Analysis: Utah uses physical run game to blow past Colorado State in Las Vegas Bowl

Emmett McCarthy

Utah running back Troy McCormick stiff arms Colorado State defender Preston Hodges during Saturday's game at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.
Utah running back Troy McCormick stiff arms Colorado State defender Preston Hodges during Saturday’s game at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS – The Rams were literally run right off the Vegas strip.

Colorado State could not find any daylight on the ground against a bigger, stronger Utah team that was able to find plenty of it. The Utes ran the ball at will, finishing with 359 total rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in Saturday’s 45-10 win over CSU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

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“I think they were more physical up front and faster on offense,” CSU interim head coach Dave Baldwin said.

Three different Utah players ran for touchdowns, including running back Devontae Booker who led the team with 162 rushing yards.

Booker ran with a physicality that proved to be too much for CSU defenders, as did 6-foot-7 quarterback Travis Wilson who found the end zone on three different occasions. They got some great blocking from their offensive line but it was an ability to break tackles and make defenders miss that really proved to be the difference.

“Obviously, we were prepared for the zone read,” CSU linebacker Max Morgan said. “They were giving it to us out of a couple different formations that we had not seen yet. A couple missed tackles, a couple missed assignments… hindsight is 20/20 but you have got to give credit to them for their scheme and execution.”

The Utes’ front seven lived up to the hype as they held the Rams to just 12 total rushing yards, stifling the balanced offense that carried CSU so far this season. The 1-2 punch of running backs Dee Hart and Treyous Jarrells did not pack the same power it has for much of the year. Their hard cuts and power running yielded minuscule results against a stout Utah defense that held the duo to a combined 34 yards on 13 carries.

In addition to shutting down the balanced attack CSU prides itself on, Utah found an offensive balance of its own, though not in the most traditional sense. A fluid mixture of dive runs, zone reads, play-actions and some clever  trick plays kept the Rams’ defense on its heels from start to finish.

“A lot of the runs I was able to read it, and depending on what I saw, I made my decision,” Utah quarterback Travis Wilson said. “The offensive line did a great job of blocking and having Booker running well too definitely set me up for some good runs.”

CSU’s offense did its defense no favors. Without an effective running game, the Rams repeatedly went three-and-out and picked up just 13 first downs all game, giving their defense little time to rest.

Having the rushing attack staggered also hindered CSU’s passing game. With the defensive line holding strong, the Utes recognized that their was no need to load the box and were able to drop linebackers into pass coverage more and more as the game progressed.

“We knew that their D-line was going to put pressure on us,” Baldwin said. “When four guys can put pressure on you it’s hard to get open.”

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Heralded pass rusher Nate Orchard was able to get to Grayson at times but being matched up with Ty Sambrailo for much of the game limited his rushes. Still, Utah recorded three sacks and the defensive line was able to consistently collapse the pocket.

The Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year had little time to throw and fewer open targets than usual. He never quite found his rhythm and with no run game to balance the offense, CSU simply could not put up points. Utah, on the other hand, ran the ball right down the Rams’ throat and kept the chains moving all night.

“They are physical up front, and that showed today,” Grayson said.

Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.