ROYAL PURPLE LAS VEGAS BOWL
COLORADO STATE VS UTAH – Saturday, Dec 20th, 12:30pm PT (ABC)
Two historic Mountain West and WAC foes face off again for the first time since 2010. The RAMS enter this game limping a little off the heels of a season ending loss to Air Force that snapped a 9 game win streak, and then losing Mountain West Coach of the Year Jim McElwain to the University of Florida. Utah has to feel a bit hobbled as well after losing 3 of 5 to finish out 2014, with all three losses coming to ranked PAC 12 opponents.
Still, if you’re a RAM fan you have to feel GREAT about the 10-2 regular season finish. Along with Coach of the Year honors, CSU also brought home the Offensive Player of the Year award with the outstanding play of SR QB Garrett Grayson. Grayson led the Mountain West passing for 3779 yards and 32 TD’s. Coupled with Grayson’s performance was 1st Team All-Conference receiver Rashard Higgins. Higgins led the nation with 149 yards receiving per game on 89 for 1640, and 17 TD’s. Alabama transfer RB Dee Hart grabbed 2nd Team accolades off of 1254 yards rushing and 16 TD’s. All 3 benefitted from the standout play upfront of 1st TEAM All-Conference SR OT Ty Sambrailo, touted as one of the top prospects in this year’s NFL Draft.
The RAMS have been an opportunistic bunch on defense forcing 18 turnovers (6 fumbles and 12 interceptions). Key to the RAM defensive attack are SR LB’s Aaron Davis and Max Morgan. Davis tallied 110 total tackles to lead CSU in that category, and Morgan was a close 2nd with 96. DB’s Tyree Simmons and Trent Matthews both grabbed 3 picks, and Bernard Blake recorded 11 pass breakups.
The Utes are a lot of what we remember; pressure defense and big play ability on Special Teams. Utah led the nation with 52 total sacks. PAC 12 standout senior Nate Orchard tallied 17.5 to finish 2nd in the country, while sophomore Hunter Dimick added 10. The Utes were also first in the PAC 12 with 100 tackles for losses and minus 414 yards.
The offensive relied heavily on the legs of JR Devontae Booker’s 1350 yards and 9 TD’s. Booker averaged 112 per game on the ground. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham spread the ball around to 4 equally effective receivers in SR’s Kaelin Clay & Dres Anderson, JR Kenneth Scott, and SR TE Westlee Tonga. All 4 each grabbed 4 TD’s, and Booker is an effective outlet from the backfield as well.
The Key To The Game
This game could very well come down to special teams, and whether CSU can corral Utah’s outstanding talent on both kickoff and punt returns. Kaelin Clay averages almost 17 per punt return & has 3 TD’s that finished tied for tops in the nation. Clay also has a KOR return for a score to compliment his 26 yards per return. CSU hasn’t given up a return for a score in 2014 but has struggled with consistency in coverage.