There’s no question the 2020 college football season has been a challenging one for Colorado State.
Not having a spring camp certainly hurt the Rams, who were breaking in a new coaching staff, thus implementing new offensive and defensive schemes. Additionally, CSU has been unlucky in the COVID-19 department this fall as three of its games have been called off due to the virus.
Simply put, one of the traditionally better programs in the Mountain West has fell on tough times as of late. This will be CSU’s third straight losing season and the Rams have posted a record of 8-20 during that timespan.
And yet, the Rams (1-3) have arguably made some pretty significant strides in ‘20, especially on the defensive side of the ball. If it wasn’t for dreadful special teams play against Boise State and San Diego State, CSU would have had a legitimate chance to win both games.
Colorado State will close out its season with another team that has struggled this fall in Utah State. The two teams are still on track to square off Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at CSU’s Canvas Stadium.
“Just looking forward to Colorado State this week,” USU interim head coach Frank Maile said. “You know, their team is way better than their record shows, man. It’s a big, physical team with some good experience coming back.”
Unlike the Aggies, the Rams haven’t had to rely on a wealth of underclassmen during the ’20 campaign. Case in point: All but one of CSU’s projected offensive and defensive starters for Saturday’s game are juniors, seniors or graduate transfers. The lone underclassmen who will likely start offensively is a redshirt sophomore, to boot. Eight Rams have started at least 20 games during their collegiate careers.
Colorado State has been much more stout defensively this season than the previous two. Granted, the Rams rank 106th nationally in scoring defense (35.8 points per game), but that statistic is skewed big time by the five special teams and one defensive touchdown they’ve allowed.
CSU gave up 432 and 465 total yards to Fresno State and Wyoming, respectively, but followed that by only yielding 291 and 247 yards in their last two games, which were against Boise State and San Diego State. The Rams have been particularly stingy against the run as opponents are only averaging 108.5 yards an outing and a measly 2.5 yards per carry.
CSU is led defensively by defensive end Scott Patchan, a graduate transfer from the University of Miami. In just four games, Patchan has recorded 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. No. 1 ranks first in the Mountain West in sacks and TFLs an outing.
Patchan anchors a very talented front seven for the Rams, who have three defensive linemen who have started at least 20 games for the team in Devin Phillips, Ellison Hubbard and Manny Jones, who was a honorable mention all-MW selection a year ago.
CSU’s leading tackle is Dequan Jackson, who has contributed with 40 tackles, including 5.5 for a loss, and 2.0 sacks. The junior is followed by fellow linebacker Cam’ron Carter, who has chipped in with 32 tackles, including 5.5 for a loss.
Redshirt senior cornerback Marshaun Cameron has racked up 29 tackles and has CSU’s lone interception, one he returned 30 yards for a score in his team’s only win — 34-24 at home against Wyoming on Nov. 5.
Cameron is joined in the CSU secondary by fellow veterans Rashad Ajayi and Logan Stewart. Stewart, a redshirt senior safety, has started 16 straight games, while Ajayi, a junior cornerback, has made 21 career starts for the Rams.
“It just looks like they’re playing cleaner football as the weeks goes on,” Maile said of CSU’s defense. “Again, everyone’s going through this battle. They have a lot of experienced guys coming back, so it’s a little bit easier, a little faster to clean up those things when you’re not playing with as young of a team. ... Hats off to Colorado State, man. They play hard on defense, they’re very physical and their front seven is really stout.”
Meanwhile, the Rams have been inconsistent offensively in their last two games as they only managed 315 total yards against BSU and 265 against SDSU. Opponents have limited CSU to 124.0 yards rushing an outing and 3.2 yards per carry — a big reason why the Rams rank 103rd among FBS programs in scoring offense (22.2 ppg).
Fortunately for the Rams, they did get on track a bit with their ground attack against an always stalwart SDSU defense. For starters, 235-pound tailback Marcus McElroy gained 50 yards and scored twice on 10 carries. CSU finished with 121 yards on 38 rushing attempts.
“He’s a hell of a running back, man,” Maie said of McElroy. “He’s a physical downhill runner. He runs violently and so for us it’s about getting hats to the ball and not allowing him to build momentum, and that starts with the D-line up front, as far as not getting knocked back by these guys and playing gap sound. But we’ve got to get hats to the football ... and we’ve got to gang tackle this kid because he’s a really good running back.”
Maile also spoke highly of tailback A’Jon Vivens, who leads the Rams with 210 rushing yards this fall.
CSU has a special tight end in 6-foot-4, 260-pound junior Trey McBride, who was a first-team all-conference honoree in 2019. McBride paces the Rams in all three receiving categories this season — catches (22), yards (330) and TDs (four). No. 85’s backup is another big, physical athlete in Miami transfer Brian Polendey.
“They’re going to use multiple tight ends,” Maile said. “They have two really good tight ends they use. (No.) 85 is a big-time tight end for those guys and he can do it all, so he’s a well-rounded kid.”
The Rams also have a bona fide playmaker at the wide receiver position in Dante Wright, who is averaging 105.0 yards and 15.8 yards per reception in his three games this season. The 5-9 sophomore hauled in 10 catches for 146 yards against Wyoming.
Colorado State has used two quarterbacks this season in Nebraska transfer Patrick O’Brien and Temple transfer Todd Centeio. O’Brien has completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 591 yards and three TDs, vs. two INTs. Centeio, a dual-threat signal caller with 92 yards on 25 rushes, has completed 38.9 percent of his passes for 207 yards and one TD, vs. one INT.
O’Brien, a 6-5, 235-pound pocket passer, was CSU’s starter against USU a year ago. He threw for 217 yards on 14 of 30 attempts in the Aggies’ 34-24 victory at Maverik Stadium.
CSU’s offensive line is anchored by 6-7 right tackle Barry Wesley, who has made 26 career starts for the Rams. Three of the team’s projected starters in the offensive trenches are Boston College transfers in left guard Elijah Johnson, center Cam Reddy and right guard Adam Korutz. CSU head Steve Addazio was Boston College’s head coach from 2013-19.
Stonehouse, a senior, is on track to be the NCAA record-holder in career punting average as he has averaged 47.0 yards per punt. The current NCAA record is 46.31 ypp.
The Rams have used a trio of kickers this season in sophomores Cayden Camper and Jonathan Terry, and freshman Robert Liss. Liss has been successful on 4 of 7 field goal attempts, while Terry has booted all but one of his squad’s kickoffs.