Here we are in week three and we face the Rams of Colorado State. They are coming off of consecutive 3-9 seasons and coach Steve Fairchild may very well be on the hot seat. We beat them last year, but not as handily as we should have.
Interesting thing about this game: this is the first time since '06 that we haven't played CSU in the first game of the year. Who did we play before the Rams that year? Oh right...Montana State. Hawk's first loss (of many).
And now, onto the CSU team that we'll be facing off against this season
Follow the jump to see about them Rammies
Colorado State Rams
It's time for the annual siblings grudge-match between the Colorado universities. While we're not their first opponent, we will be the first big-time team that they face in 2011. They open the season against at UNM which has been one of the worst NCAA teams over the past couple of seasons, and then they too get to play some Bears in week two, only theirs will hail from Greeley. They will be facing a pretty large jump in competition between UNC and our Buffs, so the hope is that we can jump out to an early lead and keep on pounding.
The Rams lose some of their more productive offensive weapons, though they return Pete Thomas, the (now) sophomore QB that put up some solid numbers last year (not against us, but overall). He completed nearly 65% of his passes on the season, and they are expecting a great year from him; provided they can keep him upright. They ranked 118th in the NCAA in sacks allowed last year, and they return 4 of 5 starters from that line. They will be doing some shuffling, but that may not be enough to keep Pete Thomas from taking a lot of hits again this season. They hope so, but I'm not so sure they'll be able to improve their pass protection enough to allow him to become the star that they all think he will be. There will be only one bright spot on their line, and it's their sophomore center Weston Richberg. He's big and strong and played well at times last season. Give him and Thomas another year or two together and I think something will happen, just not yet. Sure, I think Pete Thomas could eventually be a very good/possibly great college QB, but his line needs to DRAMATICALLY improve for that to happen, not to mention his receivers.
They lose their top target from last season, and only one other WR on the roster caught more than 1 TD last year, and he only netted 2. They've got a whole slew of guys who are competing for the starting spots alongside RB turned WR Lou Greenwood Jr, so we won't know who we'll have to be matching up against until they get their depth chart set. They are going to try to break in a couple of new, gargantuan tight ends (6'6", 6'6", with the runt coming in at 6'5"), and hope that will help to open up the middle of the field, but I don't think we'll have a ton of trouble matching up with these guys, especially because I don't think we're going to give Pete Thomas enough time to get the ball out to them consistently.
In the running game, they seem to be hanging their hopes on a guy who didn't come through for them last year in Raymond Carter. He's the transfer from UCLA that everybody thought would burst onto the scene, but didn't make any noise at all last year. He and Chris Nwoke (who made slightly more noise, but not that much more) are their top two guys, and they should get a bulk of the carries. Nwoke likes to work in between the tackles, while Carter is supposed to be a speedster. This is the Rams version of the thunder and lightning, but I'm not sure we're going to let them show us much of either.
Here is where the biggest changes have occurred. CSU has officially switched to a 3-4. Yes, I know, everybody's doing it, not that exciting. Also, they won't stick to a 3-4 front 100% of the time because they don't have the depth at linebacker, but they feel that it's the best way to get their most talented defenders on the field. This gives the Buffs a very large advantage. Outside of Nuku Latu on the Nose, they don't have anyone who possess the bulk to really stand up to our offensive line. They have smaller, quicker guys, but I think that will play right into the hands of the smash-mouth type of offense that we are supposedly going to be running this year. Latu is listed at 300 lbs, but we definitely have the bulk up front to handle him, and we now have quick enough feet on the outside with David Bakhtiari and (most likely) Jack Harris to be able to handle the edge in both the running game and in pass protection. Mix that with tight ends like Deehan, Bahr and co. and I think we won't have much trouble holding onto the ball and moving up and down the field. They do have very talented linebackers, but they are small, and there will now be fewer guys in front of them to eat up blockers. While Mychal Sisson and Mike Orakpo are some of the top LBs in the Mountain West Conference, they don't have the size to compete with our offensive line and tight ends, let alone the fullbacks that we have added to our offense. They might be able to use their quickness to frustrate our blockers, but Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge are just as quick as they are.
Ivory Herd stays at safety for the Rams, while Elijah-Blu Smith moves to CB. They have solid speed, in their defensive backfield, but no ball hawks and they let a lot of big plays happen. That looks to be the case again this year, which will make it hard for them to stop anybody, let alone an experienced QB like Hansen and targets like Clemons and Richardson. I think their secondary opens up for us this year and we score more points against them than we have in a while.
They are actually solid here, and may better us in this phase of the game. They return a solid kicker and a pretty good punter, plus a couple of pretty good looking kick and punt returners. Their coverage units aren't great, but they tend to come out ahead in the return game. They should continue to be solid here, and their coverage units may be better, but not enough to make up for the other facets of the game against our Buffaloes.
The Rams have the schedule this year to improve on that pesky 3-9 record they've stuck to of late, but not enough to get them out of the bottom half of their conference. And they have made a few changes, but not enough to keep up with us this year. I don't think Jon Embree and the other former Buffs on staff will let this game fall by the wayside, especially with no Nebraska on the schedule this year. I do think Pete Thomas will eventually become a very good college QB, but maybe not this season. He doesn't have the talent around him yet, but there's a chance that a couple of guys could come through and give Thomas some targets by the end of the year, but not enough to really make CSU competitive in that conference yet.