A new season begins Saturday for the CSU football team, and they come in limping.
Coming off a disappointing 41-21 loss against Miami (Ohio) at home, the Rams (2-2) are hoping to take the first step toward another Mountain West Conference title against Utah (2-1) at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“I think everybody realizes how big of a game this is,” said senior running back Rahsaan Sanders. “You don’t want to start in the conference 0-1 because you will be fighting back uphill the rest of the (season).”
The Rams will be facing a tough Utes team without star tight end Joel Dreessen. Dreessen had a MRI on his abdominal area Tuesday and is diagnosed with a severe lower abdominal strain and is out indefinitely, said Gary Ozzello, CSU’s athletic media relations director.
“Joel is a huge part of our offense in run blocking as well as pass catching,” wide receiver David Anderson said. “(The receivers) are going to have to step it up a little.”
Dreessen, a 6-foot-4, 253-pound junior, has 14 receptions for 251 yards in CSU’s first four games and has attracted the attention of National Football League scouts. Head coach Sonny Lubick said Dreessen played through the injury against Miami (Ohio), which probably made the injury more severe.
“He pushed himself and he pushed himself,” Lubick said Wednesday. “We as coaches probably let him go. We should have been a little smarter, too.”
CSU uses two tight ends in their basic offensive set. Sophomores Brandon Alconcel and Matt Bartz will each see time at Dreessen’s H-back position and at the Y tight end position, where Bartz normally starts, said co-offensive coordinator John Benton.
“I have to take on a bigger role in the passing game,” Bartz said. “I haven’t had much work at the H (back) since my true freshman year, except in the spring I mixed it in a little bit, but I think I’m going to be ready.”
Benton said Alconcel has looked good in practice despite injuring his left ankle last week.
Another positive for the Rams is the probable return of senior center Mark Dryer. Dryer separated a tendon in his right hand against Colorado and had surgery Sept. 9. He has been practicing snapping left handed at practice this week. Benton said Dryer may not start but will probably play at center or guard.
The Rams’ defense must contend with Utah running back Brandon Warfield. The senior is second in the MWC with 448 yards rushing in three games.
“They’re not the Utah team of the past where they just line up in two backs and try to run it at you, they spread the offense a little bit more,” senior linebacker Eric Pauly said. “Everybody’s going to have to play disciplined football.”
Utah has not played since Sept. 11, when they beat California at home 31-24. Utah head coach Urban Meyer, one of Lubick’s former assistants at CSU, said the Utes needed the time to prepare for CSU.
“Some teams use bye weeks to get healthy and clean up problem areas. We prepared for CSU,” Meyer said in a release. “I know that staff and very rarely will CSU lose twice in a row.”
Benton said Utah’s defense runs many different formations and packages. He said it is hard to prepare for the variety, but he prefers facing it compared to a base defense that has the same responsibilities every play. Anderson, who leads the MWC with 586 yards receiving, said he hopes the passing game can get more consistent this week after relying on the big plays against Miami.
“Utah presses a lot, which leaves them open to several deep balls,” Anderson said. “They play one deep safety, but the 20- to 25-yard outs should be open.”
Many Rams players and coaches agreed that practices before the Miami game were flat, and that they had a much better focus in practice this week.
“We’re going to come out a lot more focused, with a fire in our eye,” Bartz said.