October 8, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines

UteZone.com caught up with Tom Lacock, the GoldandGreenNews.com publisher to tell us about the Colorado State Rams. CSU hosts Utah this Saturday for Homecoming and Lacock was kind enough to fill us in on the Rams.

UteZone CSU already has more sacks in four games than all of last season despite what were perceived as big losses in the front seven. Why has the pass rush been so much better, and has the emphasis on the pass rush come at the expense of the pass defense (261 yards per game, up 42 ypg from 2008)?

Tom Lacock: The biggest surprise of the early part of the season has been the defensive line. The past two seasons the Rams have allowed 5.3 yards per rush and some games it seemed worse than that. This season the Rams are allowing just 91 yards per game on the ground. Colorado State's defensive line has matured with Guy Miller and James Morehead really stepping up along the inside of the line. The Rams are starting to develop some depth along the defensive line, but some injuries this week are hurting that depth. The Rams have done well to shut down the run this season and that is translating into teams moving the ball through the air because it is simply easier. Some of that may have to do with two of the three new linebackers in the CSU 4-3 scheme being new to the line-up including a redshirt freshman in Chris Gipson.

UZ: Another area CSU has improved dramatically is interceptions (8 on the season). Who is Elijah-Blu Smith (team leader with 3 interceptions) and what has the Rams defense done to get more picks?

TL: I think it is a matter of being a year older. On paper, the Colorado State defensive secondary is strong, however, it is still developing and that inexperience shows sometimes. Cornerback Gerard Thomas is just a sophomore, as is Smith and the Rams don't have a linebacker playing right now that is older than a sophomore. There is a lot of athletic ability back there, but it is still young and I think execution is sometimes an issue. The other big issue defensively is the Rams, despite the increase in sacks from a year ago, still go a long time without getting pressure from the front four. That makes them bring the blitz and opens up the defensive coverage for the opposition. Smith is a very athletic, very exciting young player who may be one of the most athletic in the Mountain West Conference. He is a strong hitter who is getting better in coverage. He will be well-known in the Mountain West by the time he is a senior.

UZ: CSU's offense has been productive despite losing several key players such as Gartrell Johnson and Kory Speery, and as of now has actually improved from a year ago. Why has the offense been able to maintain and exceed what an experienced group in 2008 did and who do Ute fans need to know about?

TL: The biggest surprise on the Colorado State team may be quarterback [db]Grant Stucker. Last spring and this fall he wasn't able to separate himself from former Snow College quarterback Jon Eastman and it seemed he was almost given the job by default. All he has done since then is to throw for an average of 250 yards per game and 10 touchdowns. It was thought early this fall that it would be his job to manage ballgames, but he is showing to be more than that. His weapons offensively are impressive. He throws behind the most experienced line in college football, he has one returning All-Conference wide receiver in Rashaun Greer (19 rec., 403 yards) and another who is playing like he is All-Conference in Dion Morton (12 rec., 238, 2 TD) and a third for whom it is a surprise he is even playing at all in Tyson Liggett (13 rec., 185, 2 TD). Liggett was a walk-on quarterback from a small town in Colorado who wasn't thought of very highly, but kept showing up in practice film as someone who didn't drop the ball. Two weeks ago Liggett had a huge game against BYU when Greer was benched after tipping two passes to BYU defenders. Last year the Rams' receivers weren't able to get away from the Utah man-to-man defense and it made the offense one-dimensional. That is the match-up to watch this season too. While Johnson is gone, the Rams have a two-headed monster at running back. Leonard Mason was ranked by Rivals.com as the number three running back coming out of junior college last season and has 339 yards rushing in 2009. John Mosure is small, fearless and may be more flexible (229 rushing, 99 receiving). Freshman back Lou Greenwood has worked his way into the lineup the last three games and will likely see more time after his performance. The future is bright for Greenwood.

UZ: After a good start to the season, CSU's defense has given up 73 points in the last two games. What has been the difference and what does CSU need to do defensively to keep Utah from rolling up yards and out of the endzone?

TL: When Colorado State has trouble on defense it comes when they don't get off the field on third down and when they don't get pressure on the quarterback using their front four. The second issue is really just an extension of the first. This is a defense without much depth, so the longer an opposing offense can keep the Rams on the field, the better their chances. The Rams don't have a secondary that can stop a team if they have to blitz again and again.

UZ: Give us 3 keys to a CSU win and predict the score.

TL:The three keys for a Colorado State win are:

  • Third down defense for Colorado State - Can the Rams get off the field at a rate better than the 50 percent rate they have been giving up this season. This is a team without a lot of depth defensively and the longer they are on the field the worse off they are.

  • The Colorado State receivers have to get separation from the Utah defense and Greer has to step up. While Greer has posted impressive numbers over the past two seasons, he tends to disappear in big games. Greer has a ton of potential, but until he shows it against the likes of a Utah it is just potential. If he can step up, it will be huge for the Rams' chances of winning on Saturday.

  • Getting pass pressure from the front four. The more they blitz, the more the Rams' defensive secondary is exposed, the worse things get for CSU. Last week Nathan Enderle completed 10-in-a-row on his way to two scoring drives in the third quarter which effectively won the game for Idaho.

I don't know that Colorado State has the horses to play with Utah, but they have, at times this season played as well as anyone in the conference. Their win over Colorado wasn't as close as the score indicated and CSU played even with BYU after a terrible first quarter. They are capable of surprising the Utes and will come out strong. The longer they hang in there, the better the Rams chances. I think that is how this plays out. CSU has an early lead but can't hold on to it. Utah 45, Colorado State 31.

Click here to read the cross talk with GoldandGreenNews.

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