Before each Minnesota football game, GopherDigest will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we talked with Colroado State beat writer Keegan Pope of The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Fort Collins, Colo.) to preview the Gophers' Week 2 away game against the Colorado State Rams.
1. With three key losses heading into 2015 for Colorado State in head coach Jim McElwain to Florida, and both quarterback Garrett Grayson and Dee Hart in the NFL, how do the Rams plan on replacing all three?
Former Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has been brought in to replace Jim McElwain, and according to players it has been an extremely smooth transition. Bobo’s passion and intensity has worn off on his players, and they’ve bought into his physical, aggressive style of play. On the field, replacing Grayson and Hart will be done by committee, primarily. Redshirt sophomore Nick Stevens was tabbed as the starter on August 17, and he tossed five touchdown passes in CSU’s 65-13 romp over Savannah State on Saturday. Behind him is Coleman Key, a redshirt freshman who possesses a cannon for an arm. Bobo plans to play both in every game this season, though it remains to be seen whether that will actually happen.
Hart left a big hole at the running back position, and CSU has rotated four different running backs in the final week of preseason camp and their home opener. Purdue transfer Dalyn Dawkins is a diminutive, but tough back and he’ll likely see the majority of carries for CSU.
2) There's been a lot of talk about All-American WR Rashard Higgins in the Minnesota media, how good is Higgins really?
Higgins is the real deal, plain and simple. It’s hard to judge Mountain West players against other players from Power 5 conferences because of the difference in competition. But there’s no doubt Higgins could play, and be very, very good in any conference in the country. The thing that stands out about Higgins is his ability to take any play and turn it into a big one. He has size, speed, great route running ability and most of all, he’s a team guy through and through. His numbers against Savannah State (nine catches, 93 yards, one TD) were mediocre by his standards, but expect to see a lot of Higgins Saturday when the Rams and Gophers face off.
3) The Rams put up 65 points last week in a route of Savannah State last Saturday. Do you believe that's because of how bad Savannah State was, how potent the Rams offense is, or a combination of both?
I think generally, it’s a combination of the two. CSU’s passing game, despite having a new quarterback, should be one of the best in the Mountain West because of the depth and talent the Rams have at tight end and wide receiver. However, I’d be misleading people if I said the porous defense Savannah State plays didn’t have a big part. The Tigers have lost 22 games in a row, in part because their defense is one of the worst in the Football Championship Subdivision. Colorado State has a lot to offer on offense, but they also played a far inferior opponent Saturday.
4) What are the strengths of the Rams defense and who are a few names to keep an eye on for the game this Saturday?
Linebacker and safety are two positions where CSU has a lot of talent and experience. Kevin Pierre-Louis and Trent Matthews are two of the leaders of this CSU defense, and have combined for 64 starts in their careers. At linebacker, the Rams are led by senior Cory James, who ranks fifth all-time in sacks at Colorado State. Fellow starters Kiel Robinson and Kevin Davis are two big, athletic players who are vicious hitters. Redshirt freshman Josh Watson, who played behind James, recorded nine tackles against Savannah State and also should figure into the mix against a potent Gophers rushing attack.
5) What are the keys for Colorado State if they're going to beat the Gophers, plus what's your prediction for Minnesota vs. Colorado State?
Avoiding costly turnovers will be key for CSU. The Rams turned the ball over five times against Savannah State, and as Mike Bobo pointed out, if they do that against better teams, they won’t have a shot at winning. Minnesota is a disciplined, methodical team who rarely makes unforced errors. CSU will face a tall task trying to match up physically with the Gophers, but if they want a chance to pull of the upset, they’ll have to avoid giving the ball away.
Though CSU has won its last nine home games, and the atmosphere at Hughes Stadium should be a great one, I don’t see the Rams matching up physically to the Gophers well. Minnesota’s defense held an elite-level TCU offense to 23 points, and the Gophers had a number of chances to win that game. Whether or not TCU is slightly overrated isn’t my call, but Minnesota was very impressive against a team who could very well end up in the College Football Playoff.
Final Score: Minnesota 27, Colorado State 17