Game Preview: Colorado State vs. UTEP

Doug Pensinger

On Saturday the Rams will wrap up their extended non-conference slate with a game against UTEP. The Rams are 13 point favorites despite their 1-3 record. The game starts at 3:30 PM Eastern and can be seen on CBS Sports Network.

After a disappointing start to the non-conference schedule, with close losses to Colorado and Tulsa, the Rams have a chance to end on a high note with struggling UTEP coming to Fort Collins. The Rams and Head Coach Jim McElwain have a chance to win their fifth straight home game, dating back to last season. The game is the annual Ag-Day for Colorado State, and they will don orange jerseys and bone helmets to honor Colorado State's agricultural roots.

The Rams and UTEP last met during the 2011 season, a game UTEP won 31-17 in El Paso. Colorado State, however, owns the series 24-10. After this game, the Rams have a bye week before facing conference rival San Jose State on October 12th.

UTEP

Keys to Victory

Stop (or slow) the Rams' run game

UTEP has allowed 675 yards in three games this season for an average of 225 a game. Nearly four hundred of those came against New Mexico and their option attack, but remove that game and the Miners still allow 140 yards a game. The Rams average almost exactly 140 a game, with one of those games against Alabama's front seven. If Colorado State is able to pick up ground with the run game, it will stretch the UTEP defense and give quarterback Garrett Grayson a lot of space to work with. Look for a lot of up tempo from the Rams on Saturday.

Find a passing attack

The Miners have had success running the ball behind running backs Aaron Jones and Darrin Laufasa, but the passing game ranks in the bottom 25 nationally. Colorado State has been able to stop the run rather effectively, and will have all the confidence in the world after holding Alabama to just 66 yards rushing a week ago. If the Miners want to move the ball against the Rams, quarterback Jameill Showers will need to produce more than his average of 160 yards a game.

Offensive Player to Watch

Aaron Jones

UTEP has several options to go to in their two-back offense, but the primary carrier is true freshman Aaron Jones. Jones had a hot start against New Mexico and New Mexico State, rushing for 127 and 97 yards respectively with three touchdowns. In the New Mexico game, Jones had two touchdowns in the second half, including one with under two minutes left to force overtime. The Lobos would go on to win. Against New Mexico State, Jones led the way to an easy UTEP victory. However, in the UTSA loss, he was limited to just 28 yards on ten attempts. The Miners will need him back at early season form against the 55th ranked Rams run defense.

Defensive Player to Watch

Horace Miller

Horace Miller is in his third and final season with the Miners and has become the leader on the defensive side of the ball after transferring from Louisville. He is tied for first on the team with 19 tackles, and is coming off a six sack 2012 season. In three games this year, he has failed to register a sack, as has the entire defense other than defensive end James Davidson. UTEP will need him to help pressure Garrett Grayson and force errant throws. Colorado State has only allowed three sacks in four games; and with Grayson gaining confidence in the pocket, not pressuring him may spell disaster for the Miners.

Colorado State

Keys to Victory

Build on passing game momentum

After struggling for the first two games of the season, quarterback Garret Grayson has started to have success throwing down field. The games against Colorado and Tulsa were plagued with receivers dropping the ball and short, horizontal passing. Against Cal Poly and Alabama, Grayson completed 20 passes greater than ten yards. This sounds like an insignificant figure, but it is a huge step for Grayson and his receivers to develop cohesion in the passing game. The offensive line has provided him with excellent protection though four games, and should continue against a UTEP defense that has only mustered one sack this season. If this happens, and the receivers continue catching the balls thrown to them, Grayson can have a career day against a susceptible UTEP secondary.

Eliminate the option attack

If there is one thing Colorado State has struggled against in the past several years, it has been the option. Against Cal Poly's option offense, the Rams gave up 200 yards on 41 carries. UTEP has their fair share of weapons as well. The primary running backs, Jones and Laufasa, average nearly six yards a carry each and Showers can threaten with his legs as well. The Rams need to continue the work they did against Alabama and make ball carriers go east/west. In the secondary, Matthews and Pierre-Louis need to make sure they keep receivers in front of them and do not get sucked up in run support allowing for big passing plays.

Offensive Player to Watch

Rashard Higgins

After struggling to hold onto the ball in his first two games, true freshman Rashard "Hollywood" Higgins is beginning to live up to his namesake. He caught his first touchdown past against Cal Poly and has 111 yards in his past two games. UTEP allows over ten yards per attempt and do not have a defender with Higgins athleticism. With Hansley back from injury and Thomas Coffman finding his groove, it is opening up the field for "Hollywood" to show his catch and run ability.

Defensive Player to Watch

Shaq Barrett

Who else would this be? Barrett is showing why he is many Ram fans' favorite player on the team with a sterling senior campaign so far. In four games he has 3.5 sacks and 26 tackles, including 8.5 for loss. Oh, and he has two blocked kicks. Barrett went toe to toe against a potential All-Americans on Alabama's offensive line and came away with a sack and a half. Barrett is hungry right now and I would be surprised if he does not come away with more than a sack against a UTEP offensive line that has allowed five sacks on only 79 pass attempts.

Prediction: Colorado State 34 UTEP 20

Despite the loss last week, Colorado State's locker room is filled with confidence. UTEP will do some damage on the ground with their stable of running backs, but will be unable to create significant opportunities through the air against the toughest secondary they have faced this year.

On offense, the Rams should continue their upward trend with Grayson having plenty of time to pick out his receivers and deliver the ball. The three-headed monster that is Chris Nwoke, Kapri Bibbs, and Donnell Alexander should have another solid outing after struggling against the Crimson Tide. The Rams are undefeated in the three games they have donned orange jerseys for Ag-Day, and should continue to do so against the Miners.

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