The autumn leaves are all but gone and November slowly rolls toward December and the end of the college football regular season. The Mountain West Conference enters its last week of regular season football this week, many seniors are entering the final games of their collegiate careers and rivalry week kicks off as well.
CSU will go down to the Air Force Academy (4-6, 2-4 MWC) to take on the Falcons and their triple-option offense in both teams' season finale. The teams will battle for the Ram-Falcon Trophy, given out to the winner since 1980.
"It is a good rivalry, a great stadium to play in and our guys are going to go out and play," said coach Sonny Lubick Monday at his weekly press conference. "It is not just another game to close out the season, it will be important to everybody."
Freshman quarterback Shaun Carney has led the academy most of the way this season. He has completed 80-of-131 passing attempts for 1,112 yards and nine touchdowns and has also rushed for another 503 yards and six touchdowns. Last week, in a 37-31 loss to San Diego State, Carney threw for 64 yards and an interception on six passes and ran for 56 yards and a touchdown.
"The biggest thing is responsibility. They run the option, and if one guy doesn't do their job, obviously they are gonna bust the big plays," said CSU senior linebacker Adam Lancisero. "We want to win, we still have an opportunity to finish second of third in the conference, and a win will give the team a lot of confidence for next year, and obviously you want to win your last game you play in."
Senior running backs Darnell Stephens and Dan Shaffer complement Carney on the option out of the backfield. Shaffer has gained 438 yards and two touchdowns on 82 attempts this season. Darnell Stephens has rushed for 386 yards and seven touchdowns on 66 attempts.
Junior quarterback Adam Fitch has also seen playing time this season, primarily in the last three games. Last week, he was 4-of-8 passing for 69 yards and an interception but tore through the SDSU defense, picking up 135 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
The CSU defense will have their hands full with the option in full swing. Lancisero will once again be playing at the linebacker position for the Rams after being was moved back to the position last week. In their 45-10 win versus UNLV the Rams only allowed 287 total yards and forced two fumbles and an interception. The defense will look to do more of the same in Colorado Springs.
"I got quarterback most of the time this week," Lancisero said. "The biggest focus this week is staying mentally ready and getting our licks on the quarterback."
Last week freshman quarterback Caleb Hanie shined for the Rams. Hanie had 211 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-16 passing but more importantly did not turn the ball over. Hanie has thrown for 975 yards and seven touchdowns this season with six interceptions, and he has rushed for another 66 yards and two touchdowns.
"They're into that ball control; they have that option offense that is all about controlling the clock," said senior running back Jimmy Green. "That is what we would like to do. But we're gonna have to ram it down their throats."
Green will look to the ground game going again this week. He has been an important asset to the Rams' running attack this year. He has 371 yards and three touchdowns on 115 attempts but has come up with key third-down conversions and gives a young CSU team more leadership on the field.
Junior wideout David Anderson and senior H-back Joel Dreessen will be key targets once again for Hanie. Dreessen provides an emotional spark as well as a huge target for Hanie. He has 41 catches for 404 yards and three touchdowns this season, including a three-catch, 76-yard performance last week that featured one grab for a touchdown.
This will be the last game of the year for both teams, as a win will bring neither to the six-win mark needed for bowl eligibility. It is not a meaningless game, however, as both teams will look to send their seniors off on a high note and to build confidence for their future teams heading toward the offseason.
"It's very important. We gotta go out with a bang," Green said. "We got some confidence after last week, and we definitely need this game."