After such a busy week of conference expansion round 3432 speculation, it’s kind of easy to forget that there’s a game this weekend; and when you whipped last year’s version of the opponent by 38 points and the one this year appears to be among the same caliber, then the game really only becomes property of the die hards. But, as lyle pointed out in his brilliantly researched and elaborated upon piece from yesterday, this should definitely not be one to overlook simply based on the Frogs recent string of poor performances in visits to South Park. However, two of those three visits have come against the Air Force Falcons who are clearly a stronger football program than the Rams, and two years ago Andy Dalton didn’t play a snap in Fort Collins. Not to mention some aggressively bad weather and even aggressively worse secondary play from the Frogs. And that white safety that was eating our lunch all afternoon… I can’t think of his name, but he's gone too so that's happy times. Anyway, given the perfect weather and the lack of a consistent CSU offense, I think this is definitely one of those games where the biggest enemy we will be up against is ourselves. If we come out and play like we did in Dallas, we should still win, but it might be a lot more competitive than we initially imagined it would be. So, rather than the normal breakdown detailing each particular aspect of the game and who has the edge – hint: It would be us in all three this week – I want to take a look at the biggest issues TCU faces this week in Fort Collins and whether or not Colorado State can capitalize.
The Run Defense. Didn’t think you’d ever see that one in the Patterson era, did you? But after last week, it’s obviously a blemish in our front seven that can be easily exploited if the opposing offense knows what it’s doing. To be fair, with the rest of the nation we’re in a pretty enviable position – around 35th giving up 114 yards per game. But, given what we’re used to seeing from a Patterson coached team - 3rd last year, 1st in 2008, 18th in 2007, 4th in 2006, you get the picture – this is definitely not going to cut it. Last week may have been an aberration – to be positive, the Ponies gained just about every single rushing yard on draw plays when the defensive line esploded the pocket around Kyle Padron and Zach Line had wide open spaces directly in front of him. But, who’s to say it can’t happen again?
Well, for at least one week, I guess I’ll be the one to say it can’t happen again. The reason: Colorado State ranks 120th in rushing offense in the NCAA. If I do my math right, that’s last. Like, dead last. Like, Western Kentucky who hasn’t won a game in several years ranks higher. Hell, Texas has more yards! Gartrell Johnson and his tiny jersey are no longer in service in the Rockies. Colorado State currently averages 59 yards a game on the ground. FIFTY NINE. Seriously, the Lamdba Chi intramural team could line up against Colorado, Idaho and whoever else CSU has played and average more than that. That is pitiful. Their largest production of the year came last week in their win against Idaho and it barely eclipsed 100. Freshman QB Pete Thomas does not like what this has done to his development.
I said last week that I didn’t think Zach Line was going to have a record setting day, and I was obviously gut punched on that one call, so to redeem myself I’m making another guarantee – Colorado State will not even reach their average this week. Mark it!
Andy Dalton Gets Back on Track. Before last week, Andy Dalton had completed nearly 75% of his passes on the year. He clearly did not do so well last week. I’m not sure what it is. Folks will try and suggest that he clearly has some sort of hang up with playing in nationally televised, much hyped games, but the fallacy in that logic is that the nationally televised games are usually against the best opponents, so the odds are clearly higher that he will not play his best. But, just in case you buy into this, have no fear because Saturday’s game will only be viewed by 83 viewers across the country, and half of those will jump ship in the second half to cheer for their parent’s favorite team of choice in the game at the Cotton Bowl. So, no jitters there!
But, to be serious, much like our run defense getting a softball this week to get their minds right, Dalton is in the same boat with the Rams pass defense who gives up a generous 256.5 yards per contest through the air. For reference, we barely come within 50 yards of averaging that on our end, so think of this as a charitable donation of 50 extra yards for Dalton to play around with. And while QB Pete Thomas is clearly a big proponent of sharing having tossed 7 INTs on the year, the defense is quite the opposite, choosing to stay in their corner of the sandbox with all the broken toys rather than asking one of the bigger kids for his Tonka truck… that’s supposed to mean they only have 1 INT on the year. They’ve also given up 10 passing TD’s on the year as opposed to 6 on the ground, so they clearly would rather let the opposing QB whistfully sling the ball around all over the thin, Rocky Mountain air rather than let the running backs bludgeon themselves into the line and tire themselves out in the high altitude. So, thanks for the hospitality guys, we look forward to the trip.
The Potential Lack of Ed Wesley. I’m honestly not sure if Ed is playing or not; I’ve heard he suffered a concussion last week, and it makes the most sense to me, given the talent shown by Waymon James, to let him get his head cleared this week and beat up on Wyoming next weekend. But, Wesley’s absence will clearly be missed as, without him, we lack a true cut left/cut right/ZOOOOOOOOOOM style running back to help us jump out to quick scores. Matthew Tucker doesn’t have it this year, although I’ve never seen James in the open field running to daylight as they say, so I can’t judge.
Wait a second, I’m getting a memo from the Colorado State run defense. What’s that? You rank in the lower quarter of the NCAA in passing AND run defense? You let Nevada gain THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY SIX YARDS on the ground? And while the Rams run D clearly had some recovery time after that one by bringing their average down to 167.8… there’s clearly some room to exploit a few gaps. Now, I don’t expect us to have a Nevada-like night because their pistol offense is basically like handing the keys to your Ferrari to your drunk teenage kid and telling him to go nuts. In other words its fast, unpredictable, there’s probably someone throwing up by the time it stops and there will be road head. LOTS of road head.
As I said, in my opinion I think we let Wesley sit this week and see how James and Tucker handle a full game's worth of carries, and maybe even let Aundre Dean get off the bench for seven or eight carries. Playing Wesley really serves no purpose this week unless you just really enjoy leaving open the potential for his brain to get scrambled around a bit more. Suit him up and keep him on the bench unless the game is tense and it's absolutely necessary to get him in there to cause a spark.
Don’t Let Pete Thomas Be a Hero. Although he is only a freshman, Pete Thomas may be the most hyped about player to set foot on campus in Fort Collins since we’ve been part of the Mountain West. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that he IS in fact the most hyped. Not too many four star athletes of any sort give the Rams much of a nod these days, let alone four star QB prospects from California. This is much akin to the Frogs nabbing supposed superhero James Battle way back when, except it looks like Thomas is actually committed to being a student athlete/not being fat. LeBron James thinks this is a racist outlook, but I assure you it is not; simply the facts. But still, he’s a first year starter at QB on a bad to less than mediocre football team and it’s going to take some serious time for him to develop to his full potential and for the Rams staff to put some players around him. But, after a couple of mild performances to start the season, Thomas had a big time breakout game last week against Idaho, going 29/37 for 386 yards and 3 TDs. It’s probably not a coincidence that this happened in the one game to date where the Rams run game actually decided to use these things called legs and muscles and tendons together in sync in order to open up the passing attack for their young QB; it also probably helped that they were playing Idaho's version of Baylor. Believe it or not though, Idaho is actually not awful against the pass, giving up 188.6 yards per game, so Thomas clearly has some salt to him.
And while our pass defense did a pretty solid job of shutting down Kyle Padron – a fluky tipped pass TD, a tough to defend 1 YD TD pass – and Ryan Katz – when not throwing at Greg McCoy – and rank 9th overall nationally, Thomas is probably the most physically gifted true drop back passer we’re going to see this season unless you count Jake Heaps, which I don’t because BYU is irrelevant. Look, I honestly don’t think that Thomas is going to throw for 400 yards or that the run game for CSU is suddenly going to come alive, but this is definitely one of those games that you have to think our players could lose focus on because of the – fairly – perceived futility of the Rams. Regardless of his 7 INTs on the year, Thomas is still completing 70% of his passes and the Rams rank 26th overall in passing yards per game. This is an offense that we do not need to take lightly because if they are able to put up a couple of quick scores and knock us on our heels, the crowd will be into it and it’ll be a tough climb back.
Fortunately, I have a feeling Bumpas and GP are going to let Stansly “The attack dog” Maponga and Braylon "the battering ram" Broughton loose to give Thomas the Padron treatment this week because the fear of giving up big scores on draw plays isn’t quite there. And with Alex Ibiloye potentially not being a full strength due to his injury from last week, someone like Tekkerrin Cuba, Jurrell Thompson or even Tyler Luttrell needs to step up this week and fill that gap. I think I read that GP is burning Jonathan Anderson’s redshirt due to the Ibiloye injury, so perhaps it will be the freshman to take down the freshman. Regardless of who steps in, hopefully Pete will have a long, long day.
Overcome the First Truly Hostile Crowd of the Year. Sure, SMU was the first road game of the year, and their crowd was definitely into it and a lot more prevalent than I’ve ever seen them, but the fact remains there were still probably 8000 TCU faithful there and we were definitely loud ourselves. Not this week though – if we have 1000 people in the stands in Fort Collins I will be shocked. Combine that with in-stadium beer sales and the highest ranked team to ever visit Fort Collins and the Rams should definitely have no excuses as far as crowd involvement. They probably lost some momentum after losing their first 3 games, including an absolute thunderblasting by Nevada, but coming back last week to beat Idaho with a big game by Thomas surely helped reignite some of the fires that had dimmed after week 2. I think they’re even doing an Orange Out if I remember correctly, which I don’t understand the significance of, but for some reason these color outs always bring the crowd excitement up a notch, in a totally creepy communistic way. Ever been to an aggy game? It’s like being in red square, except instead of the thought police there are yell leaders and instead of good looking Russian women your best option is probably your sister, and even if she isn't, you're probably taking her to the Smush Room anyway.
GP coached teams have fared pretty well in these environments as of late unless Utah is involved, so I don’t expect the crowd to be the biggest difference maker Saturday, but the sooner we take them out of it, the better.
Should be a great game Saturday. I love the 1:00PM Central time kick off because it creates a diversion from watching Pam Ward butcher an early Big Ten game and gives you time to catch the second half of the 2:30 contests. Hopefully Mack Brown’s head will have exploded by the time I have to change the channel. Colorado State shouldn’t be strong enough to make this much of a game for long – despite Thomas’ numbers, they still average less than 2 TDs per game – and the defense shouldn’t be able to hold us down, but we all remember how slow we started against the Rams last year, the final score notwithstanding. Fortunately, I think the SMU game helps us this week mainly due to the fact that it wasn’t near as lopsided as the team wanted it to be and it cost us a spot in the rankings. GP may not play for style points, but I think if the offense is truly clicking this week, he’ll wait a bit longer than usual to call the dogs off and give the voters a chance to see what we’re really about. 33 points is a lot, especially on the road, but I think we can come dangerously close to that number.
The Pick: TCU 45, CSU 13.