The Colorado State football team looks to beat ninth-ranked rival Utah for the first time in four years Saturday and the first in Salt Lake City since 2002.
CSU (2-5, 1-2 MWC) faces its second top 10 team in four weeks following an impressive blowout over conference opponent UNLV.
On the other hand, the Utes (6-0, 3-0 MWC) have yet to lose this year and are in search of their third undefeated season in seven years.
The Rams have seen progress in the running game come in leaps and bounds since replacement Leonard Mason took over for the injured starter Raymond Carter, contributing to signs of offensive growth for this young team.
Utah boasts the No. 13 rushing defense in the country, presenting the biggest challenge to the CSU offense since Week 5.
That week was against CSUâ€™s first top 10 opponent, TCU, who kept the Rams off the scoreboard in a 27-0 loss at home.
â€œUtah is doing a little more zone pressure and a little more movement with their line than they have in the past,â€ CSU coach Steve Fairchild said. â€œThey are able to control the run game and get to the quarterback just with their front four, and TCU is the same way. Good football teams are like that.â€
Offensively, Utah plays with a balanced attack that does not focus heavily on any one player, creating a challenge for captain linebacker Ricky Brewer and the CSU defense.
â€œThey have tons of weapons and theyâ€™re a good north-and-south team,â€ Brewer said. â€œThey donâ€™t play with any of that outside the boundary kind of stuff, so if we can attack downhill and execute and have some great tackling, weâ€™re going to win this game defensively.â€
The Utes are led by sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn, a former true-freshman starter.
â€œI thought, like Pete Thomas this year, you could tell that he was going to be a good quarterback,â€ Fairchild said. â€œHe was accurate and kind of experienced beyond his years when you watched him last year.â€
This season, Wynn has completed 67 percent of his passes for 962 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
In order to prevent another shutout loss, the Rams can take the lessons learned against TCU and apply them to Saturdayâ€™s matchup.
â€œI think weâ€™ve learned a lot, but I think also, more importantly, weâ€™ve gotten a lot better,â€ Thomas said. â€œ(TCU) was one of the best defenses weâ€™ll face and I think Utah will be just as good and it will be a tough task.â€
With Utah leaving the Mountain West Conference next year to join the new Pacific 12, this could be the last opportunity for the Rams to knock off their rival for some time.
â€œWeâ€™re very eager (to beat Utah),â€ Brewer said Wednesday. â€œUtah doesnâ€™t respect us. As well, I donâ€™t feel like weâ€™ve earned any respect. I think each week we got to go out and prove that weâ€™re a team to be contended with.â€
Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and can be seen on The Mtn.
Football beat reporter Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.
- When: Saturday
- Time: 4 p.m.
- Location: Salt Lake City
- Live blog: Collegian.com, CollegianSports.com
- Watch: The Mtn.