Any letdown would give Bronco critics a reason to downgrade them in the polls. Boise State has gotten to this level with stellar play. They must maintain it to solidify their ranking.
If either team can find a way to run the football, it will go a long ways in wearing out the defense and piling up time of possession. Boise State is 59th in rushing while Colorado State is #91. Colorado State doesn't beat themselves—they have lost just four fumbles and suffered five picks all season.
Colorado State began the season with wins over New Mexico and Northern Colorado and, following a loss to rival Colorado, the Rams rebounded with an impressive win over Utah State, a team that led Auburn on the road until the final seconds. The Rams are led by strong-armed sophomore Pete Thomas, 27th in the country with 22.4 completions per game. Thomas has hit 67% of his passes (112-167) and will present a challenge to the Boise State secondary. Thomas has thrown six TD passes but five interceptions.
Lou Greenwood (6-0, 181) will be the chief receiving threat for Colorado State while junior Marquise Law (6-4, 199) presents matchup problems. Crockett Gillmore (6-6, 241) is another big target at tight end.
The line will need to give Thomas time as they are prone to allowing sacks—they were next to last nationally in that category last season and have already allowed 13 this year. The Rams have also allowed 35 tackles for loss this fall, #99 in the country. Of course, that plays right into Boise State's strength. Center Weston Richburn was a Freshman All-America whom Lindy's tabbed for All-Mountain West honors. With Bronco center Thomas Byrd hobbled this year, they might be right. Weak tackle Paul Madsen (6-4, 313) is another honors candidate but outside of that duo, the Rams are thin. Senior Jake Gdowski (6-3, 309) is the starter at weak guard, sophomore Jordan Gragert (6-4, 294) is the other guard while Joe Caprioglio (6-6, 318) is the strong tackle. If size was all that mattered, the Rams would be fine. CSU has been searching for a tailback they can ride to a winning season. Senior Raymond Carter (6-0, 216) starts at that spot tomorrow but no Ram is ranked in the Top 100 in the nation in rushing.
The Ram defense will focus on a 3-4 alignment to take advantage of their speed. Mychal Sisson has the right stuff at linebacker and Mike Orakpo leads the team with 30 tackles. Elijah-Blu Smith moved from safety to cornerback this season.
Sophomore Nordly Capi has been a surprise on the defensive front as he leads the nation with eight sacks and is fifth with nine tackles for loss. That's not good news for Boise State's Doug Martin, who is trying to get untracked after a slow start due to the lack of consistent holes. If the three down lineman can get a rush against Boise State's talented offensive line and the linebackers can cover Boise State's taller and faster receivers, CSU will have accomplished a lot.
If the game comes down to special teams, Colorado State has a huge advantage. Punter Pete Kontodiakos and placekicker Ben DeLine are as good a tandem as you'll find. Kontodiakos is averaging 41.5 per punt but that's a bit misleading—he sends booming high kicks with little chance for return. The average return so far for opponents has been 2.77 yards. Momo Thomas averages 11.07 per punt return. Derek Good is 18th in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 26.89 yards per return.
Even though they are 5-0 and can become bowl eligible with a victory tomorrow afternoon, Boise State has several things to work on. Their run blocking hasn't been sharp. Occasionally the holes are there but not everyone is pushing their opponent off the line and then running downfield to block someone else. The Broncos have suffered some dropped passes that, in a lopsided game, are just embarrassing. When Boise State has a close game, those drops could be far more costly.
Although the defense tightened up arm tackling that was prevalent in the early portion of the season, they are well advised to follow the model they set for themselves against Fresno. Brad Elkin has come into his own at punter but the Broncos do need to find someone within 500 miles that can boot the ball through the uprights from 20 yards out. Mitch Burroughs has filled in nicely for the injured Chris Potter but no one has performed consistently on kickoff returns.
A little picky perhaps, but if you're #5 in the nation, you are held to a higher standard than most. After all, this isn't about not how talented you are at the start of the season, but getting better with each game. Coach Chris Petersen and his staff expect nothing less from their team.
Kickoff is set for tomorrow afternoon at 4. The game will be televised on The Mountain Network.