I could go into a detailed analysis and look both teams running games and passing games then throw in the special teams and the intangibles too. But after looking at a lot of different statistics and trends one item kept coming up in my head – this is a rivalry game. And with Meyer now going up against a mentor and friend, throw out the stat sheet. It's time to play football.
With that in mind here are a few key areas for the Utes to be successful, and conversely what the Rams must do as well to come out victorious:
• Contain Van Pelt – Colorado State senior quarterback Brad Van Pelt is unquestionably the Rams' team leader. He's a bit of a free spirit evidenced by his comments prior to the Colorado game, but he backs it up on the field. Utah is not going to stop Van Pelt completely by and means, but that doesn't mean they can't frustrate him into making some mistakes that lead to turnovers. If the Utes can conjure up a couple of turnovers courtesy of Van Pelt interceptions and/or fumbles, they're in business.
• Score early – Fort Collins can get loud and that is not a good thing for sophomore quarterback Alex Smith. The Utes need to get on the board early, and it really doesn't matter how. Take the crowd out of the game and the pressure off of Smith.
• Big plays in the passing game – Colorado State's secondary has simply been scorched this year. For the Utes to pull off the upset they must continue that trend. Look for Smith to be hooking up with wide receiver Paris Warren early and often during the game. Colorado State does not have anyone who can stop him one-on-one, and if they double team Warren that just opens up the passing game to other players.
• Keep Warfield involved – Even if Colorado State stacks the line of scrimmage with eight men in the box to stop running back Brandon Warfield the Utes offense must continue to utilize him, even if it's with play-action passes down the field. Warfield is bound to get some yards in the running game, but it's when he's used on screen passes and when he's used as a decoy that he could prove to be most effective.
Now for the Rams, it is somewhat the opposite, obviously, but with a twist. I point to a couple of key ingredients for the Rams:
• Stop Smith – Say what? What about Warfield? Of course the Rams will concentrate a lot of their defensive effort on Warfield, but he's going to get his yards. It's like the old theory of stopping Michael Jordan, he can get his 30 points, but don't let the role players get off too. If Smith has a big night it's going to be a sobering experience for the Rams. If the Rams are able to rattle Smith early, however, it could be a long night for the Utes.
• Balanced attack – Colorado State's rushing numbers have been up and down this season. That's partly due to poor defensive performances and the offense having to play from behind, but maybe they have relied on Van Pelt a little big too much as well. The Rams need for their running game – the option included – to keep the Utes defense off balance.
• Somebody step up – H-back Joel Dreessen is a vital part of the Rams' offense and will likely miss the game to a back injury from what I heard earlier this week. He will definitely be missed, especially inside the red zone and on third down plays whether it's a pass play or him being a lead blocker. Somebody needs to fill his shoes, or maybe it can be done collectively as a unit.
Now that I have spoken about the keys to the game, it comes down to prediction time. I don't normally go against the Rams at home and I have a lot of respect for the coaching job Lubick has done over the years not only in Fort Collins but when he was the defensive coordinator for the Hurricanes during their 1980s run. Still, I think this is one of the least talented defenses the Rams have had in a while, especially in the secondary, and the Utes will pull out a close victory because of it.
Utah 27 Colorado State 24