After five games against teams that passed first and ran later, BYU finally gets a team that prefers to keep the ball on the ground.
Colorado State, the Cougars' opponent noon Saturday in Cougar Stadium, is also a team that runs effectively, however. Last week against Utah the Rams rushed for 315 yards. Every indication is that the game should offer one classic matchup, a Y. defense that has limited opponents to 2.9 yards per rushing attempt versus a CSU offense that averages 4.2 yards per rushing attempt.The Rams, who were picked to finish fourth in the WAC in preseason polls, have a 3-0 league record (4-2 overall) and are tied with Wyoming for the WAC lead. They beat Air Force by two, 35-33, at Air Force, and defeated UTEP 38-20 and Utah 22-13 on the road.
For CSU this is a chance to show that they are legitimate WAC contenders. It's been 10 years since the Rams have gone 3-0 to start a WAC season. That year they finished second to the Cougars for their highest WAC finish ever.
Outside the WAC the Rams have fared less well this season, although they have played respectably. They walloped Montana 41-5 but lost to Arizona State and Arkansas by identical 31-20 scores. In both of those losses, though, the Rams were in the ballgame.
"With a couple of breaks they could be undefeated," BYU Coach LaVell Edwards said of CSU. "They moved the ball very well against Arkansas and Arizona State."
CSU Coach Earle Bruce acknowledges that his team's hopes rest on its ability to run the ball. "We weren't very successful running the ball against them last year," Bruce said. In that game, BYU trounced CSU 45-16 in Fort Collins as the Ram rushers gained just 83 yards on 41 carries.
This season's edition of the Ram offense features three of the WAC's top six running backs in terms of yards per game. Ram tailback Brian Copeland is the WAC leader, averaging 80 yards per game and 5.6 per carry. Tailback Tony Alford is fourth at 61 and 5.0, and fullback Todd Yert is sixth at 55 and 3.7.
The Rams use two quarterbacks. Mike Gimenez is primarily a running quarterback and Kevin Verdugo is the passer. Gimenez got the start last week for the first time this season, but the QBs played seven possessions each.
Gimenez has thrown just 33 passes this season and completed 18, with no interceptions. Verdugo has completed 58 percent of 125 passes, with four interceptions. Their top target is split end Greg Primus, who has 24 catches.
Defensively, the Rams are led by senior linebacker Eric Tippeconnic, with 72 tackles, and senior safety Andy Byrne, with 68 tackles. The next closest defender on the tackle chart has just 36.
Where the Rams are particularly dangerous is in the defensive secondary. They have picked off 10 passes, tops in the WAC, despite having just 155 passes thrown against them. Byrne has three, cornerback Selwyn Jones has three and cornerbacks Harlan Carroll and Sylvester Mabry have two each.
The Rams have also mounted an effective pass rush, sacking opposing quarterbacks 13 times, again despite not having a wealth of opportunity. Seven of those sacks came last week against the Utes.