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Colorado State (3-3, 2-0) at Utah State (4-2, 2-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday, at Maverik Stadium (Logan)
TV/Radio: CBS-SN/1430 AM, 98.1 FM
Line: CSU -3.5
Weather: 24% chance of thunderstorms, 67 degrees
What to know
Historic defense. It’s not an exaggeration to call this Rams defense among the best in program history. The numbers back it up. Last week, in a 29-point win at New Mexico, CSU gave up 1.2 yards per play (a school record) and forced three turnovers. Critics will point to lesser opponents as the reason for CSU’s recent success. Utah State is a bigger test. But coach Steve Addazio has done something in his first full season that eluded Mike Bobo over five years in Fort Collins: The Rams finally play great defense.
Aggie Assault. Utah State’s offense rolled to huge yardage totals in its first three conference games this season: 440 (at UNLV), 443 (vs. Boise State) and 628 (Air Force). Graduate transfer quarterback Logan Bonner is fearless throwing the ball downfield at 8.1 yards/attempt. He’s also tossed at least one interception in each game. Bonner’s gunslinger mentality could be the difference. CSU wins if it capitalizes on his mistakes. The Rams lose if Bonner shreds their secondary.
Red zone problems. Rams’ kicker Cayden Camper hit on 11 of 12 field goal attempts over the past two games. That production, while impressive, points to a disturbing trend for CSU’s offense. The Rams have scored touchdowns on just 11 of 27 trips to the red zone this season. Will CSU turn the corner against Utah State? The Agges’ scoring defense ranks No. 10 in the Mountain West (29.5 points/game). Quarterback Todd Centeio and the CSU offense have an opportunity to get things clicking.
McBride pride. Addazio’s preseason claim that Fort Morgan native Trey McBride is the nation’s best tight end is becoming a reality. McBride is on pace for a 1,000-yard receiving season with chunk yardage plays every week. He averaged a season-high 19.3 yards per catch at New Mexico. But that massive production has resulted in just one McBride touchdown. Giving him more opportunities in the red zone will only result in positive things for CSU moving forward.
CSU front seven vs. USU offensive line. The Rams totaled six sacks and seven tackles for loss against New Mexico as the latest dominant performance from CSU’s linebackers/defensive line. The Aggies have given up only 10 sacks all year. But look for the Rams to be aggressive getting to the quarterback.
Centeio vs. USU defense. The Rams’ starting quarterback has not thrown a pick in four consecutive games. He’s shown the ability to efficiently manage CSU’s offense to produce wins. Centeio’s next step is creating more touchdown opportunities for the Rams.
Kyle Fredrickson, sports reporter: CSU 24, USU 21
A late Camper field goal wins the game and gives the Rams a 3-0 start to conference play. This CSU team is good enough to contend in the Mountain West.
Sean Keeler, sports columnist: CSU 30, USU 28
Take out the performance against Air Force — a game the Aggies won, 49-45 — and Utah State is still giving up 160.4 rushing yards per game, 5 yards per carry and 1.6 rushing scores per tilt. The Rams keep pounding it and kicking it well enough to escape a wild one in Logan.
Matt Schubert, deputy sports editor: CSU 27, USU 21
The Rams are getting better with each passing week. A win Friday night sets up a grueling stretch that will decide their conference title fortunes.