Colorado State offense faces its toughest challenge yet against Boise State

Keegan Pope

CSU wide receiver Joe Hansley catches a pass during the Rams' 27-24 loss to Colorado earlier this season.
CSU wide receiver Joe Hansley catches a pass during the Rams’ 27-24 loss to Colorado earlier this season.

Things don’t get any easier for the Colorado State offense this week.

Following a week in which it faced a Utah State defense that boasted one of the nation’s best pass rushing units, CSU will face a unit that’s even better. Through five games, Boise State’s defense ranks in the top-10 nationally in total defense, rushing defense, team passing efficiency defense, scoring defense and turnover margin. The Broncos have pitched two shutouts this year, and just one team has scored more than 14 points.

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CSU knows how good this defense is firsthand, though. Last year, in a 35-24 win that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated, Boise State limited CSU to just 28 rushing yards, and forced CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson to throw a career-high 58 times. It wasn’t the plan CSU went into the game with, but the lack of success in the running game, coupled with a three-touchdown second quarter deficit, forced then-offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin’s hand.

First-year head coach Mike Bobo hopes to avoid exactly that fate.

“We need to hope one of them falls down and we get a crack at a big run,” Bobo joked Monday. “They’re only giving up like 1.5 yards per rush right now. But, we’ve got to be committed to the run, we’ve got to be consistent and we’ve got to make sure we run the runs into the right looks. That will gave us a chance to be successful. We can’t have wasted plays and we’ve got to win the one-on-one battle where we get the front handled and the backers handled, and then we’re one-on-one with a safety. We’ve got to be able to make that guy miss.”

All three of the players who caught touchdown passes – Jasen Oden Jr., Steven Walker and Joe Hansley – are back this season. They understand the challenges Boise State’s defense presents, including the difficulty of replicating the size, speed and playmaking ability the Broncos have at every position.

“It really is hard (to replicate it),” Walker said. “I think our scout team and defense does a great job of giving us the right looks. They do the best they can, but obviously it’s not going to be the exact same because they’re going to have the different adjustments they can make, and the stuff we just don’t know about. It’s hard to see the exact same things we’ll see Saturday, but they’re doing a good job.”

Junior guard Fred Zerblis was on the field last year in Boise when the Rams were manhandled by the Broncos’ front seven, and last week when CSU struggled to just 109 rushing yards on 31 carries at Utah State. The offensive struggles were frustrating, he said, but he believes the Rams aren’t that far off from the success they had earlier this season.

“Last year we shied away from our gameplan a little bit, but I think we’ve got a great plan this year for running the ball,” Zerblis said. “We just have to get a hat on a hat, and that gives us a chance to get a 3-yard gain and keep grinding away. But, it’s going to be a really good challenge for us.”

Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at kpope@collegian.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.