How patient is new CSU coach Steve Fairchild willing to be in his first game at Invesco Field this Sunday? In his stint as offensive coordinator (1997 - 2000), the CSU Rams were very successful, even throwing the Buffs a 41 - 14 beat down when RB Kevin McDougal ran rampant through the Buffs defense to the tune of 190 yards. Flash back to last year's game and purely looking at the box score, you wonder how the Buffs won. One of the keys to this year's game will be to get CSU out of their comfort zone and not let them chew up the clock. The time of possession difference last year was staggering. The Buffs can't let any team run 23 more plays than us, even a team they should beat
The difference for CSU between last year's game and this year's game will obviously be at the quarterback position with Billy Farris getting the nod as the starter. Last years starter, Caleb Hanie, had a strong game against the Buffs, going 20 - 27 for 229 and 3TDs that kept the Buffs honest enough to have to honor both the pass and the run. This year, the Rams starting receivers of Dion Morton and Rashaun Greer caught 20 balls between them all of last year. Morton is the veteran of the group but is diminutive at 5'10" 159lbs with Greer having the most size of the group at 6'1" 200lbs. From a size point of view, CB Cha'pelle Brown should be a good fit on Morton and CB Gardner McKay will have to deal with a lager receiver in Greer. With the Rams limited productivity at WR and QB, you almost have to give the advantaged to the (gulp) Buff corner backs. CU's nickel corner, Jalil Brown has good size and will be able to body up Greer if needed. With the relatively inexperienced quarterback and two wide receivers who don't bring a lot of production to the field, all signs point to Fairchild playing this game in a 20 yard x 20 yard box which is very advantageous to the Buffs.
In his last stint as offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, Fairchild's play-calling became predictable and rather vanilla, something the fans of Buffalo were happy to see leave when Fairchild accepted the CSU job. TBills fans' often called his offense the "run, run, pass" offense. Well this weekend, Fairchild probably won't stray too far from that methodology of running first and passing second. Rams fans are confident in their ability run against the Buffs this year with Gartrell Johnson and Kyle Bell leading the way as a pretty impressive two running back combo. Last year, Johnson had a 5.3 yards/carry average with Bell racking up 140 yards against the Buffs. Bell's yards/att was down last year only registering at 3.8 per which is the reason Johnson burst on the scene. The Rams also have their two starting guards, one tackle and center returning from last year's team as starters with only T Nick Allotta not returning. Last year, the CSU offensive line unit ranked 109th in sacks giving up 37 total on the flip side, the Colorado offensive line only gave up 13, ranking them 31st in the country. The bad news for the Buffs is that the defense only sacked the opposing quarterback 13 times last year, ranking them 89th in the country. Both the Rams offensive line and the Buffs defensive line are experienced so this will be a good early indication of how the game is going to go. If the Buffs are able to put pressure with only their front four and disrupt the running game, it is going to be a long day for the Rams.
This first game sets up well as it should be a good test as to what we should be able to expect from Buffs DL Nicolas and DE Lucas. Except for Justin Brace at the DE position, the Buffs are every bit as big as the CSU offensive linemen, so I don't expect them to get pushed around. The linebackers should be allowed to play aggressive in keying run first and pass second. I can't wait to see how good they are this year. I am high on this group and if they come out to play like I think they will, this game could get ugly.
That leaves us with Kory Sperry. The X factor of the game last year and will probably be this year. I am much more comfortable this year than I was last year in terms of containing him. I really like our linebackers but I don't think they will be able to go one on one with Sperry. The good thing is that Farris is an inexperienced quarterback which should limit what they do in the passing game and allow more focus on Sperry. I expect S Ryan Walters or S DJ Dykes to be shadowing Sperry all day long. The main question looming over Sperry is how will he respond coming off of the knee injury? I worry if they start splitting Sperry out like a wide receiver and start pulling safeties out of the middle of field. I see the Buffs being very compact in this game and if the Rams start spreading them out, I can see CSU having some success on the ground.
With all that being said, here are the defensive keys of the game.
1) Has to do with the CU offense...get up early, make CSU play from behind. Make Farris beat you. Don't let the CSU offense feed off the energy of the CSU defense.
2) Don't let the Rams get in a rhythm. Last year, Kyle Bell got in a groove and the Rams marched. Keep CSU guessing.
3) Pass rush, Pass rush, Pass rush. It is time for the defensive line other than Hypolite to step up. I will be disappointed of Lucas doesn't get two sacks in this game.
4) Don't let Sperry in space. The Buffs may go zone but they should never play zone on Sperry. A linebacker or safety needs to be at the line all day jamming Sperry and shadowing him. Be physical, test his health and give up nothing easy. If things start going well for Sperry, that means things are going well for Farris and then Rams become a dynamic offense.
5) Set the tone early. No cheap points, no long runs. Don't let a team gain confidence in a rivalry game in their Superbowl. The Buffs need to make this game as important to them as it is to CSU.
Picture above courtesy of http://csurams.cstv.com