The Colorado State Rams expect to take the field again for the first time since Nov. 12 following the back-to-back cancelation of games against UNLV and Air Force. Last time out, Colorado State suffered a 52-21 loss to Boise State that dropped its record to 1-2 under new head coach Steve Addazio.
This week, the Rams travel to take on the San Diego State Aztecs, led by fellow first-year head coach Brady Hoke. The Aztecs have lost two straight and are 3-3 overall following last week's late-added non-conference game with Colorado. San Diego State also lost its last Mountain West Conference game to Nevada, which dropped the Aztecs to 3-2 in the league.
Colorado State at San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday, December 5, at 7 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: San Diego State -8
When Colorado State Has the Ball
Senior quarterback Patrick O'Brien didn't start the opener for Colorado State, but he has appeared in all three games and started the last two. O'Brien is 34-for-56 as a passer (60.7 percent) for 477 yards and three touchdowns and one interception this season, though much of that production came in the Rams 34-24 victory over rival Wyoming. O'Brien completed 18 of 26 attempts for 255 yards and two touchdowns against the Cowboys and also scored one of his two rushing touchdowns.
Temple transfer Todd Centeio started against Fresno State and adds a more dangerous running element to the offense but couldn't hold the job. Centeio has completed just 12 of 32 pass attempts (37.5 percent) for 177 yards and one touchdown. He has averaged 5.5 yards per pass attempt, a big drop-off from O'Brien's 8.5, but has run for 92 yards on 22 carries compared to O'Brien's four rushing yards on 17 attempts. O'Brien will likely start, but Addazio likely has a plan to incorporate Centeio's skillset in some form, especially since he has been one of the Rams' most productive runners this year. Marcus McElroy Jr. was expected to be the team's primary ball carrier, but he has averaged just 1.94 yards per carry on 31 attempts, ranking third with 60 yards and scoring one touchdown. Former receiver A'Jon Vivens has split carries and has had more success with 164 rushing yards and one score on 34 attempts (4.82).
Colorado State lost All-Conference wideout Warren Jackson to a preseason opt-out, and former Auburn signee Nate Craig-Myers has yet to show the promise that earned him a brief five-star status in high school. But Dante Wright is one of the most exciting receivers in the Mountain West, and Trey McBride is one of the best tight ends in the country. Wright sat out the opener but has caught 15 passes for 255 yards in two games since. McBride leads the team with 17 receptions, 268 yards, and all four Rams touchdown catches. Craig-Myers has 68 yards on six receptions, and E.J. Scott has caught five passes for 42 yards.
When San Diego State Has the Ball
Greg Bell leads the Mountain West with 565 rushing yards despite missing the game last week due to injury. Bell, a Nebraska transfer, has also scored six times on 95 carries and has one touchdown among his nine receptions for 72 yards. Coaches are hopeful Bell will be able to return to action this week, but he's still questionable to play. If he can't go, Chance Bell (no relation, 249 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns), Jordan Byrd (189 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Keagun Williams (148 yards) would likely share duties again. Chase Jasmin entered the season with 1,095 yards in his San Diego State career but has played in only one game in 2020 and gained 26 yards on five attempts.
Quarterback Lucas Johnson has also been a productive runner, having gained 80 yards and one touchdown on eight carries. However, like Bell, Johnson was held out of the Colorado game. The Georgia Tech transfer completed 14 of 24 passes for 184 yards and one touchdown in his first start against Nevada. Carson Baker, who began the year atop the depth chart and started against the Buffaloes, has completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 617 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions this season and has also scored once on the ground. However, Baker gave way to Jordon Brookshire last week, who was 7-for-19 for 50 yards and an interception and gained 50 yards on 13 rushing attempts.
Finding a quarterback that can move the offense consistently has been a struggle for San Diego State, but the Aztecs have some talented receivers willing to help. Jesse Matthews leads the unit with 17 receptions and 266 yards, and Kobe Smith has a team-high two touchdown receptions among his 13 catches for 122 yards. Tight end Daniel Bellinger is a solid option as well and has chipped in with 12 receptions for 129 yards.
Despite losing defensive-minded head coach Rocky Long to New Mexico and defensive coordinator Zach Arnett to Mississippi State, the Aztecs still rank among the FBS leaders in several defensive categories. San Diego State ranks third in total defense (269.8 yards allowed per game) and has surrendered an average of 4.06 yards per play — best in the nation. Tariq Thompson, Dwayne Johnson Jr., Darren Hall, and Tayler Hawkins form one of the best secondaries in the country, linebacker Caden McDonald leads the Mountain West with 7.5 tackles for loss, and defensive tackle Cameron Thomas — one of four others with at least 5.0 stops behind the line of scrimmage — earned All-Mountain West honors as a freshman in 2019.
Colorado State has shown some promise defensively as well and ranks second in the country with an average of 10.3 TFLs per game — seven spots ahead of San Diego State (8.3). The Rams have recorded 13 sacks, an average of 4.3 per contest that ranks second nationally. But Colorado State has also been hit with big plays, including 18 going for 20 yards or more, 11 of which gained at least 30 yards. Overall, the Rams have allowed 396.0 total yards per game and 5.26 yards per play, which rank 59th and 35th overall, respectively. Statistically, the Rams produced their best defensive game against Boise State by holding the Broncos to a season-low 291 total yards and 202 passing yards — but special teams breakdowns, including touchdowns on a pair of blocked punts and a blocked field goal attempt, led to a season-high 52 points allowed.
San Diego State could be short-handed again if Johnson and Bell are unable to play, but the Aztecs have been a more consistent team in 2020. It's also a matter of unfortunate circumstance, but Colorado State has been unable to get on the field as often, playing half the games of its opponent and missing quite a few practices along the way due to COVID protocols. As a result, San Diego State is farther along developmentally under its first-year head coach and is rightly favored. The Aztecs should get back in the win column ahead of next week's clash with BYU.
Prediction: San Diego State 31, Colorado State 20
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