Washington State vs. Colorado State
Location: Fort Collins, Colorado (Canvas Stadium)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 2nd at 5 PM (Mountain Time)
Television: CBS Sports Network
Radio: thevarsitynetwork.com // Create an account, scroll through active game feeds to Colorado State broadcast, or follow Colorado State and select their active broadcast
Head-to-Head: The Cougars and Rams have only met twice all-time. The first game of their home-and-home agreement was a blowout win for Wazzu last year (38-7). The only other matchup was in the 2013 New Mexico Bowl, where Colorado State erased a 15 point Cougars lead with nine minutes left thanks to two clutch forced fumbles and a game winning field goal as time expired to win 48-45. This is still the Rams most recent bowl win.
Three things to look for:
How much will Clay Millen (and the Rams offense) improve?
Colorado State is expected to improve in essentially every offensive position group. Tory Horton needs no introduction, but his supporting cast of pass catchers is much improved with the addition of tight end Dallin Holker (BYU) and Dylan Goffney (SMU), along with further development from sophomores Justus Ross-Simmons and Louis Brown IV. The offensive line, which was putrid last year, adds four transfers who will start, and veteran Jacob Gardner moves back to center. Avery Morrow, the Rams leading rusher from 2022, is back, and has a solid running mate in North Dakota State transfer Kobe Johnson. The only group not guaranteed to make a significant jump? Quarterback.
Clay Millen was solid as a starter last year, all things considered, and can take this team to the next level if he gets more confidence in his deep ball and more time in the pocket. Will his development be accelerated by the roster improvement, or will he remain in his role of “check-down maestro”? With the Cougars returning most of their secondary, this game will be telling to see how good Millen can become. If he’s the same guy as last year, it’s going to be hard to win this game. If he’s firing on all cylinders, though, the Rams will be on the right track to pull of the upset.
Cougars run game has to be their engine
No single component of either team will have a bigger impact on the outcome than Wazzu’s run game. QB Cam Ward and leading rusher Nakia Watson are both back for Washington State, and will likely be the focal point of their offensive gameplan.
If they can run the ball effectively and consistently, it’ll be much tougher for the Rams to force turnovers and get stops. If the run game struggles, however, the Cougars could be in trouble. They’re replacing their top four pass catchers, meaning that relying on the passing game is a risky endeavor. Ward has excellent playmaking abilities and accuracy, but if he can’t be sure of what receivers can be relied on, it could be a struggle to move the ball.
Which secondary will shine the brightest?
Both teams have secondaries that can be considered their most talented group. The Rams have a DPOY candidate in junior safety Jack Howell, and several other proven players like corners Chigozie Anusiem, Ayden Hector, and Dom Jones (NDSU), as well as strong safety Henry Blackburn. Washington State brings back both starting safeties, Jaden Hicks and Sam Lockett III, who combined for more than 120 tackles and 4 interceptions last season. Chau Smith-Wade, their best corner and PAC-12 forced fumble leader, also returns.
In a game that’s so close on paper, the turnover battle will likely decide this game. With how much talent both secondaries have, those game changing plays will likely be courtesy of them. Someone will have to make the big play, the only question is who will it be, and what color helmet are they wearing?
Colorado State is good for some home run plays and some forced turnovers, but they won’t be able to beat a perfect Wazzu team. I don’t think they’ll be perfect, though. In fact, I think Ward’s lack of established options causes him to make some ill advised decisions, which the Rams secondary will be sure to capitalize on. The running game has its moments for the Cougars, but they can’t seem convert their red zone trips into touchdowns. Add in a raucous home crowd in Fort Collins, and I think this is the recipe for an upset. A long Tory Horton TD catch puts CSU up for good with a few minutes left in the fourth quarter.