Despite giving up two long touchdowns to Colorado last week the CSU rush defense looked significantly stronger than in 2004. Saturday will prove just how much stronger they are.
Minnesota welcomes the Rams to the HHH Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn. with a running game that makes most teams want to catch the first plane out of the state of 10,000 lakes.
The Golden Gophers have won 17 consecutive home non-conference games. The biggest reason for that streak is what the Gophers can do on the ground. Junior running back Laurence Maroney is the catalyst.
Against Tulsa in week one, Maroney opened his season with 159 yards on his first 10 carries and touchdown runs of 67 and 73 in the first quarter alone. He finished the game with 203 yards on 21 carries, a career best.
The Rams have seen what Maroney can do. When Minnesota came to Fort Collins in 2004, Maroney went for 132 yards on 17 carries, but wasn't even his team's leading rusher. Luckily for the Rams, Marion Barber III now plays for the Dallas Cowboys and is no longer eligible to run through collegiate defenses.
There are multiple ways to limit the running game of the Gophers. The obvious way is to stuff Maroney and company up front, which is not easily accomplished.
Another way to keep the running game from going wild is to keep the Gopher offense on the sideline.
"Offensively, we have to keep the football," said Head Coach Sonny Lubick. "There is the old coaching adage that if the defense is sitting on the sidelines, they're playing better."
In order to keep Maroney off the field, the Rams will have to control the pace of the game. By using their own running game effectively, the Rams win the time of possession battle.
Against CU the Rams were able to get the running game going in the third quarter with sophomore Kyle Bell, who finished the day with a career best 66 yards. The passing game will also need to keep the clock running by keeping the chains moving.
"We're going to do some more short passing and use that a little bit as our running game," said senior quarterback Justin Holland. "We're definitely going to utilize some quicker shorter passes to take advantage of some quick guys on linebackers."
The Rams also will focus on holding onto the ball. If the Rams have four turnovers like they did in Boulder, the Gophers will be able to control time of possession and wear the Rams defense out.
"I think we're going to need to keep the ball, sometimes the best defense is a good offense," said senior wide receiver Dave Anderson. "If we beat them in the time of possession that's less times they have the chance to run the ball."
No matter how the Rams get it done, they have to be able to stop the Gophers run game to avoid going 0-2.
"We have to eliminate the big plays. I know they'll make us miss sometimes," Lubick said. "It's going to be one-on-one, and you have to make the tackle. We have to hold up against the run."