Jeremy Mauss, manager of the SB Nation blog Mountain West Connection, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Colorado State Rams ahead of Saturday’s matchup with the Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Daily Gopher: The Rams have struggled out of the gate this season, with a blowout loss to Colorado in the opener and a couple less than impressive wins over UTSA and Northern Colorado. Is this simply a slow start or will this season be a significant step back from previous years?
Jeremy Mauss: They did lose a few players to the NFL last year in wide receivers Rashard Higgins and Joe Hansley and linebacker Cory James, so losing those players is a big deal and especially with Higgins, who is one of the best players to ever go to Colorado State.
In the offseason, it was tough to peg this team, as the running game was seemingly unproven and then there was a quarterback competition through spring camp when Faton Bauta transferred in for one final year from Georgia, which happens to be where current Rams head coach Mike Bobo was at running the Bulldogs offense. The quarterback competition was odd since Nick Stevens was named second-team all-conference in 2015 and led the league in touchdown passes. Going back and forth through spring and into the season really hurt the offense.
Maybe the Northern Colorado game allowed things to click but it is hard to tell since they are an FCS team. Playing Minnesota will give everyone a much better view on the Rams, but so far I am not impressed and a bowl game is in doubt.
TDG: Colorado State has been playing a game of musical chairs at quarterback, starting three different quarterbacks in their first three games. What has been the story with the turnover at the quarterback position and who will we see under center on Saturday?
JM: Got time for a 1,000 words here, and I am only half joking. As stated in the prior answer, Colorado State brought in Georgia grad transfer Faton Bauta and was immediately inserted into a quarterback race in spring, and one that most felt was unnecessary since Nick Stevens played pretty well last year and beat out the now transferred Coleman Key.
Most people who cover the Rams in town, and myself from a bit of a distance, felt it was a ruse to have Stevens go through competition with Bauta through spring. After spring, there was no starter named and most felt the same, but then at Mountain West media days head coach Mike Bobo said that it could possibly be a three-player race with true freshman Collin Hill.
No one stood out in fall camp and no starter was named but we all saw Stevens take the field against Colorado in the opener and play badly. Bauta started against UTSA and was also bad, and Hill had a few throws but again the trend continues of looking bad.
At this point Bobo needs to stick with Hill, who is the younger player, and ride out and declare him the future of the team. Bauta should be the third quarterback as he is gone after this year but he sits at No. 2 on the depth chart and the junior Stevens is the third quarterback and in my opinion will soon be a former Colorado State Ram.
While Hill look good against Northern Colorado, we will know a lot more after playing a real college football team this weekend.
TDG: Leading rusher and starting running back Dalyn Dawkins sat out against Northern Colorado due to injury. Will he see the field on Saturday against the Gophers? And what would the offense look like without him in the backfield?
JM: The offense will look the same and Dawkins is back and will be starting this game against Minnesota. The running game has been decent this year with Dawkins and Izzy Matthews plus freshman Marvin Kinsey, Jr., who may see some time as he stepped up last week with 97 yards.
The ground game will be used to help out the passing game which is still a huge question mark for this team, and if the rushing trio has some success, which it probably will at some point, then that will help the offense overall and help out the passing attack so that Minnesota won’t be able to focus on just one area.
TDG: The Ram defense allowed 318 passing yards and 260 rushing yards against the Buffaloes in the season opener. Not a good start for a unit back under the control of promoted linebackers coach Marty English, who previously served as defensive coordinator under former head coach Jim McElwain. How will this defense fare against a Gopher offense that revolves around a tough running game and an experienced senior at quarterback?
JM: I think the Rams defense turned it around against UTSA and had plenty of second half stops and three-and-outs in their win over the Road Runners, but then again they gave up 21 to an FCS team. Just maybe Colorado's defense has turned the corner after being so bad for so many years.
The defense does look much more stable and I am leaning toward their performance against UTSA being the real deal and not the opener against the Buffs. This is an attacking defense that is 28th in tackles for loss and 25th in sacks this year, and they held UTSA to zero rushing yards in that win. What is not helping is the turnover margin, which stands at -.33 per game. The defense has eight turnovers but the offense can't hold on to the ball and allows for short fields against this defense. However, not all of the blame rests with the turnovers, because this team is in the bottom third in total yards and yards per play allowed per game. They can make some stops when needed to but yards will be had.
TDG: Name two under-the-radar players -- one on offense, one on defense -- that Gophers fans should expect to see making plays under the lights at TCF Bank Stadium.
JM: Marvin Kinsey, Jr. could be an asset in the ground game with Dawkins returning from an injury and could provide a punch in the ground game. On defense, look for safety Jake Schlager to have a bounce back game. He had a good showing in the opener with 11 tackles and one for a loss, but he has been quiet in the past few games.
TDG: The Rams gave the Gophers quite a scare on the road last season. Will it be another nail-biter again this year? What is your prediction for Saturday?
JM: There is a reason that Minnesota is a 16.5-point favorite in this game. Colorado State is a complete mess and I am not sure how they beat UTSA. The defense is the best part of this Colorado State team and they might be able to hold the Gophers offense down at times. Minnesota should win but I think the Rams can cover this one but not really be in this game, so for a score I'll say Minnesota 28, Colorado State 17.
Thank you to Jeremy for giving us the inside scoop on the Colorado State Rams! To all of the Colorado State fans who will be in attendance Saturday night, I hope you have a fantastic experience in the Twin Cities and at TCF Bank Stadium! Other than the outcome of the game, obviously.