When CU is running the ball: Head Coach Dan Hawkins used a three-man platoon in CU’s debut, a loss to Montana State. Running backs Hugh Charles, Mell Holliday and Bryon Ellis share the load, but CSU must look out for Charles, who burned the Rams for two fourth-quarter touchdown runs last season. Holliday led the team in rushing against MSU, but look for Charles to be the predominant runner against the Rams. The Rams’ rushing defense has been ranked in the bottom 10 in Division-1A the last two seasons, but opened the season by allowing a nation-low negative-38 yards rushing against Weber State. Despite having the best performance out of any school in the country during the first week, CSU must prove it can handle the rushing game of a BCS-conference team. Before the season started, CU would have definitely had the advantage, but after CU’s opening-day loss and CSU’s superhuman performance, this match-up is not as clear-cut as once thought.
When CU is passing the ball: Quarterback James Cox is coming off one of the worst games in school history, completing just eight of his 22 passing attempts. Cox has not proven that he can be a starter at an inter-collegiate level. He also has Bernard Jackson and Brian White breathing down his neck and Hawkins will not be afraid to pull Cox out of the game. CSU’s pass rush against Weber State generated seven sacks and looked steady even when passes were completed. The loss of Robert Herbert may hurt CSU on third downs, but Chase Weber is an above-average third corner. If CU is passing a lot on Saturday, then CSU will most likely chalk up a win.
When CSU is running the ball: Gartrell Johnson III ran for three touchdowns in his debut, but averaged less than two yards a carry. Look for Nnamdi Ohaeri to get at least double the three carries he had against Weber State. Johnson must prove he can consistently gain yards and not just be a force within the five yard line. CU’s rushing defense, which was ranked 11 nationally last season, held MSU to 50 yards on 35 carries. The strength of CU’s team is their linebacking corps, led by Thaddeus Washington. If Kyle Bell were healthy, CSU might be considered the favorite, but without Bell CU definitely has the advantage.
When CSU is passing the ball: In his first start since 2004, Rams quarterback Caleb Hanie played well against Weber State, but he must avoid the costly mistakes that plagued Justin Holland when he played against CU. CSU’s receivers get even stronger with the addition of George Hill, who is returning from injury. CU’s cornerbacks are recovering from a game in which they could not keep up with MSU’s Michael Jefferson, who finished the game with 10 catches. While safety J.J. Billingsley is a returning all-Big 12 player, CSU definitely has the advantage.
When the Special Teams battle: In their games last Saturday, both CSU and CU had players fumble a kickoff return. CSU punter Jimmie Kaylor and CU kicker Mason Crosby are potential All-Americans, but Crosby can produce points whereas Kaylor produces field position. CU’s punting game is in disarray, with three different players getting a crack at it during CU’s first game. While CU’s special teams played bad, CSU’s looked horrible against Weber State, giving the nod by default to CU.
Prediction: While Mason Crosby is the best player on the CU team, the most important will be James Cox. If Cox doesn’t implode like he did against Montana State, CU will have a puncher’s chance. This game is usually close; however, if CSU was ever going to blow out CU, this seems to be the year. Look for Damon Morton to get a score or two as CSU rolls to victory.
Final score: CSU 27, CU 12