One surges late in the games. The other has been surging lately. Whichever push prevails Friday night in Logan, when the Utah State Aggies host the Colorado State Rams, will jolt one of these teams to a third Mountain West victory on the year. And that also would be a big boost to their chances of winning the Mountain Division.
“That’s a good football team,” Aggies head coach Blake Anderson told reporters in the lead-up to this pivotal game at Maverik Stadium.
Good enough to be on the rise as Colorado State (3-3, 2-0 MW) has three wins in its four games, with the only loss coming to the then-No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes in 24-14 fashion on the road.
“You saw (how good the Rams are) when they took Iowa down to the stretch,” continued Anderson. “They gave them everything they wanted.”
In all likelihood, Colorado State will be a handful for Anderson’s Aggies here in Week 8. But that’s not something to be scared if you’re Utah State (4-2, 2-1), only because the team has found ways to win no matter what the opposition hurls its way.
The Aggies have become known as a team that starts slow and ends strong regardless of the opponent.
“I don’t know what the problem is,” Utah State stud receiver Deven Thompkins told reporters when asked about the early-game struggles. “We practice great every single day.”
It may not translate to great starts, but they’re pulling out victories, even if they’re not always pretty.
“We found a way to win an ugly game,” Anderson told reporters of last week’s 28-24 road victory over winless UNLV, which was secured with Elelyon Noa’s 11-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds left. “I don’t know if there is such a thing as an ugly win, but we’ll take a lot more of them.
“I don’t know if my heart can take it.”
Colorado State at Utah State
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 22 at 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Colorado State -3.5
When Colorado State Has the Ball
Watch out for All-American tight end Trey McBride. He’s the big target and passing threat that Utah State’s defense must key on every down to put the pressure on Colorado State.
McBride has 49 receptions for 593 yards, which place in the top 15 in the nation. His 135 yards on seven grabs were critical in the Rams’ 36-7 road win over New Mexico last Saturday as it represented their largest margin of victory this season.
But a triumph in Logan can’t come just because of McBride. The Rams need to keep up a running game that’s been solid at nearly four yards per carry. Boston College transfer David Bailey, who had a couple of short touchdown runs against the Lobos, leads the way with 318 rushing yards on 86 attempts followed by A’Jon Vivens' 251 yards on 71 carries. Dual-threat quarterback Todd Centeio is not far behind Vivens with 238 yards on 65 attempts.
Centeio also is coming off a fine passing performance, going 16-of-25 for 289 yards down in Albuquerque. Beyond his connections with McBride, Centeio and tight end Gary Williams hooked up for a 43-yard scoring strike. That’s a lot of tight-end terror for which Utah State has to account.
For the season, Centeio has thrown for 1,328 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception, providing balance to the offense. That doesn't mean this unit is clicking on all cylinders just yet, however.
“There's a lot of room to improve,” head coach Steve Addazio said, who need only point to his team’s 24.7 points per game, which places CSU ninth in the Mountain West.
Regardless, it’s a good thing for Utah State that senior defensive tackle Marcus Moore returns from suspension to help linebacker Justin Rice — who has 52 total tackles in six games — cut back on the 441.5 yards allowed per game by the Aggies.
When Utah State Has the Ball
The Aggies may be first in the Mountain West in total offense (486.3 ypg), but they still need to find a way to get the run game going. Especially after averaging just 3.1 yards per carry in last week's close win at UNLV.
And also because Colorado State is one of the stingiest defenses in the conference against the pass. Last week, the Rams surrendered just 16 yards through the air to New Mexico and a total of 76 for the game.
“There were some great performances — some record-breaking stuff done on defense,” Addazio told reporters. “(But) like I always say in football, every week is a new challenge. Our defense will be challenged now in a different way, so here we go."
If Utah State is a go offensively, it’ll be the Thompkins from Logan Bonner show. Bonner, a transfer from Arkansas State who followed new head coach Blake Anderson, has been solid with 1,533 yards and 11 touchdowns, although he has thrown seven interceptions.
Thompkins leads the Mountain West and is third in the nation with 136.5 receiving yards per game. He has twice as many catches (50), yards (819), and touchdowns (six) as the next-closest teammate, fellow wideout Brandon Bowling (25, 400, 3).
But again, that Colorado State defense — anchored by linebacker Dequan Jackson’s team-leading 51 tackles — has been stifling, allowing only 19.5 points per game and keeping the Lobos offense off the scoreboard last Saturday. (New Mexico's lone touchdown came on a punt return.)
So the key for the Aggies may be establishing the run behind a thin offensive line, which hasn't been helped by an injury to starting right tackle Jacob South. The Rams have been pretty stingy against the run (96.2 ypg) relying on their size up front to control the line of scrimmage. It will be up to Calvin Tyler Jr. (477 yds., 4 TDs, 5.0 ypc) if Utah State hopes to gain any ground on Friday night.
These divisional foes didn't play last year, as the game was canceled after the Utah State players protested the firing of then-head coach Frank Maile, so the Aggies still maintain a two-game winning streak in the series.
Despite the classic offense vs. defense matchup in play, it's possible that this game is won (or lost) by special teams. Both the teams have weapons in the often-overlooked third phase that can change a game.
For the Rams, kicker Cayden Camper is right at the top of the pack. When he’s getting the attempts, Colorado State is winning. He kicked field goals last week, six the week prior in a 32-14 win over San Jose State, and another five earlier this season in a 22-6 victory against Toledo. He's 17-for-21 on the season, leading the country in both attempts and made field goals.
But Utah State has its own special teams threat — an NCAA record-holder — in return specialist Savon Scarver. His 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the scoring for the Aggies was his seventh in his career, tying him for the record with several others.
And Utah State kicker Connor Coles isn’t too shabby himself, entering this game 8-of-13 on field goals and his confidence growing.
So this one might just be a true three-facet tilt. And why wouldn’t we expect a tough one to call in a series that’s been fairly even at 37-34-2 in favor of the Rams? Expect another close contest on Friday night.
Prediction: Colorado State 27, Utah State 24
Podcast: Previewing Week 8 + CFB Expansion + Washington State Coaching Search