BYU vs. Colorado State: The Breakdown

The Cougars are set to take on an improving Colorado State football team this Saturday in Fort Collins, Colorado. The Rams offer some unique challenges, and it will certainly be a game the Cougars need to be up for in order to win on the road in-conference. G-man previews how the two teams match up and what fans can look for come game time.

BYU running attack vs. Colorado State

The Rams can certainly be exploited on the ground, as evidenced by their 176.6 yards yielded per game to opposing offenses. As in most years, the Rams feature some undersized yet aggressive linebackers. They are led by leading tacklers Mychal Sisson, who is a 5-foot-11-inch, 214-pound redshirt freshman, and Ricky Brewer, who is a 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound sophomore. Both players play outside, while senior Jeff Horinek and sophomore Alex Williams rotate in at MLB.

Colorado State likes to use a three- and four-man front alternatively during the course of a game. When they go three down linemen, both Horinek and Williams are in at the same time. The Rams also like to employ a 4-2-5 alignment on occasion in hopes of keeping opposing offenses off guard.

The Cougar ground game seemed to find its groove during the second half against UNLV last week, as Fui Vakapuna put forth what may have been his best rushing outing in two years. Vakapuna, Harvey Unga and the Cougars hope to build upon that momentum against the Rams.

Prognosis: You have to love the matchup here for BYU. Should offensive coordinator Robert Anae commit to the run, he should find a lot of success against Colorado State's young and relatively light defensive front. The Cougar running backs should be able to punish the Rams' lighter running backs up the middle, while the Cougar offensive line should have its way.

What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching the amount of carries both Harvey Unga and Fui Vakapuna receive throughout the course of the game. Given the matchup, one would think Anae would utilize at least a 50/50 run-pass ratio, especially in light of Vakapuna's performance a week ago.

Opposing defenses are pretty much playing BYU the exact opposite than they did last year by not stacking the line, but employing deep safeties and taking away the downfield opportunities. Should the Rams follow suit and not stack the line, then Unga and Vakapuna should have their biggest game of the year collectively.

BYU passing attack vs. Colorado State

The Rams have fared much better against the pass than they have against the run so far this season. They have only allowed 211 passing yards per game, which may be a reflection of a week run defense rather than a stout pass defense, but nevertheless no team has passed for big yardage against the Rams so far this year.

Right end Tommie Hill is their sack leader, and at 6 feet 6 inches and 245 pounds, could cause some potential problems with the pass rush. The Rams liked to blitz their strong safety Mike Pagnotta, as he had proven to be the primary playmaker on the Ram defense, but he recently suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. At corner they'll start a junior and a freshman in Nick Oppenneer and Gerard Thomas, respectively. Both corners are a bit undersized and could be exploited by the superior size of the Cougar wideouts.

The Cougar passing game looked like its old self this past week against UNLV. Max Hall looked as comfortable as he has during any game since the UCLA game earlier this year. Austin Collie is coming off a big game, while Hall is spreading the ball around more and chewing up good yardage.

Prognosis: The Rams aren't likely to keep their safeties as high as teams have over the past three games, which should open up some opportunities deep. The Rams like to blitz their safeties, and if Hall can pick up those blitzes he'll be able to exploit the Rams downfield. Look for an assumed productive running attack to open up some opportunities with play action.

What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching to see how much Harvey Unga is used in the passing game. I feel that he's been underutilized during most games this season, and that using him in the flats or across the middle running circle routes could open up the offense considerably.

BYU run defense vs. Colorado State

Unlike most years, the Rams are leaning more towards the pass these days. Nevertheless, they have an adequate running attack led by senior Gartrell Johnson, who has rushed for 750 yards so far this season. Kyle Bell will rotate with Johnson on occasion, but Johnson should be getting around 80 percent of the work in the Ram backfield.

Johnson is a load at 6 feet and 225 pounds, but he can also defenders teams on the edges. He's proven to be a very good combo back in similar form to BYU's very own Harvey Unga, and can cause some headaches for an opposing defense.

The Cougars have been mediocre at best in defending the run here of late. The linebackers did show some improvement in stopping the run last week against UNLV, and hopefully that continues this week against the Rams.

Prognosis: Look for the Rams to attempt to run it right up the gut of the Cougar defense. Russell Tialavea's return should help a lot at stopping Colorado State on the ground, and I look for continued improvement from the Cougar linebackers during this game.

What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching the inside linebackers and how well they do at making plays and stuffing gaps. As mentioned, they did see some improvement against UNLV, and hopefully that continues this week against a Colorado State team that will be testing them.

BYU pass defense vs. Colorado State

As mentioned, the Rams are throwing it more this year, to the tune of 247 yards gained per game through the air. They're led by senior Billy Farris, a pocket passer that doesn't run much at all, which is pretty uncommon for an opposing quarterback this year from BYU's perspective.

The Rams have some potent weapons on the outside in veteran wideouts Dion Morton and Rashaun Greer. Morton is the speed guy who can beat a defense over the top of coverage, while Greer is more of the possession guy who leads the Rams in receptions so far this season. Unlike most teams, the Rams pose a big threat at tight end in Kory Sperry. Sperry is the type of player that will need to be game-planned for and subsequently accounted for on every play.

The Cougar pass defense didn't fare all that well a week ago against UNLV. They were exploited by a quarterback who used quick drops and releases to beat the Cougars time and again with short crossing routes and passes to the flat.

Prognosis: Colorado State isn't likely to spread it out and use quick drops to beat a defense like UNLV did and was so successful with a week ago. The Rams are likely to use a lot of single-back, double-tight formations, as they always do, and rely on a lot of play action. I like the Cougar pass defense more against this type of offense, and they should fare better this week than they did against the Rebels.

What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching for how the strong safety and inside linebackers account for Sperry in coverage. Both Shawn Doman and Matt Bauman are good coverage guys that should be able to fare well against CSU's often dominating tight end. Andrew Rich might start or may get a lot of reps, and it will be interesting to see how he does against the best tight end BYU has faced so far this season.

Conclusion: While CSU poses a lot of problems, I like this matchup for the Cougars on defense much more than I did against UNLV. Look for a lot of defensive improvements from a week ago. On the other side, Colorado State is clearly better than the Rebels defensively, although they can be exploited primarily in the running game.

The home field advantage will work big-time in the Rams' favor, making this a likely close game in the end. Colorado State is improving every week from what I've seen this year, and the Rams are certainly going to be up to play the Cougars, just like every other team in the conference.

Final Score Prediction: BYU 27, Colorado State 21


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