FACTS & STATS: Site: H.A. Chapman Stadium (30,000) -- Tulsa, Oklahoma. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: Colorado State 0-0, Tulsa 0-0. Away Record: Colorado State 0-0, Tulsa 0-1. Neutral Record: Colorado State 0-1, Tulsa 0-0. Conference Record: Colorado State 0-0, Tulsa 0-0. Series Record: Tulsa leads, 4-3.
GAME NOTES: After each team suffered disappointments in the first week of the season the Colorado State Rams clash with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at H.A. Chapman Stadium on Saturday.
In the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown, the Rams were done in by rival Colorado, 41-27. Colorado State has never had a ton of success against the Buffaloes with a 62-21-2 record all-time against them following Sunday's defeat. Colorado State did manage to win the opening weekend contest with the Buffaloes last season but finished the year at 4-8 overall, obviously a mark the Rams hope to improve on this season.
For a team that won 11 games a year ago, Tulsa sure didn't look the part against Bowling Green on Saturday. The defending Conference USA champions were unceremoniously run over in the game, winding up on the wrong end of a 34-7 score. Tulsa also dropped its season-opener last year to Iowa State (38-23) before winning 11 of the final 13 games, including a 31-17 victory over the Cyclones in the Liberty Bowl. The bowl win was the fifth in the last eight years for Tulsa.
Tulsa and Colorado State will be meeting for the eighth time and first since being Western Athletic Conference foes. In the seven previous meetings Tulsa holds a 4-3 edge. However, Colorado State took a 34-7 victory in the last meeting during the 1998 season. The Rams moved to the Mountain West Conference after that campaign.
The Rams were within six points, 33-27, late in the fourth quarter but a breakdown on defense allowed Colorado to score on a 75-yard pass play with just over three minutes to play and run away with the contest.
The score wasn't really indicative of how the game was played. The Rams managed to pick up only 294 yards of offense, while being held to less than 100 yards rushing (94). The Rams also missed out on one of their four trips to the red zone and fumbled the ball twice. Execution on third down was also a weak spot as the Rams converted on just 2-of-14 chances.
Garrett Grayson took every snap from under center for the Rams and was solid. Grayson, who was in a competition with Conner Smith all summer, completed 22- of-39 pass attempts for 201 yards and was not intercepted. However he also didn't throw any touchdown passes. For now Grayson seems to have the job but Smith is still an option.
As for the skill positions, Colorado State didn't get a ton out of its receivers and running backs. Kapri Bibbs performed admirably at running back, slicing his way for 70 yards and a pair of scores on 15 attempts. However Donnell Alexander and Chris Nwoke, the top returning rushers, combined for just 24 yards on eight attempts.
On the receiving end, Joe Hansley was the top target as he hauled in eight passes for 91 yards. Rashard Higgins picked up 57 yards on his six catches but no other receiver had more than 25 yards.
While the offense struggled to pick up yards and convert first downs, the defense wasn't putting up many road blocks for Colorado. The Rams ranked fifth in the MWC last season in total defense (405.6 ypg) but on Saturday they surrendered 509 yards, including 400 yards through the air. A year ago the passing defense for the Rams was their strength, as they ranked 26th nationally (203.2 ypg).
The showing was obviously a letdown for a team with a solid returning core. Kevin Pierre-Louis made the most of his opportunities in the defensive backfield as he totaled a game-high 15 tackles. Bernard Blake and Aaron Davis each collected 11 stops, while Cory James built off his impressive rookie campaign with nine tackles. Shaquil Barrett had eight tackles, 3.5 of which resulted in a loss, including a sack.
A year ago Tulsa averaged more than 450 yards of total offense, ranking among the 30 best teams in the country. The Golden Hurricane certainly saw a major regression from that to kick off the 2013 campaign.
Despite having Cody Green return under center for his senior year, the Golden Hurricane finished with just 273 yards and 13 first downs, going 0-of-3 on scoring chances within the red zone. The 273 total yards were the fewest for the Golden Hurricane since 2009. Tulsa also failed to control the clock, in part because it could not find rhythm in the running game. The Golden Hurricane rushed for just 51 yards as a team and held the ball for just over 21 minutes.
Returning starter Trey Watts, who rushed for a team-high 1,108 yards a year ago, had just eight yards on four carries, while Ja'Terian Douglas was the top ball-carrier with only 22 yards. As a team the Golden Hurricane averaged just 2.1 yards per carry.
Though more productive, it was not as if the passing game was overly efficient. Green totaled 172 yards, completing an even 50 percent of his pass attempts (17-of-34). Dane Evans accounted for the only passing touchdown in the game, but completed just 3-of-7 attempts for 50 yards.
Derek Patterson hauled in the lone score and finished with 45 yards receiving. Patterson was one of four different receivers to record at least three catches and more than 30 yards though none had more than Jordan James (58).
The puzzling step backward by the offense was paired with an equally troubling defensive effort. The Golden Hurricane were a top-25 team in the country in terms of total defense (347.8 ypg) in 2013, but against Bowling Green, Tulsa struggled.
Tulsa was gouged for 401 yards of total offense, with the bulk coming on the ground (238). Last season the Golden Hurricane ranked 16th nationally against the run (119.6 ypg).
Some of the blame for the struggles on defense can obviously be accredited to the lack of returning starters. Tulsa has just two starters return from last year.
Michael Mudoh had plenty of opportunities, collecting a game-high 17 tackles. Mitchell Osborne (11 tackles) and Trent Martin (10) also recorded double-digit tackle totals in the contest while Martin had the team's only sack. Dwight Dobbins had three stops and also collected an interception.
Clearly both of these teams are still shaking off the rust of the long offseason. Watts was a 1,000-yard rusher a year ago and it is unlikely that he will continue to struggle. Expect Tulsa's offense to get the ground game going early and get back on track. Colorado State will put up a strong fight, but Tulsa has the better chance to rebound, especially at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulsa 26, Colorado 20
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