FILE PHOTO: Full Maverik Stadium. Photo by Robert K. Scott
LOGAN—College football comes early to Cache Valley this week. Division standings are on the line as Colorado State brings its two-game win streak into Utah State territory for a homecoming game Friday night.
Race for the top of the Mountain Division
Utah State football has led at halftime in zero of its six games so far this season. Going into the fourth quarter, the Aggies have led once. Yet, the team is 4-2 overall and 2-1 in conference play.
Air Force beat Boise State Saturday night, which means that the only team to beat USU in conference play now has more conference losses than Utah State. That is huge for USU’s chances moving forward, because the Aggies once again control their own destiny. Still, it doesn’t mean too much with a half of a season of football to be played if the winning doesn’t continue.
Colorado State comes to Logan with a 3-3 record, but in conference are 2-0. Whichever team wins Friday night will at least have a temporary seat atop the Mountain Division.
Current Mountain Division standings:
School – Conference Record – Overall Record
Colorado State 2-0 3-3
Air Force 3-1 6-1
Utah State 2-1 4-2
Boise State 1-2 3-4
Wyoming 0-2 4-2
New Mexico 0-3 2-5
Scouting Colorado State
The season started rough for CSU. The Rams lost by 19 to FCS South Dakota State in the opener, then dropped another game to Vanderbilt. Aggie head coach Blake Anderson said that Colorado State has since turned it around, and that it didn’t come by making any drastic changes. He believes the Rams have simply gotten better and more confident and what they do.
“You saw that when they took Iowa down to the stretch,” he said. “That’s a good football team, and they gave them everything they wanted.”
Colorado State football results:
Fri. Sept. 3 vs South Dakota State L 42-23
Sat. Sept. 11 vs Vanderbilt L 24-21
Sat. Sept. 18 @ Toledo W 22-6
Sat. Sept. 5 @ No. 5 Iowa L 24-14
Sat. Oct. 9 vs San Jose State W 32-14
Sat. Oct. 16 @ New Mexico W 36-7
Quarterback Todd Centeino has thrown for more than 1,328 yards this season, which is a couple hundred yards more than what the CSU offense has done on the ground, but Anderson cautioned not to be fooled. He made it clear that the Rams are a run-first team.
He called CSU’s offense “unique” in that it is not a triple option, but that it has a triple option feel to it. USU’s defense is used to going up against the spread, he said, but that is the opposite of what Colorado State does. Instead of creating space, like a spread offense does, CSU bunches up its big bodies together to overpower and push the defense back.
“They want to run the ball,” Anderson said. “They don’t hide it. They obviously will throw it when they need to and set up some play actions, but it’s going to be two, three, four—I don’t know how many linemen and tight ends jammed in there together with a quarterback under center and a big old running back coming behind the NFL-caliber tight end.”
The “NFL-caliber tight end” Anderson mentioned is Trey McBride, and leads the team in receiving with 49 receptions for 593 yards. The next closest has 11 receptions for 202 yards.
“He’s got great hands,” Anderson said. “He’s that guy that can block and be physical but also get out in space. He’ll play at the next level.”
Defensively, CSU’s strength seems to be in its size and getting pressure on the quarterback. The Ram’s defense has recorded 21 sacks through six games. Anderson said CSU will rarely rush more than three or four guys, simply because that’s all they need to get the job done.
Slow starts, thrilling finishes
It didn’t take long for Anderson and his players to prove doubters wrong. With four wins, the team has already exceeded what Las Vegas oddsmakers expected. The opening win at Washington State was the first road win against a Power Five team in five decades. As mentioned, if the Aggies keep winning there is a good shot at the division.
But one thing Utah State has been unable to do? Get a lead early.
Senior wide receiver Deven Thompkins said he is unsure why Utah State starts slow, but knows it needs to be fixed.
“I don’t know what the problem is,” he said. “We practice great every single day.”
One thing the late starts have done are provide opportunities for thrilling comebacks. Each of USU’s five wins have come after trailing by 10 or more points. Games are being won in the final minutes. Anderson said last week’s game was a continuation of “a trend of stressful games and situations.”
“We found a way to win an ugly game,” he said. “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.”
Friday night’s game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. in Maverik Stadium.