A clash between two desperate teams is set to kick off on Saturday when the 1-4 Colorado State Rams face the winless San Jose State Spartans at 8:30 p.m. MT.
The Rams have dug themselves into a possible unconquerable hole, and are now tasked with the first of seven must-win Mountain West games tomorrow.
CSU had no trouble defeating the Spartans last season, as the Rams coasted to a 42-14 blowout victory in the season-finale. However, SJSU has won three of the previous five meetings between the two teams, dating back to 2011.
Failure to assemble a proficient defense has been the storyline of the Rams’ struggles this season. The defensive struggles likely won’t be solved completely, not this week.
Despite the problems on the defensive end, CSU possesses an offense capable of exploiting every team it plays from here on out. Without question, in order for the Rams to revitalize their season, that explosive offense will have to carry them to victories.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the keys for the Rams to put up lots of points against San Jose State.
Capitalize via passing
CSU prides itself on the 14th-best passing offense in the FBS, averaging 320.8 yards through the air per game.
Meanwhile, the Spartans’ passing defense ranks nearly dead-last in college football. SJSU has allowed 379 passing yards per game through four games, which ranks 128th out of 130 FBS teams.
Whether redshirt senior K.J. Carta-Samuels or redshirt sophomore Collin Hill is behind center for the Rams, this should allow CSU to have a field day through the air on Saturday.
Junior wide receiver Preston Williams unexpectedly had a quiet outing against Illinois State two weeks ago. The Tennessee transfer accounted for only 14 yards on three receptions, following three 100-plus yard receiving performances in the Rams’ first four games.
Expect the NCAA’s ninth leading receiver to bounce back against a formidable opponent this week.
If everything goes as planned for CSU, the green and gold will emphasize the pass game and mainly focus on moving ball in that manner. If that is the case, senior wide receiver Olabisi Johnson, who is fresh off of a seven-reception, 107-yard receiving excursion, will be shown some love as well.
Plus, it’s only a matter of time before receiver Warren Jackson breaks out. The sophomore has the potential to be the best receiver in program history according to the coaching staff. Jackson has only emmassed six receptions and 84 yards this season. But, if there is a game for him to make his presence known, it would be against San Jose State’s inept passing defense.
Keen quarterback play
Obviously, this goes hand-in-hand with CSU succeeding through the air.
If the previously mentioned three receivers are going to be effective against the Spartans, the Rams’ quarterback will as well.
Although, this is worth mentioning because both CSU quarterbacks need to put forth an efficient performance.
Head coach Mike Bobo has yet to name a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game. Even though Carta-Samuels has done well for the most part, the QB situation in Fort Collins has mysteriously become murkier and murkier as the young season has advanced. And the competition started heating up when Hill became healthy.
During the bye week and this week in practice, both Hill and Carta-Samuels split time with the “ones,” while Carta-Samuels was taking all of those reps through the first five weeks.
Whoever starts under center moving forward definitely holds significance, but the point here is that the goal should be for both to showcase their talents against SJSU.
The biggest issue from a fan’s perspective about Carta-Samuels frequently being pulled mid-game for Hill is that it has disrupted the offensive rhythm. But, the Spartans are so bad, they provide the Rams with the best opportunity to keep the offense in sync while swapping quarterbacks frequently.
If CSU can achieve this, it would help them in terms of knowing the best situation to switch quarterbacks without distorting the offensive flow.
This truly should be a focal point of head coach Mike Bobo’s against the Spartans. If he can figure out how to utilize both Hill and Carta-Samuels’ skills individually in a game, the Rams’ offense becomes remarkably more versatile.
Offensive line development
In all likelihood, CSU will focus on passing in order to beat the Spartans.
Nevertheless, positive strides need to be seen from the offensive line sooner or later in order to establish the run game. And as Bobo explained during his Monday press conference, the offense needs to become more balanced and find physicality.
“Be a balanced offense. Our identity right now is ‘throw it,'” Bobo explained. “The game dictates some of what we do, but I want to have a physical element to us offensively.”
Undoubtedly, the Rams offensive line has been the team’s biggest weakness this year. CSU severely needs the line to come together if it wants to salvage the 2018 season and string together a few wins.
Fans sincerely have to feel sympathy for senior running back Izzy Matthews.
Matthews doesn’t possess the skill set that Dalyn Dawkins did, but the offensive line hasn’t cut him any slack. Matthews has averaged 1.2 yards less per carry this season after collecting 613 yards and scoring eight touchdowns in 2017. The senior has found the endzone once in 2018.
The line is clearly less-experienced than last season’s. Yet, a decline of this manner was far from predicted.
Initiating the rushing attack will help the passing game and the Rams’ offense altogether.
SJSU’s rushing defense actually ranks 50th in the FBS. However, it’s worth noting the reason for that may be because teams have found little need to put the ball on the ground against the Spartans.
Saturday’s game marks the halfway point for CSU this season. If the offensive line doesn’t exhibit any improvements this week, it may not at all this season. And it really needs to.