From Ryan Krous, publisher of InsideTheRams.com
What happened in the 44-7 loss to Colorado?
Quite simply, Colorado dominated Colorado State from start to finish. CSU came out completely flat, looked stale offensively and couldn't slow down CU's uptempo spread attack. The Rams began their first four drives by going three-and-out on each. CSU trailed 31-0 at halftime and on nine drives in the first half, CSU had two turnovers (one interception and one fumble) and a total of five three-and-outs. The Buffs scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the game.
The Rams never rebounded and staved off a shutout with a fourth quarter touchdown pass by backup quarterback Faton Bauta, who was a spark for the offense off the bench. Bauta, a Georgia transfer, was 6-of-9 for 32 yards and a score, and added 39 rushing yards. Starter Nick Stevens threw for 31 yards on 20 attempts, which included two interceptions. He has since been replaced by Bauta as the starter this week, although don't be surprised to see both play on Saturday.
What’s going on at the QB position and can the offense bounce back?
As I stated previously, Bauta will take over for Stevens. CSU head coach Mike Bobo was mum on his starter leading up to the opener, saying the pair, plus heralded true freshman Collin Hill, each could start. Clearly, Stevens struggled mightily, and while Bauta was a spark for the Rams in the second half, he struggled with accuracy as well and is a liability in the passing game. He is closer to a dual-threat and UTSA should expect CSU to run more read-option with Bauta at the helm. Hill is the most talented of the trio, but Bobo appears set on redshirting him. Unless CSU continues to stall drive after drive on offense, don't expect to see Hill play. The 6-5 freshman is a smart, strong-armed pocket passer with a bright future.
The Ram offense can certainly bounce back, as there is nowhere to go but up. There are a few playmakers in the passing game, as junior college transfer Michael Gallup is a big, athletic playmaker, as is fellow JUCO transfer tight end Dalton Fackrell, who has a reliable set of hands. The Rams hope their offensive identity is founded upon a strong run game. That never really got going last week. However, versatile scat back Dalyn Dawkins showed flashes of big play ability. Bruiser Izzy Matthews could have more success this week, while true freshman Marvin Kinsey is a big play waiting to happen.
How good is the defense, who are some of the top players?
The CSU defense was expected to be a liability this year due to inexperience up front and in the secondary. Both struggled greatly last week, enough so that Bobo named a new cornerback starter in Kevin Nutt, who is replacing former receiver Jordon Vaden. Texas native Demontrie Taylor could also see an extended role in nickel in place of a struggling Braylin Scott. Up front, the Rams couldn't provide much pressure on CU's quarterback, nor could they slow down CU's run game.
CSU utilizes a 3-4 (they ran a 4-3 last year against UTSA). The Rams' linebackers were expected to be a strength. However, mental gaffes last week have led to a new starting linebacker (Patrick Elsenbast in for Josh Watson) and questions at CSU's lead pass rush position (Buck), which is manned by Evan Colorito. The Rams desperately need questions answered, but with inexperience across the board, growth should be slow this year. Senior middle linebacker Kevin Davis will play on Sundays and had 19 tackles last week. Safety Jake Schlager is savvy and chipped in with 11 solo tackles, third nationally. But at this point, CSU is certainly a bend-but-don't-break defense that is looking for players that can simply do what coaches are asking. UTSA definitely has a chance to make some big plays this week if the Rams can't shore up inconsistencies and poor play.
What’s the biggest thing Colorado State is looking to improve on from last week?
I apologize if I sound so negative about the Rams, but they really struggled badly in all phases of the game, sans the punt unit, which is led by returning Ray Guy award finalist Hayden Hunt, arguably the country's top punter. The Rams couldn't even move the ball for most of the game against Colorado , let alone score. Defensively, the unit tired quickly after being on the field so much due to the offense's struggles. Inexperience is also causing a multitude of issues on all three levels. So quite frankly, the Rams must turn things around quickly if they hope to make a bowl game this year, which most pundits and fans assumed was a sure possibility in Bobo's second season.
What will the atmosphere be like on game day in Fort Collins ? What’s your attendance and score prediction for the game?
There are a couple factors that make the possibilities of crowd size intriguing Saturday. One, CSU fans can be fickle, and a 44-7 trouncing by their biggest rival could lead to apathy and poor attendance. However, this is the final season at Hughes Stadium, an off-campus stadium that is being replaced by a brand new on-campus stadium that is set to open in the fall of 2017. As such, CSU is running a different promotion for each home game that features a different decade of Hughes' existence. So fans may show up because it's the home opener, plus with it being the final season there, the sentimental value fans see in going to its final games may increase attendance. I don't think it will sell out, but I think we'll see in the neighborhood of 25,000 fans.
As for a score prediction, I'll say that even after an embarrassing opening game, CSU bounces back with a stronger performance, netting a 41-27 Rams victory. I think both Colorado State quarterbacks will continue to struggle with accuracy, but CSU's run game will get back on track en route to four rushing scores. UTSA's lower scoring output last week against an FCS opponent makes me think that even though the Roadrunners should run the ball with some success, I don't think they'll dominate in a way that Colorado did. This could very easily be a closer game, but I think last week lit a fire under the team and they have the personnel to perform much better than they did a week ago.