RAMS NEED TO BE WARY OF VANDALS
boise, idaho» The numbers don’t seem to add up and make sense.
On one hand, Idaho’s defense ranks 112th in the nation by allowing 270 passing yards per game. On the other, the Vandals are true to their nickname, picking off 15 passes this year to tie for 14th in the nation.
“That definitely struck me as odd,” Colorado State quarterback Nick Stevens said. “It’s a defense that you’re going to be able to get some big plays on, but you definitely have to make sure you take care of the ball or they’ll capitalize if you throw the ball up or put the ball on the ground.
“We’ve had the mind-set all year. I think that’s there’s a greater focus when you play teams that have those standout numbers.”
CSU coach Mike Bobo has stressed to his team that Thursday’s Idaho Potato Bowl can turn in an instant if the Rams get careless. They haven’t been careless the final seven games of the season, giving away just three turnovers, only one of those an interception.
As much as Stevens has done to turn his season around — playing with more confidence, getting rid of the ball quicker and being even smarter in running the offense — his ball protection is near the top of the list of his accomplishments. After throwing 14 interceptions in his first 14 career starts, he has thrown just the one since taking over as the starter for the injured Collin Hill, a span covering 137 attempts in six starts. In the same time, he has thrown 14 touchdown passes.
The key for Stevens is doing a better job of reading the safeties, allowing him to dissect pressure packages better and find open seams in the secondary. Since Stevens became the starting QB again, Bobo has had nothing but praise about every aspect of the junior’s performance. “Run game and pass game, he sees things very quick,” Bobo said.
Idaho’s defense features a mixture of factors playing hand in hand. For one, defensive end Aikeem Coleman (eight sacks) and nose guard Tueni Lupeamanu (five sacks) lead an aggressive front wall that puts pressure on the passer, while strong safety Jayshawn Jordan and linebacker Kaden Elliss (five picks each) step in to grab errant throws.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino knows his defense will be tested by the Rams, setting a pecking order on his to-do list to allow his defense to be at its best in the bowl game.
“I think the No. 1 thing we’ve got to do first of all is stop their run. That’s what they like to do first of all, then we’ve got to stop No. 4,” Petrino said, referring to CSU wide receiver Michael Gallup. “He’s caught 70 percent of their passes, so we have to make sure we try to stop the run and stop No. 4 and make them beat us with something besides those two things. Our defense has done a good job of just playing hard and getting after quarterbacks, and when you do that, you usually have a chance to get interceptions. Hopefully we can do that (Thursday).”
Petrino’s math is off, but Gallup has had eye-popping production for CSU. The junior has 70 catches this year (35.5 percent of the Rams’ total), and he has an impressive run of seven consecutive games with a touchdown scored, nine in that span.