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Colorado vs. Colorado State preview: Key players to watch for Buffaloes

The Buffs take on the Rams at 8:00 pm (MT) on Saturday.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Colorado at TCU Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s something special about rivalry games that have both coaches talking shit. This weekend’s Rocky Mountain Showdown probably didn’t need the extra juice, but it never hurts when Saturday night starts on Wednesday afternoon. We’ve already got a second video of CU players chanting IT’S PERSONAL and now ESPN’s going to have like 10 of their cameras focused on midfield during pregame warmups.

And do we really have to do this personally-insult-Shedeur-Sanders’-dad routine again? Did we learn nothing from literally six days ago? Just about everything that happens at Folsom on Saturday will be worth watching, but when the game kicks off that night, here’s what I’m watching:

Shilo Sanders vs. ‘Fort Air Raid’

CSU branding its offense as an Air Raid system is a courageous choice. It takes more than a dozen games to shake yourself of all things Steve Addazio, but it’s hard to ignore how the highest scoring total of CSU’s pass-heavy offense in the Norvell Era is 24. Maybe they’re just a few games from figuring it all out, but that’s a problem for Utah Tech. Still, they’re going to get off the bus throwing, which means opportunities for Sanders early and often.

He’s had a strange start to the season. The issues with his tackling feel somewhat justified, but he still leads the team in both solo (12) and total tackles (15). And really, as a whole, the secondary hasn’t been tested yet: TCU only threw for 279 yards and Nebraska threw for waaaaay less than that. CSU isn’t getting confused for Oregon or USC any time soon, but the secondary still may get stressed this weekend in a way they haven’t been yet.

Juwann Mitchell Getting Up To Speed

Marvin Ham and Jordan Domineck have gotten most of the attention through two games, but Mitchell looked every bit as deserving of praise against Nebraska. Even on a team full of Power 5 experience, Mitchell’s resume stands out – in 21 games with Texas, he had 101 tackles (59 solo) with eight tackles for loss and three sacks. After that, in the SEC East with Tennessee, he played 10 games and put up 43 tackles with one interception. Mitchell just got to Boulder and he’s already made an impact. If he keeps playing like he did last week, those issues in the run defense won’t feel as daunting.

A Running Back Breakout?

Outside of maybe Coach Prime himself, I can’t imagine anyone happier that Shedeur Sanders and the wide receivers are already this prolific than RB coach Gary Harrell. This was a unit that was supposed to be as deep as the receivers, and yet so far, they’ve rushed for 103 total yards. As a whole, they’re averaging less than two (1.7) yards per attempt. Some pretty bad QB sacks make that number look worse than it is, but just barely.

Anthony Hankerson, Sy’veon Wilkerson, and Dylan Edwards are the only guys who have gotten meaningful snaps at that position so far. Edwards has been electric in space, but the Buffs haven’t established a downhill attack just yet. Maybe this is the week that Alton McCaskill finally gets on the field and maybe Kavosiey Smoke gets some carries. The Buffs will have plenty of chances to try out different stuff while managing a big second half lead on Saturday.