TUCSON, Ariz. — For years, the Mountain West has been known as a finesse league, where free-flowing offenses and spread systems reigned.
In addition to traditional triple-option schemes at Air Force and New Mexico, teams like Nevada, Colorado State, Wyoming and San Diego State have reverted to back to smashmouth, physical football.
On Tuesday, two of those teams — Nevada and CSU — will face off in the inaugural NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl in Tucson, and it’s safe to say they’re chomping at bit. Despite being the first teams from the same conference to play each other in a non-BCS bowl game since Oklahoma and Nebraska faced off in the 1979 Orange Bowl, coaches and players from both schools said they don’t see the game as any less important because of the opponent.
“It took us about one day (to get over play a conference opponent),” senior tight end Kivon Cartwright said. “We had a meeting on a Sunday night where they told us that our game would be against Nevada. Right after that there were some guys in the training room and it was kind of down for a second, because we would have liked a bigger opponent and things like that, but we came back the next day for a workout and by that point we had a ‘chip on our shoulder’ mentality. It didn’t matter who we were going to play, because someone was going to line up across from us, so we have to do everything in our power to be prepared. It doesn’t matter if it’s a high school team or an NFL team. It doesn’t matter who is lined up across from us, because they’re trying to take something from us, so we just have to be prepared to go out and get a win, no matter who the opponent is.”
The Rams and Wolf Pack did not play this season, and Nevada head coach Brian Polian alluded to the fact that it is almost like facing a new opponent after coaching against Jim McElwain last season, and now against first-year CSU head coach Mike Bobo.
“I can see the SEC influence, having coached in that league for a year and having seen a lot of those offenses,” Polian said of Bobo’s scheme. “There’s three teams in our league that put a fullback out there — CSU, San Diego State and Wyoming. In our league to see a fullback out there, and to see a team running power and counter and all the different ways they use him, I can see Coach Bobo’s influence on the offense.”
Bobo has made no secret of his coaching style, emphasizing a physical, downhill, aggressive attitude on both sides of the ball. As the season has progressed, the Rams have morphed into that team, pounding defenses with the trio of Dalyn Dawkins, Jasen Oden Jr. and freshman Izzy Matthews. Each of the three have rushed for at least 500 yards this season, with Matthews coming on later in the season as the team’s “closer,” according to Bobo.
For Nevada middle linebacker Jordan Dobrich, who ranks second on the team with 90 tackles, the chance to play another run-first team is one he relishes.
“Personally, as a middle linebacker, that’s what I love,” Dobrich said. “I love playing in the box and I love taking on lead blockers and pullers. Defensively, we had some lapses when we played teams like this — against Wyoming, against San Diego State — but you know what, I think they were big plays, and I think for most of the game we were gap-fitting and playing our responsibilities well. As a defense, and as a middle linebacker, we’re really looking forward to this.”
Colorado State’s own starting middle linebacker, Deonte Clyburn, echoed the same sentiment as Dobrich.
“As a defense and as a front seven, we really like the challenges we had against San Diego State, New Mexico and Air Force,” Clyburn said. “Every down, every series, every play is really a challenge when it comes to the run. Everybody has to win their one-on-one’s and everybody has to want to get their head across and want to make the tackle. That’s where I feel like missed tackles can come, because some teams get out of that tackling mode at the end of the year, and you don’t feel like hitting anybody. But you’ve got to have that want-to, and you’ve got to be up for that challenge.”
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.