Though one might think the No. 19 Colorado State football team is due for a letdown this weekend at UCLA, consider the Rams’ motivating factors.
They are still riding high from their emotional, hard-fought victory over then-No. 7 Colorado. They are also undoubtedly still smarting a little after being ranked below the Buffs (No. 17).
They have a chance to, once again, gain national exposure and respect in one of the nation’s most storied facilities, the Rose Bowl.
But perhaps most importantly, the Rams have a chance to remain unbeaten while beating yet another major-conference team.
No sir, these Rams aren’t short on motivation.
“Honestly, I’m not worried about a let down and I don’t think you’ll find one person in that locker room who is,” junior linebacker Drew Wood said. “The first four games you know everyone’s going to be up for. There’s just no reason not to be.”
The UCLA Bruins have no reason to believe CSU won’t be up for this game. And the Bruins haven’t been slouches in their home season-openers either. UCLA has won its last five home openers over the likes of Tennessee, Miami, Texas, Boise St. and Alabama.
Still, after watching CSU pull off two consecutive games away from home against marquee opponents, head coach Bob Toledo knows his team will be in for a fight.
“I believe they have a huge advantage,” Toledo said. “Playing someone who’s already played two games is scary. It’s a real concern, particularly with how good Colorado State is.”
CSU coaches say their game plan won’t change much from their preparation for CU. Offensively, the Rams face a tough UCLA defense marked by experience in the secondary and blitzing pressure.
“They’ll be the best defense we’ve faced to this point,” said Dan Hammerschmidt, the Rams co-offensive coordinator. “We want to run, but we’ll have to beat them down the field a few times. You’re not just going to smash-mouth with these guys all night.”
But the Rams surely won’t shy away from running the ball. Junior running back Cecil Sapp spearheaded CSU’s running game against CU and delivered several bruising runs en route to 87 yards and two touchdowns. Sapp’s punishing performance didn’t go unnoticed in Los Angeles.
“I don’t think we’ll face a back any better than Cecil,” Toledo said. “He’s a big-time back.”
Hammerschmidt’s biggest concern is getting four strong quarters out of his offense. While consistent in the first half, quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt and the rest of the Rams’ offense lulled in the third quarter against CU.
“We made a big deal of that this week,” Hammerschmidt said. “You’re not going to score every drive, but you can’t have three or four drives in the third quarter just stall.”
On the defensive side of the ball, CSU will be looking to stop the Bruins’ multi-faceted attack.
Senior quarterback Cory Paus ranks fifth on the Bruins’ career passing list behind former UCLA and NFL standout Troy Aikman. Running backs Akil Harris and Manuel White are the heart of the ground attack.
“They like to line up in the I-formation and run the football as a physical, tough team,” said defensive coordinator Larry Kerr. “But they also like to play action pass. They’ve got good athletes at wide receiver and a three-year starter at quarterback.”
Wood said stopping the run will be pivotal Saturday, much like against Colorado.
“Their running game is very similar to CU’s where they run a lot of power plays with the fullback leading their two-back,” Wood said. “Our focus is the same. We need to step up and stop the run, and then react and play to the pass.”