Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, September 15, 2011

CSU Preview: Baa, Ram, Ewwwwwwwww.... that's disgusting

For reasons unknown, the yearly series of questionable profit continues this weekend.  Reality and logic be damned, we're headed back to Invesco Sports Authority Field to face the CSU Rams.  You can check out my preview from last season here.

I can't help but think of the underpants gnomes from South Park when thinking about this game.

Phase 1:  Play CU and CSU in Denver

Phase 2: ?

Phase 3: Profit!

I don't know why we head to Denver each year, but everyone keeps saying it makes more money for everyone involved.  Thing is, I can't see how.  Every year more and more fans stay away in droves.  How is it, with empty seats and fewer concession dollars, that the yearly "showdown" isn't becoming an unprofitable embarrassment?  Has anyone checked the books?

Don't look at CU fans, Buff Nation supports our team as would befit a program of our stature.   As of yesterday, the Buffs have sold over 95% of their 38,000 ticket allotment.  As usual, it's the CSU fan base, long known for fickle and mostly absent support of their lower-profile alma mater, which continues to halfheartedly buy into the game they demand stays on the schedule.  It was announced that not only have they barely sold over 50% of their allotment, but their student section isn't even a sell-out. For shame, Rammies.

Good luck to the Denver Sports Commission, cause they've got a decade worth of half-empty Sports Authority Field to go before they can drop the charade; and remember to blame CSU for the piss-poor attendance Saturday.

To re-iterate: this game belongs on campus.


Breaking with tradition, the crew and I failed to make our yearly sojourn into enemy territory to purchase a flag for burning.  While I may not have a fresh Ram flag to burn this year, I can remind everyone of what a CSU flag looks like when it gets lit on fire.  Posted for your hate-filled pleasure is the video of last year's event.  Enjoy:

The 2011 CU/CSU game will kick off at 11:30 AM.  If you can manage to get up that early on a Saturday, yet can't make it to Denver (plenty of tickets still available, btw!), you can watch the game, with color commentary provided by CU's own Joel Klatt, on Root Sports/FSN. 

Click below for the preview...

Last season, in preparation for the '10 Rocky Mountain Showdown (hate the name almost as much as the game itself), I wondered "If it were played week 3, would everyone freak out about it?"  I think even CSU fans would grant me that the hype has significantly lessened due to the fact that the game is no longer the season opener.  Personally, I am much more intrigued by storylines built around the aftermath of the Cal game and the fluctuating O-line situation than anything having to do with CSU, as I am sure Ram fans are much more interested in how the defense will react to the rash of injuries than anything related to the Buffs.

Yes, the Colorado-bred kids who weren't talented enough to play BCS-level football are still plenty hyped to get their revenge on the mean flagship program who wouldn't offer them a scholarship, but the focus on this game is plenty diminished.  I finally have my wish, this game is barely registering a tick over 'just another game,' and will only matter for the weekend it resides on.

The truth is, the only reason to look forward to this game over any other on the Buffs schedule is the fact that the Buffs have a better than average shot of turning this game into a victory.  Considering the rest of the schedule, that does make it stand out a bit.


Opponents season so far -

While CU was riding inconsistency to an 0-2 start, the CSU Rams were easing past cream-puff opponents New Mexico and Northern Colorado.  Bully for them.  I don't know how much we can really tell from the CSU performances against UNM and UNC, but I'll try to make some sense of it anyway.

UNM lead in nearly every statistical category for the season opener, yet fell short in the only stat that matters in their 14-10 loss to Mountain West rival CSU.  Were UNM not so offensively incompetent, CSU would be 1-1 right now.  All told the Lobos could only muster 80 second half yards against the feisty Ram defense, which allowed CSU to gum up the courage to drive for the win.  A UNM fumble with 9 seconds left sealed the CSU victory.
New Mexico almost snuck by CSU in the opening game.
Against the (almost) 1-AA UNC Bears, CSU was able to defend Aggie Pride to the tune of a 33-14 win.  CSU shutout their lower-division rival through the first half, and held UNC to fewer than 10 first downs for the whole game.  Happy to be playing against a glorified D-II defense, the Rams racked up over 500 yards, and easily grabbed the title of the best team in Colorado's Congressional District #4.

Offense & Defense - 

Offensively, the Rams took full advantage of the opportunity provided by the weak UNC 'D' to up the yearly averages.  While they sit at 385 yards per contest, 65% of their total output came against the Bears from Greeley.  They've also had some turnover issues, as the usually accurate QB Pete Thomas (73% completion rate on the year) threw a mind-boggling 3 picks to those same Bears.  While most of their offensive production has come from the run game (4 rushing TD's out of 6 total), they're most likely to attack opponents with short, safe passes.
Pete Thomas got the ball moving against UNC, but not without some hiccups. From: the Coloradan.
On defense, albeit against weak opponents, the Rams have looked pretty good.  Through two weeks, opponents are averaging less than 300 yards per game, and only 12 points per contest.  The Rams have also claimed 12 sacks and forced 5 turnovers.  However, as I will discuss later on in the preview, CSU's defense will be severely short-handed for Saturday and beyond.

Star Players - 

On offense, the Rams are lead by sophomore QB Pete Thomas.  The highly regarded recruit out of California started his collegiate career with a sub-par effort against CU last season.  Then, as a neophyte freshman starter, Thomas struggled against the Buffs D, throwing 3 interceptions and taking 3 sacks en route to a 24-3 shellacking   That rough start against CU was only the first step in a rocky 2010 campaign.
Thomas had an up and down game against CU  last season
While proving to be a very accurate passer (completed 64.7% of passes last year), Thomas has continually found trouble by throwing to his opponents (16 int's compared to 13 TD's in his career).  This leads me to believe that the high completion rates are a result of the offense (short, easy completion routes) rather than his raw talent. Sure, Thomas will probably start all 4 years in Ft Collins, and has already started breaking records, but I don't know if he's proven capable of being anointed the 'chosen one' just yet. Coach Fairchild seems determined to protect him with short route nonsense that keeps his completion rates high, but prevents the offense from stretching oposing defenses.

Chris Nwoke and Raymond Carter have been splitting time in the backfield, with Nwoke starring in the first game only to be out-shined by Carter in the second.  To further complicate the backfield situation, reserve former walk-on Derek Good has been productive in limited action, and could see extended playing time come Saturday.

On defense, the story would've been senior strong-side linebacker Mychal Sisson had he not broken his ankle in the CSU win over UNC.  His loss cannot be overstated, as he was, by far, their best defensive player.  Currently CSU is scrambling to find replacements, but I doubt anything will be settled before Saturday.  Seriously, this is a massive loss for the Rams.
The loss of Mychal Sisson is a huge loss for the Rams this week and beyond.  From: the Coloradan.
While the Linebacking corps is struggling to shake off the mortal wound of a lost leader, the D-line remains strong with the emergence of sophomore Nordly Capi as a pass rushing threat.  He's already recorded 4.5 sacks and forced 4 fumbles (recovering 1).  The patched up CU O-line will need to key in on stopping him.

Coaching - Ah, Steve Fairchild.  Gilbert and Sullivan would love this guy as, in spite of all temptations to belong to other nations, he remained a Ram, and left a promising NFL career to return to Ft. Fun in hopes of 'saving' the beleaguered CSU program (it's kind of reminiscent of the tale of Coach Embree, to be honest).  So far, the plan has gone awry, as he has stumbled to a 15-24 record in 3+ seasons (7-18 in Mountain West play). 

Outside of a random bowl win earned with the remnants of Sonny Lubick's recruits, and a bullshit win in Folsom over the steaming turd known as Dan Hawkins, the Fairchild era in Ft Collins has been filled with one setback after another.  Back-to-back 3-9 seasons have made the few loyal CSU natives restless, but a quick 2-0 start over some patsies has cooled the hot seat... for now.  If I were Steve Fairchild, I'd be desperately eyeing another upset of 'big brother' to keep the wolves at bay for the rest of the year.
Has anyone ever told you that you look like Bill Callahan?  That's not a compliment.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Coach Fairchild's penchant for sand-bagging.  He refuses to play it straight with anybody the week before the CU game, and he has once again closed practices.  The dude reeks of paranoia, and I guarantee CU coaches will always worry more about the Buffs will do to the Rams, rather than what the Rams will do to the Buffs.

I'd suggest closing CU practices in retaliation, but (SPOILER ALERT!) everyone knows the Buff offense consists of either a screen pass to Speedy or a intermediate pass to P-Rich that turns into a 70+yd touchdown.  The Buffs also have a kicker now (upgrades!).  I just saved Coach Fairchild and his spies a trip to Boulder.

Ephemera - 

While CU has had to deal with a string of injuries along the O-line, CSU has been dealing with a ram-sack full of personnel issues.  Outside of the typical injury woes, they've had players suspended, ruled academically ineligible, behave like idiots and get arrested at a town-wide rager, and demoted for reasons unknown.  All told, within the past month over 10 Rams have been caught by the injury/suspension/demotion bug.  Yo.

Prediction - 

This is finally a game I don't have to trick myself into thinking could end up a CU victory.  Hell, even Vegas thinks the Buffs will roll, as they installed CU as an early 10 point favorite over CSU.  Huzzah, even the gamblers are with Buff Nation on this one!
Posted without comment.
Embree talked during his Tuesday press conference about CU needing to play a complete game, rather than succeeding in spurts.  I can't help but think that the Buffs finally put together a complete game against the "rivals" to the North.  Look for the Rams to play the feisty upstart early, but, by the 2nd half (where the Buffs have only get better this season), the Colorado offense will kickstart late en route to victory.  While double-teams of P-Rich are certainly the order of the day, that will only open up the screen and TE passing game, which CU should be comfortable with. With Sisson out, I'd also expect to see a break-out game from Speedy.

When CU is on defense, I do expect a stunting of the CU pass rush, as the quick-route offense that Coach Fairchild employs will reduce true sack opportunities.  The run game of CSU, however, is something I feel CU should be able to handle.

Barring a terrible run of luck, the Buffs will easily cover that spread.

CU 30 - CSU 13


1 comment:

Aaron Jordan said...

Dang dude, your prediction of score and how the game would unravel was spot on!