The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Mike Bro­hard

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.

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