Editor's note: On Friday, the Mountain West announced that Saturday's scheduled game between Utah State and Colorado State had been canceled. Several published reports, including this one from ESPN.com, said that the Aggies had voted earlier on Friday to not play due to concerns about some comments voiced by university leadership about interim head coach Kevin Maile.
Even though Frank Maile has been the interim sideline boss since early November when Gary Andersen stepped down, the Aggies are reportedly hiring Blake Anderson to be the new head coach after he resigned on Thursday from the same position with Arkansas State. Anderson went 51-37 with the Sun Belt program over seven seasons.
"Just looking forward to Colorado State this week," Maile told reporters when asked earlier in the week about interviewing to have the interim tag removed. "You know ... their team is way better than their record shows. It’s a big, physical team with some good experience coming back."
Both teams have just one win on the year, with Utah State — at 1-5 — winless on the road and Colorado State — at 1-3 — hoping to claim a second victory at home.
Meanwhile, Steve Addazio just wants his Rams to play football despite what's been a losing season. The Colorado State head coach is simply hoping to extend his team's time on the field at least another week to help his program develop.
"I think it’s preposterous, personally," Addazio told reporters about the lack of flexibility in an abbreviated schedule in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. "You guys have heard me say it … I want to play. That’s me. Do I speak for everybody?"
Perhaps, but the Mountain West isn't likely to accommodate Addazio, signaling instead that this week is the final one for all its teams except for the two playing in next Saturday's championship game.
So — barring an extension put in place by the conference — the Rams and the visiting Aggies will both wrap up their rocky seasons Saturday. And expect them to do it in the cold and snow.
"I’m not sure that the conference is going to be behind any more conference games," Addazio said. "I’m guessing there are a lot of budgetary reasons for that, which kind of aggravates me. Because we flew to places and had home games canceled, and I don’t understand that. And I don’t understand why we didn’t play to begin with ... I don’t understand why teams that were supposed to come here wouldn’t want to come here. Maybe they do — I don’t know."
The Aggies, who won last year's meeting 34-24, got run over at home last week by Air Force 35-7. The Rams, meanwhile, lost on the road, 29-17 to San Diego State, mostly because they allowed two special teams touchdowns — part of an ugly spate of five they've surrendered in two straight contests.
Utah State at Colorado State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 12 at 9:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Colorado State -13.5
When Utah State Has the Ball
It's been a terrible year offensively for the Aggies. They are last in the Mountain West in yards per game (290.5), which also puts them fourth-worst among the 127 FBS programs that have played this fall.
That's resulted in fewer than 20 points a game, and it won't get any easier against what interim head coach Frank Maile considers a staunch Rams defense.
"Hats off to Colorado State," Maile told reporters. "They play hard on defense — they’re very physical, and their front seven is really stout."
Even in a loss last week, the Rams' defense did get after it. Senior lineman Scott Patchan had two sacks and two QB hurries. He's currently tied with San Jose State's Cade Hall for the conference lead in sacks with 5.5. Patchan could be a handful for Utah State, which has allowed a Mountain West-high eight sacks on the season.
Colorado State also has junior linebacker Dequan Jackson making plays all over the field. He recorded 13 tackles last week and is fifth in the conference with 10 stops per game.
So with little more than pride to play for, count this game as another learning experience for Utah State sophomore quarterback Andrew Peasley and the offense. Peasley had just one touchdown pass — that of four yards to senior receiver Jordan Nathan — last week against Air Force but did spread the ball out to seven different pass catchers. None of them, however, went for more than Carson Terrell's 27 receiving yards, as Peasley finished 17-of-32 with 123 yards through the air and another 53 on the ground.
To make matters worse, leading rusher Jaylen Warren (252 yds., 3 TDs, 6.5 ypc) announced he was entering the transfer portal. Peasley (195 yds., 8.9 ypc, TD) becomes the team's leading ground gainer as the seven other Aggies who have carried the ball this season have combined for a total of 414 yards and no touchdowns on 125 attempts, or just 3.3 yards per carry.
When Colorado State Has the Ball
The offense hasn't been much better for the Rams. They're 103rd in the FBS ranks in scoring (22.2 ppg) and 114th in total (323.5) offense. It's been even worse lately, just 290 yards over the last two games, although that was against the Mountain West's top defense in San Diego State and defending conference champion Boise State.
In particular, Colorado State can't get its ground game going, averaging a measly 3.2 yards per carry on the year. But that could change for the better in a hurry against a porous Utah State defense that is giving up a whopping 492.3 yards per game, including 224.7 rushing.
Last week, the Aggies surrendered 334 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground to Air Force, who averaged 6.1 yards per carry on their 55 attempts. Not surprisingly, linebacker Nick Heninger was a busy man on defense that game, as he finished with a team-high 14 tackles.
So can Rams sophomore running back A'Jon Vivens take advantage of Utah State's lax run defense? He's leading Colorado State in rushing but has totaled 210 yards in four games with 76 in the loss to Boise State his largest output this far.
Marcus McElroy Jr. also could see some opportunities after the senior averaged five yards on his 10 carries with two touchdowns in the loss to San Diego State last week.
This also could be an opportunity for Rams quarterback Patrick O'Brien to put up some decent numbers. He's 45-of-80 for 591 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions this season. His primary targets have been tight end Trey McBride and wide receiver Dante Wright. McBride has 330 yards and four touchdowns on 22 catches while Wright leads the team with 315 yards on 20 grabs, averaging nearly 16 yards per reception.
One thing is for sure, if Colorado State wants to break out offensively, the unit will have to do a much better job on third down. The Rams were just 4-for-16 in that situation last week against San Diego State, which actually was a small improvement. For the season, CSU is converting 22 percent of its third-down opportunities, the worst of any FBS team that has played this fall.
Colorado State would seem to have the better defense and the slightly better offense for this meeting. But with special teams really missing their assignments in the last few games (five touchdowns allowed in the last two games), it makes the Rams vulnerable for an upset.
The only way to stop the bleeding is to get more playing time, which, of course, is coming to an end this weekend.
"We’ve got a lot to work on," head coach Steve Addazio told reporters. "And we’re going to keep working to correct those things and keep developing our football program."
No, it's not the sexiest of games to round out the season. But it could be a tight one.
Prediction: Colorado State 27, Utah State 17
Podcast: CFB Rankings, Coaching Changes and Week 15 Preview and Predictions
(Top photo courtesy of utahstateaggies.com)