1) Who are the Colorado State players to watch on Saturday?
The primary names offensively for CSU that Bulldog fans to keep a close eye on are tailbacks Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews, and receiver Michael Gallup. Dawkins is a small, jittery type back who actually would prefer trying to run defenders over than going around them. He has the skills to make guys miss, but he is often regarded as CSU's toughest player because he isn't afraid of contact and can make plays in a variety of ways offensively. Matthews is the bruiser CSU wants at tailback. He is much bigger, yet he has a unique set of feet and likes to use his vision to find lanes methodically, then hit them hard. Once he gets in the open field, he can be hard to bring down, at least when he's been healthy.
Then at receiver, Gallup has emerged as a go-to for now full-time starting quarterback Nick Stevens. Gallup possesses a nice blend of size, athleticism and speed. He has finally gotten up to speed with the FBS game (he is a first-year JUCO transfer from Butler C.C. in Kansas). He leads the Rams with 36 catches for 570 yards and five scores. Stevens has become more of a consistent passer and his primary target has been Gallup, who can make plays in the screen game, or be a downfield threat on posts and fly routes.
On defense, CSU's best player is senior linebacker Kevin Davis. He is a do-everything tackling machine. He has been more silent in past weeks, but CSU's defense overall has improved weekly. There really isn't one name that pops out on the defensive line, but the group has gotten much better since week one. The Rams' secondary has had its woes this year and is struggling for depth, but since injuries have crept up, younger players have received more playing time and the group appears to be playing better. Safety Jake Schlager is the leader of the group, while senior corner Tyree Simmons should be healthy since sitting out the UNLV game two weeks ago. Finally, punter Hayden Hunt is among the best in the country.
2) How much do you expect the Rams’ bye week to factor into this matchup?
On paper, one would think the bye week would greatly help. It allowed players like Izzy Matthews, Tyree Simmons and receiver Bisi Johnson to heal from injuries. It also allowed coaches time to get out on the recruiting trail and further relationships, while also snagging a couple commitments. Coaches also had a rare day off last Saturday, which is a huge plus considering the immensity of the football grind in-season.
There is a chance the Rams come out sluggish with the time off. Quarterback Nick Stevens really began to show more promise since regaining his starting spot, however. He was benched after an awful week one showing against Colorado, then once true freshman star Collin Hill went down with a torn ACL, Stevens regained the starting spot and appears much more comfortable and confident, which has resulted in big plays for the offense.
3) What has to go right for Fresno State, or wrong for Colorado State, for the Bulldogs to overcome being being more than two-touchdown underdogs? Are there any matchups that concern the Rams?
For the Rams, they have to continue to focus on playing their game. They caught a couple breaks two weeks ago in their big road win over UNLV, but they played a great game all-around en route to building a huge lead at halftime. The run game was clicking and Stevens connected with Gallup for several big plays. So it'll be a combination of the Rams making big plays on both sides of the ball, while also eliminating silly turnovers and penalties.
As long as the Rams can stifle the Bulldogs' running attack, they should be in good shape at home. CSU is closing in on its final season at Hughes Stadium before embarking on a new on-campus stadium, which will open next fall. Enthusiasm should be high and the team will feed off that. CSU just needs to be able to run the ball effectively and stop the run and they should be fine.
4) Colorado State is two years removed from a coaching change, how is the Bobo era being received at CSU? Does the community feel the program is going in the right direction?
It's been an up and down era for Bobo, but the bottom line is he took the team to a bowl game in his first year and they have a chance to go bowling once again in year two. Bobo has proven to be a stout recruiter and he appears to have found a star for the future in quarterback Collin Hill. Prior to his injury, Hill was playing at a very high level and was one of the top performing players on the team. Bobo has the team going in the right direction, as players have really bought into his philosophy and family-like community.
This year was expected to be more of a growth year by some, yet it has turned into another rebuilding year, as the Rams got handled by their top two rivals, Colorado and Wyoming. But outside of that, the Rams have beaten the teams they should have and younger players have shown promise. CSU is relatively young and inexperienced across the board, but numerous first-year players have proven to be potential starts. One thing is clear, there is talent blooming that we haven't seen in past years at Colorado State.
Having the outspoken support of the university president, Tony Frank, and support of the entire athletics program, school and community, things seem headed for the right direction. CSU is investing heavily into its facilities and infrastructure, and athletics is one of the primary focuses of the school. With the new football stadium, new practice and weight facilities, plus the financial backing of the community, the resources are there for CSU to really grow and improve on the field.
5) What’s your prediction/score for Saturday’s game?
The Rams are still a borderline team to go to a bowl, so Saturday is a must-win. Fresno State has obviously had a rough year and the Rams need to capitalize, especially at home. The team is coming off a bye week and one of its more impressive overall wins, which also came on the road, so momentum is on the upswing. However, this team has been very inconsistent this year and you really never know what you're going to get with them.
The key for CSU is to play their game. Essentially, move the ball effectively offensively (namely running the ball with a stable of three backs), then big plays in the passing game should follow suit. They've also got to stop the run and eliminate turnovers. This should be a game, though, where the Rams can still get away with making some mistakes and come away with a win.
CSU runs for 250 yards and four scores, while the defense creates two turnovers as the Rams inch closer to bowl eligibility with a 45-17 win over the Bulldogs.