The day has finally come. The calendar has officially shifted from summer to fall, and CU FOOTBALL IS BACK. As usual, the year starts with a matchup against CSU in Denver. The Rams are fresh off a demolition of the Oregon State Beavers, 58-27, in their new stadium. I was at that game, and while I watched the whole game, I still don’t know what to think of this team. So, I talked to someone who does. Keegan Pope of insidetherams.com was kind off to shed some light on CSU.
Q: CSU returns most of their potent offense from last year and they picked up right where they left off against Oregon State. We all know Michael Gallup and Nick Stevens, but who are the other weapons CU fans should know about?
A: CSU's biggest weapon might be its running game. With Marvin Kinsey's early return from ACL surgery and Rashaad Boddie's emergence in fall camp, the Rams have four backs who would start for most other Mountain West programs. Dalyn Dawkins is the shifty, jitterbug-like back, Kinsey is the straight-ahead burner, and both Matthews and Boddie are the bruisers. CSU struggled early on against Oregon State running the ball, but the Rams seemed to find their groove by the second quarter. If they can keep it close early on, I think CSU's depth at running back and on the offensive line could wear down CU's relatively thin front seven.
Q: Defensively, Marty English returns as coordinator after an embattled first year. Is the roster more suited to his 3-4 now? Who is starting up front?
A: Last year brought a lot of growing pains on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams weren't particularly young, but they were inexperienced. They obviously got torched by CU in the first game of the year, and really struggled to find any sort of consistency for the next four or five games. At some point, the switch flipped and CSU started to have some success. At one point, they went six quarters without allowing a touchdown, but four of those quarters also came against an abysmal Fresno State team.
This year's group returns eight starters from a year ago, and it also adds Utah graduate transfer safety Jordan Fogal on the back end. Their secondary proved to be susceptible to the big play early against Oregon State, but they also were able to create some turnovers in the passing game to quell OSU's momentum. Up front, CSU is somewhat undersized, but the Rams are quick and athletic, something Oregon State's offensive line struggled to combat. Seniors Jakob Buys and Darnell Thompson will start on the defensive line along with Rangeview product Richard King. True sophomores Toby McBride and Arjay Jean should see more playing time as they get back from injury, and the Rams can rotate in senior Colton Foster and true freshman Ellison Hubbard for depth.
Linebacker is probably CSU's deepest position group, and they played exceptionally well against Oregon State despite missing senior leader Deonte Clyburn. Returning starters Evan Colorito, Josh Watson and Tre Thomas will lead that group, with experienced reserve Kiel Robinson sliding into a starting role as well.
Q: What did you take away from the Oregon State game?
A: Probably my biggest takeaway from Saturday's game was how explosive CSU's offense can be when it's clicking on all cylinders. Oregon State is by no means an elite defense, but I definitely didn't expect CSU to put 525 yards and 58 points. They've finally implemented the tempo system Mike Bobo has talked about, and with the depth they now have at the skill positions, they can do it for entire drives instead of just a couple plays at a time. CSU's offensive skill group isn't as deep as CU's, but I think they'll give the Buffs' linebackers and secondary some trouble.
Q: Who’s a player to watch on offense and defense?
A: On offense, keep your eye on Detrich Clark. A junior college quarterback, Clark has developed into a weapon in the slot as both a receiver and a ball carrier. He spent much of last season simply learning the intricacies of the position, but now that he's up to speed, I'd expect him to have a much bigger role in Bobo's offense. CSU likes to use him out of the Wildcat or on run-pass option plays, but he's likely to have some other spot roles as well.
Defensively, watch out for Jamal Hicks. He gained some very valuable starting experience toward the end of last season, and will primarily play at strong safety for CSU this year. He's an absolute ballhawk, in both the run and passing games, and he always seems to be around the ball. He and the rest of CSU's secondary will have their hands full with CU's depth and talent at wideout, but if the Rams have any chance of winning Friday night they'll need Hicks and Co. to come up with some takeaways.
Q: What’s your prediction for the game?
A: I think I've only been right on my prediction for this game once in the past three years, so at least I've got that going for me. I think CSU is a year away from being really, really good. I think they'll keep this one competitive unlike last year, but I just know that they can score enough points to keep up with a scary CU offense. I expect CSU to be able to slow down Phil Lindsay and the Buffs' rushing attack, but it's almost impossible to stop their passing game. I predict a high-scoring affair, but ultimately the Buffs will prevail.