Behind enemy lines: Colorado State

Alabama welcomes a familiar foe in Colorado State this weekend. It has only been four years since the Rams and Crimson Tide met on Sept. 21, 2013. Alabama walked away from that game with a 31-6 win. Since then, Colorado State saw Jim McElwain leave for Florida with former Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo being hired as his replacement. To get more insight on the Rams, we talked to Colin Barnard, the sports editor of Colorado State's student newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Collegian. Here's what he had to say:

Q: Colorado State brought back Nick Stevens for his third year as the Rams' starter. How important is it to this team to have him back, and what does he provide at that position?

A: The last year has been one filled with ups and downs for Stevens. He entered 2016 as the starter, lost the job half way through week 1 and regained it in week 7. From that point on, Stevens led the second-highest scoring offense in all of college football. He is the undeniable leader of the Rams' offense and may be more confident than ever. Having thrown for at least 300 yards in every game this season, Stevens is still feeding on the momentum from the end of 2016. Understanding that leadership role coming into the season has certainly benefitted Stevens and the entire Rams offense. After fighting through so much uncertainty last season, the entire offensive unit knows what it has at quarterback in 2017. 

Q: Nick Saban said Colorado State's strength was its passing offense. Do you agree with this? What have you seen out of their passing offense so far?

A: I agree that the passing game is one of Colorado State's strengths. When Stevens regained the quarterback position last season, the passing offense really took off, and it hasn't hesitated. Specifically, head coach Mike Bobo likes to utilize the screen game frequently. Leading receiver Michael Gallup is usually on the other end of it, and the Rams have shown the ability to turn these screens into big plays. If they have success in the screen game, that can open up receivers deep. What's more, Stevens is not afraid to take shots deep down the field when the opportunity presents itself. If the Rams can find a way to balance the passing offense, they can definitely have success moving the ball.

Q: What do you think is something Colorado State could have success doing this weekend and why?

A: While the rushing attack has been inconsistent throughout the year, there's reason to believe that it can be successful this weekend. After rushing for 191 yards in week 1 against Oregon State, the Rams were unable to establish themselves on the ground against Colorado in week 2, rushing for just 88 yards. Leading up to week 3, Bobo made it apparent that he wanted to establish a balanced offense for the rest of the season starting with the run-game. Subsequently, the Rams rushed for 268 yards against Abilene Christian. Yes, it was against an FCS opponent. But the ability to move the ball on the ground is encouraging nonetheless. 

CSU also has plenty of options out of the backfield. Leading rusher Dalyn Dawkins is the shiftiest of the three backs the Rams regularly deploy. Izzy Matthews fits the mold of power back while Rashaad Boddie is more of a big-play threat. If the Rams' offensive line can hold its own, and that's a big 'if,' I expect the rotation of running backs to have some success.

Q: Outside of Stevens, who are some players that Alabama should be on the lookout for?

A: On offense, the Rams' biggest playmaker is wide receiver Michael Gallup. The senior looks every bit of an NFL receiver and has already backed up his first-team All-Mountain West preseason selection with two 100-yard-receiving performances. Similar to Stevens last year, Gallup was unable to find his groove early in the season. Despite not recording a 100-yard game until week 6, Gallup finished with 1,272 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has game-changing ability at the receiver position.

On defense, look for cornerback Kevin Nutt. Nutt is the best one-on-one coverage corner the Rams have, and I expect him to be tested often against Calvin Ridley. Nutt already has two interceptions on the season, and if he can find a way to cause a turnover against the Tide, the Rams may find themselves with some added confidence.

Q: The Rams opened up the season by playing Power 5 teams in three of its first four games. What is your opinion of that kind of scheduling?

A: This type of scheduling is exactly what Colorado State needs for multiple reasons. From a season long standpoint, it allows them to face tougher competition than many of the teams in the Mountain West face. This in turn gives CSU an advantage heading into conference play and prepares them for conference opponents. But the aggressive scheduling is also a sign that CSU wants to prove it belongs in a Power 5 conference. When Big 12 expansion rumors were rampant at the end of 2016, CSU was known to have expressed interest. Though the conference did not expand, showing the initiative to move conferences makes it easy to see the Rams being considered for expansion in the future. In the coming years, the Rams have scheduled games against Arkansas and Florida, among other Power 5 teams. I am definitely a supporter of the ambitious scheduling.

Q: Mike Bobo obviously spent a lot of time in the SEC, and has seen a Nick Saban-led defense three times in his career (2007, 2008, 2012). How much will that experience help in this game?

A: One thing that Bobo has mentioned multiple times this week is understanding the stage of SEC football. From his time at Georgia, both as a player and assistant, he knows that the culture of football is different in the South. Because of this, he has been able to prepare his players for what's to come. Though the Rams do have many players from SEC-territory, the aura of college football in Fort Collins is different. For what it's worth, Bobo is 2-0 as a coach in Bryant-Denny, defeating Alabama in 2002 and 2007. 

Q: Finally, give us a score prediction and why you chose that.

A: I believe that CSU is in store for a big year. At this point, I think they are one of three front-runners for the Mountain West title. However, Alabama is an entirely different animal. I certainly don't expect CSU to flop on Saturday, but Alabama could easily pull away in the early stages of the game if things don't go the Rams' way. I'll go with 34-14, Alabama.

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