Stop the run.
Do it, and your team will have a good chance to win.
Don’t do it, it’s almost a shoe-in your team won’t.
Plain and simple, the CSU Rams know that if they aren’t able to control the University of Colorado’s running game at Invesco Field on Saturday, they will, in all likelihood, endure a slow, painful death.
“We have to stop the run. That’s the key to the game,” said Larry Kerr, the Rams’ defensive coordinator. “If we can’t do that – if we let them work with a short field by allowing them 10-, 12- and 15-yard gains – it could be a very long day.”
Last year’s Rocky Mountain Showdown was a very long day for the Rams, as the Buffs ran all over the Rams. The statistics are staggering:
– CU rushed the ball 54 times for 315 yards, the first time in six seasons the Buffs had rushed for 300 yards as a team.
– Two CU rushers, Bobby Purify (21 carries, 191 yards) and Chris Brown (21-121), amassed more than 100 yards on the day, both individual career-highs at the time.
Like the Rams before them, national powers Texas A&M, Nebraska and Texas all found out later in the year how punishing CU’s running game was en route to the Buffs first Big XII championship.
Though CU boasts outstanding runners, gaping holes carved by the offensive line left room for literal buffaloes to roam.
“Some of the holes they had to run through were huge,” said Bryan Save, a Rams defensive tackle. “But that doesn’t make up for the fact we tackled very poorly as a team.”
Indeed, poor tackling and bad positioning doomed the Rams in last year’s clash. On the better plays, only one Ram missed. On the worse plays, two and sometimes three Ram tacklers weren’t able to wrap up their man.
“We only had a couple blown assignments last year, but we just weren’t able to make the plays we needed on the defensive side of the ball,” Kerr said. “It’s pretty cut and dry: we need to tackle better if we’re going to have a shot.”
Kerr says the key to stopping the Buffs will be a return to basics.
“We have two keys to the game on defense: getting to the right place and making the tackle,” Kerr said. “We have to be sound in our responsibilities to contain them.”
What will the Rams be doing to make a difference from a year ago?
“It’ll take us coming out much stronger than last year,” said Andre Sommersell, the Rams’ starting defensive end. “We’re not taking them lightly, we know what they have and we know we have to go all out every play.”
The Buffs have had good success on season-opening games, not just with the running game. Over the last ten years, CU has averaged 289.2 passing yards in their opening game. However, the Rams aren’t as concerned with the Buffs’ airborne attack.
“If they can’t run the ball on us, they’re not going to beat us,” Save said. “Their run commands respect, but we’re not afraid of their passing game.”
A week ago against the University of Virginia, the Rams defense appeared worn-down in the second half of a near-defeat. CSU credits the heat more than the Cavaliers with wearing them down.
“The humidity got us in Virginia, but in this game, both teams have been practicing in the same conditions,” Sommersell said. “There won’t be any let down on Saturday. We always go four quarters against CU.”