Sam Morris, Associated Press
CSU running back Gartrell Johnson has posed problems for opposing defenses.

PROVO — The Cougars haven't been in a teeth-rattling battle of any kind for a long, long time after last week's San Diego State game got postponed. So, today's kickoff between BYU and visiting Colorado State has some special meaning as Bronco Mendenhall's players are eager to hit and get hit.

"Everyone else in the league is about finished playing conference games," said BYU receiver Michael Reed. "I think Air Force and Utah are almost done and have only a few games left. It's time for us to start playing again. We need some MWC wins."

In the Rams, the Cougars will face a team that's fallen on hard times with only a 48-23 win at UNLV to show for a year's work and preparation for this 2007 season.

CSU likes to run the ball at opponents but has struggled defensively to stop foes from running on them.

Defensively for the Cougars, they welcome any physical play they can get out of the Rams today.

Senior linebacker Kelly Poppinga said CSU's penchant for running the ball has the Cougars fired up.

"We're excited to play a team that likes to pound the ball at you," Poppinga said. "That's what we like as a defense. We're excited to get in a game where there is some physicality to it instead of like Eastern Washington, who threw the ball all over the place.

"It will be fun for the defense, and I know it will be fun for the offense to get back out there."

The Rams feature a one-back set that deploys the skills of Kyle Bell and Gartrell Johnson. They have shown their wares in games they could have won against Colorado and Cal. The Rams rank fourth in the league in rushing the football (59th nationally), averaging 157 yards per game. But turnovers have been an issue.

The Cougars have yet to allow a runner to gain more than 100 yards on their defense this season.

"That's our goal," Poppinga said. "As long as we hold opponents under 100 yards a game, we're doing our job. This will be another great challenge for us. They have two great backs, and Johnson is the one who has been getting more of the carries lately.

"It will be a big challenge for us."

Offensively, the Cougars hope to sharpen their passing game while relying on Harvey Unga, Manase Tonga and Fui Vakapuna to find holes in the Ram defense.

CSU coach Sonny Lubick told reporters this week his squad just has to maintain an attitude and keep battling through disappointing games they could have won. He sees BYU as a solid team.

"Their quarterback this year is getting better every game," said Lubick. "But they're not going to drop off. They might take a dip, and as those guys get experience they'll get pretty good. They have a player on defense, No. 41 (Bryan Kehl), who looks like he's as good as we've seen in this conference on defense for a long time. BYU is good on offense and solid on defense, also."

Cougars on the air

Colorado State (1-7, 1-4) at BYU (5-2, 3-0)

Today, noon

LaVell Edwards Stadium

Radio: 1160AM, 102.7FM

TV: The mtn.

E-mail: [email protected]