Football looks to rebound from losing streak at home against Colorado State

Senior+linebacker+Segun+Olubi+%28right%29+celebrates+with+junior+long+snapper+Jacob+Raab+after+Olubi+returned+an+interception+for+a+touchdown+during+the+Aztecs+34-10+win+over+Hawaii+on+Nov.+14+at+Dignity+Health+Sports+Park.

Courtesy of Colleen Humel, SDSU Athletics

Senior linebacker Segun Olubi (right) celebrates with junior long snapper Jacob Raab after Olubi returned an interception for a touchdown during the Aztecs’ 34-10 win over Hawaii on Nov. 14 at Dignity Health Sports Park.

by Andrew Finley, Staff Writer

After two losses on the road, San Diego State football heads back to Carson, Calif. for a home game against the Colorado State Rams on Saturday, Dec. 5. 

Colorado State (1-2) has not played a game since Nov. 11 due to COVID-19 concerns and have had half of their games canceled because of the virus. With the lack of games being played, SDSU head coach Brady Hoke is expecting the Rams to be prepared for anything the Aztecs throw at them. 

“I would believe that they are going to be fresh,” Hoke said. “I’m sure they’ve looked at things and self-scouted that they may want to try to do.

“That’s part of it when you have that much time as a coach — you get a little bored if you’re not trying new things.”

The games CSU has been able to play were against stiff competition. The Rams have lost by multiple scores to Fresno State (3-1) and Boise State (4-1), with their only win coming in a close game against Wyoming (2-2). 

The last time the Aztecs faced the Rams was Oct. 5, 2019 in Fort Collins. The Aztecs took control of the score early and never looked back winning 24-10.

Offense

Colorado State has executed a run-first offense in its three games this season with a fairly balanced 57%-to-43% run-to-pass ratio.

The run game is complemented with a mix of sets that feature just one running back, but often include two tight ends or a wing. The Rams will also spread out in three or four wideout sets and utilize two quarterbacks in certain situations. 

Run game

As a team, the Rams aren’t very efficient on the ground, averaging 3.2 yards per carry. There are two featured ball carriers for Colorado State but one of them is a wide receiver.

Sophomore receiver A’Jon Vivens leads the Rams with 34 rushes for 164 yards and a rushing touchdown to go with it. Colorado State’s main running back — who’s actually a running back — is senior Marcus McElroy Jr., who has carried the ball 31 times for just 60 yards (less than two yards per carry) and a touchdown.

Junior Todd Centeio is Colorado State’s rushing quarterback. His 22 carries for 92 yards is more efficient than senior quarterback Patrick O’Brien’s 17 rushes for four yards. O’Brien has two rushing touchdowns despite his low yardage total, making him a threat on the goal line. 

Passing game 

Colorado State’s pass attack features two quarterbacks and two receivers who combine to have 69.5% of the team’s catches.  O’Brien is the Ram’s leading quarterback completing 34 of 56 passes for 477 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Centeio, despite being the more efficient runner, is the less efficient passer with 12 completions on 32 attempts for 177 yards and a touchdown. 

Rams receivers have 46 catches for 654 yards and four touchdowns in three games. Junior tight end Trey McBride leads all Colorado State receivers with 17 catches for 268 yards and all four of the Rams’ touchdown catches. Sophomore wide receiver Dante Wright is right behind McBride with 15 catches for 255 yards. That duo combines for 32 catches for 523 yards, while the rest of the receiving corps has 14 catches for 131 yards.

Colorado State running backs are catchless this season and wide receiver-turned-running back Vivens has received one catch for one yard. 

Defense

Colorado State’s defense has given up over 31 points per game, giving up no less than 24 points in a given contest. Additionally, the Rams have given up 1.3 passing touchdowns and 2.7 rushing touchdowns per game. The defense for the Rams is usually run out of the 4-3-4 or 4-4-3 alignment and crowds the box when there’s five or fewer yards to go for the first down. The defensive backs occasionally run press to the receivers and are typically in cover 1, cover 2 or cover 3.

Despite the high point totals, Colorado State’s defense has been disruptive, totaling 13 sacks, four of five forced fumbles recovered, six pass deflections and an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

Junior linebacker Dequan Jackson leads the Rams’ defense with 27 tackles with two sacks and a forced fumble. Senior defensive lineman Scott Patchan has been disruptive at the line of scrimmage with 15 total tackles and a team leading 3.5 sacks. Junior defensive back Marshaun Cameron is another proven playmaker for the Rams with 22 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and a pick-six against Wyoming. 

Overall

It will be almost a month since Colorado State last played against another team. This could lead to the Rams entering the game fresh but it could also mean they come out slow-moving.

The lack of competition can also make a 1-2 record deceiving, especially considering the competition the Rams faced when their games weren’t canceled. Boise State and Fresno State are second and fourth place in the Mountain West Conference, respectively.

The teams they have faced this season have a combined record of 9-4.  The three canceled CSU games were scheduled against teams with a combined 2-12 record. Some might argue Colorado State could be 4-2 if those three games were never canceled, but that’s a ‘What if?’ situation now.

Aztecs senior offensive tackle Kyle Spalding said he and the rest of the team is treating Colorado State no different from any other team.

“They’re a solid group,” Spalding said. “They had some transfer guys come in and fill some spots. They’ve got a lot of production up front.”

Colorado State has had three weeks to heal any injuries it may have sustained to face what is arguably the “weakest” team they have encountered so far. The Aztecs are no pushover, however.

The Scarlet and Black showed their defense is not a force to be reckoned with versus a Pac-12 team in Colorado last week and the Aztecs’ offense was without its starting quarterback and running back.

Hoke declined to announce this week’s starting quarterback as junior graduate transfer Lucas Johnson hopes to return from a hamstring issue, but senior running back Greg Bell is set to return from injury. Regardless of who gets the starting nod at QB, Spalding said he and the Aztecs are looking forward to Saturday’s game and the chance to improve to 4-3.

 “It’s going to be a good football game,” Spalding said. “It’s going to be a physical football game and we’re excited for it here.”

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