Game Preview: SJSU vs. Colorado State

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Rams finally open conference play when they host new Mountain West member San Jose State on Saturday. The game is at 3:30 ET and can be seen on CBS Sports Network.

San Jose State has not been kind to the Rams the last two years. In 2011, the Spartans had a last minute touchdown to take the game away from the Rams; and last season, the Rams were pummeled in San Jose to the tune of 429 passing yards. In that game, Chandler Jones, Noel Grigsby, and Jabari Carr combined for 325 yards and four touchdowns.

The Rams are coming off a bye week following their thumping of UTEP. The offense had an uncharacteristically explosive performance, putting up nearly 600 yards of offense and 59 points, while the defense had an uncharacteristically poor performance allowing almost 500 yards and 42 points.

San Jose State lost head coach Mike MacIntyre to the University of Colorado in the offseason, and have not been the same team so for this season. A multitude of injuries to key players hasn't helped, but the Spartans will return some of those injured players this week. The Spartans are traveling to Fort Collins after a long weekend in Hawaii. They handled the Rainbow Warriors easily, but quarterback David Fales continued a troubling trend with his sixth and seventh interceptions of the season.

San Jose State

Keys to Victory

Win the turnover battle

In their two wins, the Spartans have a turnover margin of plus-four. And in their three losses? Minus-seven. Colorado State hasn't turned the ball over much, but they also haven't forced many turnovers, ranking 37th and 114th respectively. They also only have two interceptions on the season which bodes well for David Fales. The Spartans need to keep possession of the ball in order to maintain their momentum and tire out the Rams' defense. If they can do that, they have a good chance of repeating last year's performance.

Make Garrett Grayson win the game

Despite his recent success, Quarterback Garrett Grayson is still only 3-9 as a starter; and in those three victories he has had a lot of help from his run game. Grayson is an effective game manager, but has yet to prove he can carry the offense on his back when they need him most. If the Spartans can put up points quickly and make Grayson match them, they can win this game.

Offensive Player to Watch

Chandler Jones

Jones is often overshadowed by his teammates Noel Grigsby and Jabari Carr, but he led the team in touchdown receptions a year ago, and is on pace to repeat that performance again this year. In his matchup again the Rams last season, he hauled in six receptions for 133 yards and two scores. With Noel Grigsby out for the season, and Jabari Carr nursing a shoulder injury, Jones will need a big performance.

Defensive Player to Watch

Keith Smith

Spartan linebacker Keith Smith leads the nations in tackles, and it really isn't close. Smith averages an astonishing 16 tackles PER game which is four and a half better than the second place player. Smith is the anchor on this SJSU defense and they will need him with several players questionable for Saturday's game. It will be fun to watch possibly the two best Mountain West linebackers, Smith and Colorado State's Shaq Barrett, go against each other.

Colorado State

Keys to Victory

Keep up with David Fales

If last season's game was any indication, the Rams do not exactly have an answer for Fales. So far this year he has struggled to match that production, but he is still more than capable of taking advantage of defensive miscues, which the Rams have had plenty of this season, and making teams pay. Fortunately, Bernard Blake who suffered a neck injury in the second half of that game is healthy and will play this weekend. Even with a healthy squad and an extra week to prepare for the Spartans, I do not see the defense holding Fales and company under 30 points.

This means Garrett Grayson and the Colorado State offense is going to need another stellar performance. They put up nearly 400 yards against the Spartans last year and are much improved as a group since then. The key for them will be to maintain their own rhythm so the SJSU offense cannot build momentum and take over the game. When the Spartans score, the Rams will need to put together drives to at least run the clock and play field position, if not score. This will allow the defense time to recover and prevent the Spartans offense from getting in sync.

Eliminate rushing attack

Another way to prevent Fales and Company from getting hot is to make them one-dimensional. The Spartans rank 113th in the country in rushing offense while the Rams defense ranks 49th in stopping it. Linebackers Aaron Davis and Shaq Barrett along with defensive tackle Calvin Tonga have done an exceptional job swallowing up running backs at the line of scrimmage this season. In their three loses this season, the Spartans have only managed to gain 61 yards per game on the ground.

Offensive Player to Watch

Charles Lovett

Last season Charles Lovett led Colorado State in receptions and receiving yards. He provided a dynamic spark in the slot position and was poised to be a key part of the receiving corps this season. Unfortunately, he suffered a leg injury prior to the start of the season and has not been able to overcome in until this week. This will be the first week the offense has had the entire receiving unit together on the field, and it will be interesting to see where everyone fits in. Can Lovett perform like he did in 2012 with the addition of freshman standout Rashard Higgins and coming off of injury? Either way, with Lovett finally back on the field, the Rams should have a deadly passing game.

Defensive Player to Watch

Trent Matthews

Trent Matthews was one of the best players on the defense a year ago, but has been fairly disappointing this season. With the bye week he has a chance to start fresh for conference play. If he can perform against the Spartans like he did last year, it will bode well for the defense moving forward.

Prediction: Colorado State 40 San Jose State 37

After losing in the final minutes of their homecoming game two years ago, the Rams get retribution against the Spartans this year. SJSU is hurting in their front seven and will be tired after a long travel week. Led by running backs Kapri Bibbs, Chris Nwoke, and Donnell Alexander the Rams should run through the Spartans' defense and set up a solid play-action for Grayson to go to. David Fales will do his best to throw his team to a victory, but the lack of a run game will allow the Rams to key in on his receivers and force interceptions.

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