The upset. One of the more exciting aspects of college football.
Last week, the CSU Rams pulled one off, beating Fresno State 35-23 after going into the game 13-point underdogs. This week they need to prevent another one being pulled off on them.
The Rams (3-1) host the UNLV Rebels (1-3) this Saturday and are heavily favored by 15 points. Some people may care about the spread. Head Coach Sonny Lubick doesn’t.
“Both of their quarterbacks are good runners,” said Lubick. “Their running backs are quick, and they have talented wide receivers. If they find a weakness, they can keep the ball all game long.”
The Rebels, who have lost their last three games by a combined score of 89-26, haven’t shown it lately, but are capable of big-time plays as they showed in their season opener, a 54-10 rout of Idaho State.
“They’re an up and down team right now, and when they’re up they can do some things.” said CSU defensive coordinator Steve Stanard.
UNLV’s offense should be an interesting one because no one is really sure who will be running it. A sophomore transfer from USC, Rocky Hinds won the starting job with an impressive offseason, but last year’s starter, senior Shane Steichen, figures to see certain series.
“We expect to see both of them,” said Stanard. “We can’t allow them to get into a rhythm.”
Offensively, the Rams’ ground game may finally break out on a Rebel defense that focuses more on the pass game. The Rebels give up an average 148.2 running yards per game, second-worst in the Mountain West Conference.
“It’s a great defense to run on; it’s based on the pass,” said Rams running back Gartrell Johnson.
After four games of mediocrity on the ground, the Rams finally were able to run the football with a little success against Fresno State last week. After running well in the first half, the Bulldogs stacked the line in the second half anticipating the Rams to rush to run down the clock.
“There’s nothing better [than running the ball],” said Johnson. “The offensive line did great and took no prisoners. It felt good to see a little daylight.”
The Rams will need the ground game to be more successful than it has with junior cornerback Eric Wright patrolling the secondary for the Rebels. Another transfer from USC, who was on board for two national championships, Wright transferred to UNLV after being suspended from the Trojans in May 2005.
Wright leads the MWC in pass breakups with eight and has one pick in four games. Although Hanie has shown his interceptions are few and far between, the Rams will have to be aware of Wright’s presence on the field.
Despite all the advantages the Rams have in talent, perhaps the biggest one they’ll see on Saturday is the home crowd. After five consecutive weeks away from Hughes Stadium, the Rams are eager to be the home team.
“I was talking to Sonny the other day and he told me it had been five weeks since we had played at home and I said, ‘No it hasn’t,'” said Stanard. “Then I got to thinking about it and with the bye week and playing at Invesco, it has been. It’s going to be good to get back at home. The CSU students always do such a great job.”
Football beat writer Brett Okamoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised on the mtn. (Comcast channel 412). Check Collegian.com for updates after every score.