<strong>LOGAN—</strong> While the USU football team hasn’t quite reached the status where it can overlook an opponent, the Aggies may be getting a little bit of breathing room this week as they travel to Fort Collins, Colo. to take on the Colorado State Rams.
Coming off back-to-back games against solid BCS teams in Utah and Wisconsin, the Aggies have to be licking their chops when they look at the struggling Rams. Colorado State opened up the season with an exciting – though less than impressive – win over rival Colorado (0-3), and then promptly lost its next two games against FCS school North Dakota State and on the road at San Jose State.
“We’ve got three games to look at now, which is a positive with a new offense and new defense. There have been some changes in personnel and in the scheme of things as they’ve gone through the first three games,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said of the Rams. “We’ll prepare like we always do … It’s a standard operating procedure. Win, lose or draw, we don’t change how we operate during the week.”
Colorado State, which is having a rough go of it offensively this season, should receive a boost from the return of starting tailback Chris Nwoke who missed the teams’ previous two games after suffering an ankle injury in the opener. Nwoke rushed for 85 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Aggies 35-34 double-overtime loss to the Rams last season in Logan.
However, freshman running back Donnell Alexander, who has been the Rams’ leading rusher in Nwoke’s absence, hurt his ankle late in CSU’s loss at San Jose State and is expected to miss this game. As an offense, the Rams are averaging only 309 total yards per game (214 pass, 95 rushing), which ranks near the bottom of the FBS.
“You have to focus on the run first. We’ve played against some very good backs in the last couple of weeks and have been able to contain them. The offensive lines for the last two teams have been good, so we’ll see how it works going forward,” Andersen said. “You have to stop the run first. Those kids are flying around and taking a lot of pride in what they’re doing. It matters to them.”
Though it was said somewhat jokingly, CSU head coach Jim McElwain, knows how hard it will be run on a USU defense that ranks as one of the top 15 in the country.
“I told our guys that if we run the ball one time we’re stupid, so we’re going to throw it every down because they can stop the run,” McElwain said in his weekly press conference. “I have been really impressed with what they do, not only on defense, but on offense as well.”
Defensively, Colorado State is giving up 393 yards and more than 26 points per game. In their most recent contest, CSU was shredded by the Spartans for 568 yards of offense. The Rams are hoping for some help with the return of starting cornerback Bernard Blake, however, the football gods giveth and the football gods taketh away.
Senior starting corner Momo Thomas dislocated his shoulder in the SJSU game and will be unavailable against the Aggies. Thomas was also the team’s punt returner, and he will be replaced in that position by freshman receiver Joe Hansley.
The Aggies are having some injury problems of their own as starting offensive lineman Oscar Molina-Sanchez has been ruled out for the game, as well as backup quarterback senior Adam Kennedy. Despite some pass-protection problems during the past couple games though, the Aggies are looking to establish their offense early and get off to another quick start – USU has outscored its opponents 41-0 so far in the first quarter this season.
Though this is the first time Andersen and McElwain will be facing each other as head coaches, the pair has seen each other in the past. McElwain came to the Rams from the Alabama Crimson Tide, where he was the offensive coordinator from 2008-2011. He became very acquainted with Andersen’s defense when Andersen was the defensive coordinator at Utah and the Utes defeated the Crimson Tide, 31-17, in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
‘This is going to be a huge challenge for us. They’re a team that gives you a lot of problems on defense with the multiplicity of looks, the movement up front,” McElwain said. “We played that defense when we were at Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and it obviously gave us fits.”
Despite coming off their first loss of the season, confidence is high for the Aggies heading into their second road game of the season.
“A good team expects to win, period. Every team we play feels the same way, but I don’t have to worry about that anymore,” Andersen said. “These kids will walk in and say, ‘We’re going to play well, we’re going to win today,’ and away they go. You won’t always win, but that’s how they feel.”
Saturday’s kickoff is scheduled for 5:06 p.m., and the game will be televised locally on KMYU TV (DirecTV & Dish Ch. 12, Comcast Ch. 22). The game will also be carried live by KVNU (610 AM/102.1 FM) and be available on 610kvnu.com. Finally, fans can follow @CacheSports via twitter for game updates and insight.