman is, and he’ll likely be without his best weapon, receiver Tanner Gentry. Expect CSU to load the box to stop Wyoming’s run game, and if the Rams have success, they will essentially shut down the Cowboys’s offense.
Collegian Senior Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.