Friday means time for Rams Roundtable and we have a good one for you this week. We are joined by Kelly Lyell of the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Matt Stephens of Goldandgreennews.com, Rams' play-by-play voice Brian Roth and Mike Brohard of the Loveland Reporter-Herald. We'll talk about the Rams' loss last week in San Diego as well as the running game and what BYU will bring to Fort Collins this weekend.
Goldandgreennews.com: What did we learn from the Rams' loss to San Diego State last weekend? Now that the Rams are not eligible for a bowl game, what are the expectations for the team and what sorts of goals does Colorado State have in front of them?
Lyell: The Rams did a lot of things well against San Diego State, especially on the defensive end. But they couldn't establish the kind of running game they need to make their offense tick. With no possibility of postseason play, the Rams simply are trying hoping to send the seniors out on a good note and try to build some momentum for next year. Fortunately for them, a Senior Day game against a BYU team that might never again play at Hughes Stadium and the annual Border War battle with Wyoming are the remaining games, so there's no shortage of motivation.
Stephens: Despite the loss, I think last Saturday was one of the best games Colorado State played all season on defense. Forcing five turnovers is just unheard of for this squad. You gotta give credit to Kerr and company for keeping the offense in it against San Diego State. From here on out, it's all about pride and going out with five wins.
Roth: This Ram team finally played well on the road. Not well enough to win, but they played hard and competed and that is worth something. It represents growth in this football team. No, the Rams are not bowl eligible and really all talk of CSU going to a bowl heading into last week was premature. Even with the loss, there is still a lot to play for. The "big picture" of this Ram program is still very much in play over the next two weeks. Finishing with two wins will provide great momentum heading into recruiting, signing day in February and spring football in March.
Brohard: Learn implies something new came into picture, and I don't think anything really did. What this team continues to be is an inconsistent squad. Really, did anybody see that defensive performance coming against that offense? Or that the offense would be held in check as much as it was with five turnovers provided? The primary goal of getting better continues no matter what. A bowl game was really more of a pipe dream, but the extra 15 practices would have been nice for a young team. Now that is out of the picture, I think this team would like to build as much momentum going into the offseason as it can.
Goldandgreennews.com: This is obviously the last time Colorado State plays Brigham Young in football for the foreseeable future. Tell me what the BYU/Colorado State rivalry has meant to you over the years and if you have any specific memories tied to this rivalry.
Lyell: Unfortunately, I haven't been to enough CSU-BYU games to have many specific memories about the rivalry, although I do remember attending the 1984 game at Hughes Stadium and seeing a BYU team that would go on to win the national championship crushing a poor CSU team 52-9 and watching on television when the two schools met in the first Mountain West Conference contest in any sport in 1999, a game the Cougars won 34-13 in Provo, Utah. The end of any longstanding rivalry is disappointing, and losing both BYU and Utah at the same time is a shame.
Stephens: I'm sure these seniors know they should have beaten Brigham Young in 2008 and will want to send the Cougars out of the Mountain West Conference with a loss. And after that we have the Border War - no need to explain that one. I doubt I'll ever forget 2008 when I was a beat reporter for the Collegian covering the football team. The game against BYU, despite the loss, was the best CSU football game I've been to in my three and a half years here. There was the early sack of Max Hall that led to the scoop-and-score by Mychal Sisson, the Gartrell Johnson III / Joey Porter chest bump, the late pick-six by Momo Thomas that got called back only to have the Rams score with a Billy Farris to Dion Morton pass a few plays later.
Bradlee Van Pelt was in the house, Tommie Hill getting tackled by a BYU offensive lineman in BYU's final drive that wasn't called, Austin Collie single-handedly destroyed CSU that game, wearing those luscious green-on-green uniforms. I could go on forever.
Roth: I've always enjoyed watching football games at Lavell Edwards Stadium over the years. It is a spectacular setting for college football. The one game that will live with me forever is the 2003 game in Provo when the Rams blasted the Cougars 58-13. The place was nearly empty by the start of the fourth quarter as the Rams exercised demons from seasons past. CSU did to BYU what the Cougars had done to them so many times before. I was working as the radio network sideline reporter in 2003 and never have I seen a more joyous locker room in my career. It was a spectacular sight.
Brohard: For the most part, before TCU joined the conference, BYU was the team to beat. The one game I do really recall is back in Provo in 2003, when Bradlee Van Pelt led an assault on the Cougars and was mad when he was pulled early from a 58-13 rout. The Rams should have won the game, without question, but the margin of that road win surprised everybody. It was a win the team, and I think especially the coaching staff, was really fired up about. From a personal standpoint, the blowout was very welcomed by those of us in the press box who were able to file stories early and just call in a couple of quotes and the final score. Gotta love blowouts on deadline.
Goldandgreennews.com: Colorado State's defensive secondary allowed just 171 yards to one of the Mountain West Conference's top pass offenses last weekend in San Diego. Do you consider that a certain degree of progress for the pass defense and how are you seeing improvement in that crew this season? How do you see them matching up against a BYU passing offense led by freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, that seems to be showing development of his own, passing for 294 yards against UNLV last week.
Stephens: I definitely think last week was an improvement for a young and inexperienced defensive secondary. Having Dominique Vinson get a pick I think was a great confidence booster.
This week I think CSU should be feeling pretty good about its matchup with BYU. Heading into the season, there were two freshman quarterbacks to watch out for in the MWC, Heaps and Pete Thomas. I definitely think Thomas has shown to be the better of the two, at least this year, despite the fact Heaps was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country last year.
Yes, Heaps had a good game against UNLV, but he's still completing less than 55 percent of his passes with only four touchdowns to seven interceptions. I have a good feeling about this game in terms of the Rams' favor.
Roth: CSU had one goal defensively verus San Diego State and that was to not give up any big plays in the air. They were successful and kept the contest a low scoring. It was the only chance they had of winning that game and they nearly pulled it out. The five turnovers also helped. I think CSU will do the opposite this week and do everything they can to keep the Cougars from running the ball If the Rams are going to get beat on Saturday, they are going to make Jake Heaps beat them.
Brohard: You have to read that development as improvement on the part of the defense. Larry Kerr has been saying for weeks that Shaquille Bell was developing, and it really is starting to show, and the interception by Dominque Vinson showed his athleticism on a play where he really was beat. I'm not exactly sure how to read Jakes Heaps' performance from a week ago. It was two yards better than he threw in the previous three games combined, and it did come against UNLV. I understand he's getting better, but I don't know if defenses see him as extremely dangerous quite yet.
Goldandgreennews.com: As Brigham Young tries to bring their freshman quarterback along, the Cougars have relied on their running game for offense.JJ Di Luigi, Bryan Kariyaand Joshua Quezada have led the Cougars to 151 yards per game on the ground. Colorado State's rushing defense is better than it has been in the past. With a freshman quarterback throwing the ball for BYU, does stopping the run carry an added level of importance this week for the Rams?
Lyell: Stopping the run is extremely important against BYU, because the Cougars' offense this year is operating much like CSU's own offense. When BYU gets its running game going, it keeps defenses honest and the entire offense clicks. When the Cougars can't run, they don't pass well either, going against defenses that can send six and seven pass rushers at their young quarterback.
Stephens: Absolutely. Just look at last week, while the Rams were pretty much able to contain Ryan Lindley, freshman running back Ronnie Hillman was able to break out to the tune of 151 yards. As good as JJ Di Luigi may be, he's no Harvey Unga, and though CSU knows that, they still can't fall asleep on BYU's rushing game.
If you look at BYU's offense this year, while there are several good players, there are no truly standout "playmakers" compared to years past. No one really on par with Max Hall, Dennis Pitta, Austin Collie, Harvey Unga. I expected McKay Jacobson to have a big season at receiver, but it just hasn't been the case. It also didn't help that O'Neill Chambers was suspended for the season either.
Roth: See my answer from above. Last week CSU did everything it could to take the pass away and make the Aztecs ground game beat them. CSU will take the opposite approach this week. The Rams defense will do everything it can to take away the run game vs. BYU. I think CSU likes their chances if the Cougars have to win this game through the air with Jake Heaps.
Brohard: The mantra will never really change for Kerr, and that's to stop the run before the pass. Because of Heaps, the Cougars really are a run-first team now, and Di Luigi has been their go-to guy in every way, considering he leads the team in receiving, too. The more pressure the Rams can put on Heaps in the game -- force him to try to win it -- the better the game plays out for Colorado State. Wow. Sounds weird to say the Rams are going to challenge a BYU quarterback to beat them, doesn't it?
Goldandgreennews.com: Colorado State's running game had a rough night Saturday in San Diego, averaging less than a yard-per-carry. What happened to a Ram running game that had been running strong in the weeks leading up to San Diego State? What needs to improve for Colorado State to experience success offensively this weekend?
Lyell: The inconsistency of CSU's running game is one of the biggest mysteries this season. It really should be more effective, given the talent level of the running backs and an offensive that coaches and teammates keep talking up. Obviously, neither the running backs nor the offensive line are as good as advertised. They look good against bad defenses and look bad against good ones.
Stephens: Simply put, CSU ran into a Rocky Long defense. As simple as that may sound, it's the truth. The Aztecs are holding teams to only 141 yards on the ground this season - not too shabby, down 14 yards per game from last year.
This week the Rams will face a less potent defense against the run, and I have a strong feeling that Leonard Mason will take senior day to heart and go for 140 with two scores. It's his time to shine and I expect him to really break through.
Roth: The Aztecs loaded up against the run last week and CSU had a ton of trouble vs. Rocky Long's 3-3-5 defense. San Diego State always had an extra defender playing the run. It opened up the passing game down field, but the Rams could not take advantage of that on a consistent basis. BYU defense is not as athletic as San Diego State's and that should allow the Rams to be more successful in the run game. CSU is also playing at home and that lends itself an improved run game.
Brohard: Really. Some clown in Loveland had written during the week that Colorado State was getting back its reputation as a physical run team. It looked like a young offensive line ran into a tricky defensive front that created some chaos, a group that did a little more twisting and stunting than expected, and from angles new to them. The coaches also said they felt there were plays to be made in the passing game, and so a true commitment to making the run game work wasn't exactly there in the second half. Pete Thomas isn't the only one still maturing in the offense, and the line should be the better for it. BYU will come at them with fewer packages, which should help, and the line should be a group motivated to bounce back.
Goldandgreennews.com: Finally, what are your keys to the game and a prediction on the final score?
Lyell: I think the Rams, playing at home in their ''throwback'' orange jerseys on Senior Day, will finally have the emotional edge they've lacked this season and will be able to parlay that into a victory over a BYU team that has as little confidence on the road as the Rams do. These teams have a lot of similarities this season, but the Rams appear to be a little further along offensively, thanks to a strong passing attack. BYU, coming off 10- and 11-win seasons the past four years, lacks the confidence it will need to make the kind of big play at the end that this game could turn on. CSU 27, BYU 24.
Stephens: From before this season started, I felt that the Rams were a five win team, with one of those victories coming against BYU. I still think that's the case. I haven't seen any reason why CSU shouldn't beat the Cougars this season and am expecting BYU to come in looking too far ahead. It's been 2,591 days since CSU last beat BYU (that number courtesy of Mike Donovan), can you believe that? The Cougars still have bowl hopes, but a loss here would likely eliminate those as BYU still has to play Utah.
CSU stands tough and ends its slide against BYU, sending them out of the MWC without a bowl berth. Rams win this one 35-21.
Roth: Saturday is a very big game in a number of respects. This would be the signature win of the season for the Rams and would be one of the signature wins of the Steve Fairchild era. It would mark another big step toward the rebuilding of the program and would be a wonderful parting gift for a BYU program the Rams will not face again in the foreseeable future. Will the CSU players understand what is on the line Saturday? And will their play match match the importance of the contest? That is the key. CSU 28, BYU 27.
Brohard: I don't think there is any doubt it will be an emotional day for the team, with the seniors saying goodbye to Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium. As much as this year has been about young players growing up, they give a ton of credit to guys like Ricky Brewer, Zac Pauga and Guy Miller for being leaders. But emotion will only last for a few snaps, and Colorado State can't afford to waste opportunities in this game. Red-zone trips need to be touchdowns, and a continuation of turnover trend by the defense would not hurt. On the flip side, BYU needs two wins in three games to get to a bowl game. Sure, the Cougars will beat New Mexico next week, but there is no way they beat Utah to end the season. That means the Cougars have to win this game. My guess is the Rams send them out of the MWC bowl-less with a 34-23 victory.