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CSU vs. Utah key matchups

The Colorado State Rams square off against the Utah Utes in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 20 at 1:30 p.m. MT. The game will be aired on ABC and watchESPN.

Here’s three keys to watch for when CSU is on defense and offense.

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Defense

CSU rush defense vs. Utah RB Devontae Booker

Running back Devontae Booker has carried the Utes in the PAC 12 South, arguably the most competitive division in all of college football. He’s carried the rock 266 times this season for 1350 yards and nine touchdowns as well as catching 39 passes for 282 yards and two scores. The Rams have allowed a pedestrian 187.6 rushing yards per game, good for sixth in the Mountain West, but they have experience playing against run-heavy teams like Air Force, New Mexico and Boston College. They’ve also been gashed before by a feature back in Boise State’s Jay Ajayi, so Colorado State knows what will happen if they can’t stop the run.

CSU secondary vs. Utah receiving corps

Allowing just 227.2 passing yards per game and 13 passing touchdowns this season, the Rams have gotten great production from their veteran defensive backs as well as underclassmen like sophomores Preston Hodges and Tyree Simmons, who combine for four interceptions, 16 passes defended and 12 pass break ups. Utah doesn’t have a Higgins-like playmaker on their roster, but they do have depth and talent. Senior Kaelin Clay is a force at both receiver and on special teams, and four different Utes receivers have four touchdowns this season.

CSU special teams vs. Utah return game

Behind Jared Roberts’ 25 touchbacks and sound special teams play, the Rams have managed to do well on kickoff coverage, but they’ll really need to focus on their punt coverage. The Rams are ninth in the Mountain West in punting, averaging just 35.9 yards per punt. Utah’s senior receiver Kaelin Clay, who has three punt returns for touchdowns and a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown this season, feasts on the opportunity to burn a team in the return game.

Offense

CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson vs. Utah pass defense

The senior quarterback shattered all sorts of CSU records during his senior campaign. He enters the game having thrown for 3,779 yards and 32 touchdowns while having completed 64.8 percent of his passes. Equally impressive was his ability to take care of the football in the process, throwing just six interceptions all year. Utah’s passing defense has been a benchmark of their success. The 245 passing yards they allow per game which ranks third in the Pac-12 Conference and the Utes have the personnel to challenge Grayson.

CSU receiver Rashard Higgins vs. Utah secondary

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The Biletnikoff finalist currently leads the nation in nearly every major statistical receiving category, including yards per game (149.1) and touchdowns (17). No team has found an answer for him yet but if any team might have one, it’s Utah. Their talented secondary is led by senior defensive back Eric Rowe who has 12 pass breakups on the year. As a unit, they will need to contain Higgins to stop the big plays and challenge the Rams to move the chains by running the ball, even if it requires double coverage and extra help from the safeties.

CSU running backs vs. Utah front-seven

CSU’s running game relies upon the strong running of Dee Hart and Treyous Jarrells. They have done enough this year to make the Utes respect the run no matter which is lined up in the backfield. Despite sharing a large portion of the workload, Hart ranks 13th in the nation with 16 rushing touchdowns. Utah has allowed just 12 rushing touchdowns on the year (second in Pac-12) but gives up 158.1 yards per game on the ground. Utah’s defensive line is championed by senior Nate Orchard who leads the team with 20 tackles for losses. The linebacking corp is led by junior Jared Norris, who is first on the team with 108 tackles. Hart and Jarrells must force the Utes to respect the run to free things up for Grayson and Higgins in the passing game.

 

Collegian Sports Reporters Steven Jacobs and Emmett McCarthy can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @steven_jacobs_ and @emccarthy22.

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