The Colorado State Rams will square up with an SEC opponent for the second consecutive week when they head to Gainesville to face the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.
After a signature victory over Arkansas last week in which the Rams rallied from 18 points down in the third quarter, CSU seeks to build off the momentum gained from their second-ever win over an SEC school.
Florida, on the other hand, suffered a 27-16 defeat to Kentucky at home in front of over 80,000 fans, ending a 31-game win streak over the Wildcats. The Gators fell to 1-1 on the season and desperately need a victory considering they travel to Tennessee the following week to play the Volunteers.
Florida currently stands as 19.5-point favorites over the Rams; let’s break down the keys to a Rams upset this weekend.
1. Offensive Production: CSU had no issue putting up points against Arkansas last week. The Rams scored 25 points in the second half en route to a 34-27 win over the Razorbacks. Junior wide receiver Preston Williams notched over 150 receiving yards and two touchdowns for the second time this season while graduate transfer quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels threw for 389 yards and two touchdowns and now has accumulated 1,102 passing yards this season.
Williams and Carta-Samuels have developed notable chemistry in a hurry. That’s helped Williams rank second in the FBS in receiving with 391 yards, while CSU’s quarterback ranks second in the nation in passing yardage.
Those two picking up where they left off against Arkansas is essential for CSU to compete Saturday. This is especially true considering the Rams’ have significantly struggled to get the run game going, and doing so won’t be easy against Florida’s stout defense.
Colorado State running backs have averaged only 3.0 yards per carry through three games this season, which is certainly surprising. On the whole, senior running back Izzy Matthews has been shut down by opposing defenses; gaining only 120 yards on the ground and has scored CSU’s only touchdown from the running back unit.
Unfortunately for the Rams, the Gators are particularly talented at containing the passing game. Florida has surrendered only 77 yards through the air on average, the second-best in the FBS this season.
Florida’s defense will be difficult for CSU to crack. The Rams will need to find a way to exploit weaknesses in the Gators’ secondary in order to keep the score within reach, and that begins up front with the green and gold’s offensive line allowing Carta-Samuels to search for open receivers.
2. Manage A Hostile Environment: Florida’s stadium was given the nickname “The Swamp” for good reason. Besides the sticky, humid weather in Gainesville, opponents often get swallowed up by the treacherous, unforgiving waters when they visit the Gators.
Florida has gone 150-29 at home since the beginning of the 1990 season. The Gators boast the third-best home winning percentage (83.8) over the last 29 seasons.
The extent of crowd noise and amount of fans in attendance (capacity over 90,000) aren’t what CSU players are accustomed to. Although, playing in Alabama last season will give returning Rams a sense of what to expect.
However, there are plenty of new faces in CSU uniforms who have never played in such malicious circumstances. Even for the returning players, Alabama was only one game; it is not as if the Rams had to face anything similar during Mountain West play.
Communication and focus will be difficult for CSU to manage on Saturday. Both of which will need to be operating smoothly for the Rams to get into a rhythm. Mike Bobo and the rest of the coaching staff can ensure their team is ready to go this week by knowing what games in the SEC are like.
3. Effective Defense: The Rams undoubtedly made significant progress on defense against the Razorbacks last week. Fans finally got a glimpse of a CSU defense that properly functioned.
Colorado State will need even more of that solid play on Saturday, even if the Gators don’t particularly have a very strong offense. But, even the weaker SEC teams frequently find a way to get what they want offensively when facing inferior competition. It goes without question that the Gators provide more athleticism and size compared to CSU, which they could take advantage of offensively.
The Rams gave up 88 points and 1,213 yards combined through the first two games of the season. This stemmed from countless missed assignments and lack of awareness. Incompetence similar to that will take CSU out of the game extremely early, similar to the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
The Rams need to be alert and ready to make plays defensively. Otherwise, a blowout is in their near future.
Josh Watson and Jordan Fogal told us after the win over Arkansas that they were more prepared in Week 3 because they had film on their opponents for the first time all year long. That should help those key seniors lead the defensive unit this week as well.
Colorado State (1-2) faces Florida (1-1) at 2 p.m. MST on Saturday, with the game airing on the SEC Network.