CSU Not Quite "Do-or-Die" Game, But "Important"

Mountain West Conference rival coaches Gary Crowton (BYU) and Sonny Lubick (Colorado State) find themselves in an uncomfortable but similar quandary with 1-3 non-conference records as their young charges prepare to face off Saturday in an important conference opener for both squads.

"It's an extremely important game for us this week. I don't want to say it's a do-or-die game, but it's very important," Crowton said. Sonny Lubick does a great job with the team there and he's had a tough schedule. He lost a tough one to Colorado … they're trying to put their non-conference schedule behind them and just focus on the conference like we are.

He continued that "we need to put the non-conference games behind us and go into conference play knowing that we're 0-0. Our conference is going to be very tough. We need to take one game at a time. I really feel that we're going to move forward and continue to get better."

Crowton added, "When you play a challenging non-conference schedule, the No. 1 thing you worry about is not getting beat up and having all your players healthy. This year we're a little bit nicked, but we're not losing anybody for the game. We'll be intact on both offense and defense."

When asked if the Cougars will be a factor in the MWC title hunt, he noted, "It's way too early to say who is going to win the conference, but we will be a team that has a say in who wins the conference."

Without mentioning specifics, he said, "I feel that there are some things we can really attack on offense and on defense against Colorado State. They play a lot of two-cover on defense. When you have some down and distance problems, then they run three-cover and zone blitz; what I call three-buzz coverage. There will be some opportunities for us offensively and we just need to capitalize on those opportunities," Crowton explained.

After the heartbreaking loss last Friday against Boise State, Crowton commented, "I don't know if we've turned the corner yet (offensively), but I think that we're making progress toward that corner. I think we still have a lot we can improve on.

He said one continuing focus will be to improve the Cougars running game, which has been stalled and stymied so far this season. "We're still working on our run game. It will be a work in progress all year. We'll probably continue to throw it more than run it this year because of the talent we have on the outside, but we're working hard on the run game.

"The run game, Crowton pointed out, "… will help us in the red area and to close out games. A lot of teams are giving us single coverage on the outside, but as soon as they double-up out there, then I think that will really open it up for our tight ends. We want to get our tight ends more involved. We'll continue to work on trying to get it better."

"I feel like we made a lot of progress in that (Boise State) game. After that first quarter, we played fairly well. Offensively, we did a better job of hanging on to the ball and not getting turnovers. Penalties were also down; they're still not where I want them, but they're coming down."

He also noted that sophomore quarterback John Beck will continue to improve as his injured shoulder continues to heal. "He played better against Boise State than he did against USC. He is progressing and he's developing. He was able to throw the ball downfield … and underneath routes when they gave them to us. He read the defense pretty good and he didn't turn the ball over. His arm can get stronger. It's still healing some."

He said the team watched film on Saturday, ran and lifted, adding the extra day gave them "a little more meeting time to put in our game plan."

Crowton was especially pleased with the performance and progress of his game-breaking junior receiver Todd Watkins and freshman wideout Austin Collie. "Todd is very intelligent. He can recognize what coverages are going against him, whether it's man or zone coverage. He's 6-3 and he runs really fast. Austin Collie really complements him on the other side. He's 6-2 and a little heavier than Todd. I think teams will have to account for them more and more."

Asked to compare Watkins with his top receiver Troy Edwards at Louisiana Tech, he said, "Troy Edwards was a very explosive runner after the catch. He was pretty fast, but not quite as fast as Todd. Todd is taller and isn't quite as good after the catch as Troy was, but he's a little better downfield and over the top. Todd is more of a pure receiver type whereas Troy was more of a wide receiver/running back combination, but they both are outstanding players. I just hope Todd continues to develop and come into his own."

RELATED BITS ‘N PIECES:

* Injured Daniel Marquardt is listed as "probable" for the game. He "was lifting today and I think he'll be ready to go. He'll be a little ginger at first, but he should be probable for the game."

* On UNLV coach John Robinson's announced retirement: "Coach Robinson is an outstanding coach. You look at his history and the good things he's done and I'm just in awe at all of his accomplishments. What he did at UNLV in turning the program around was impressive. He's really made them competitive. He's one of the good guys and I wish him well."

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