Las Vegas Sun

December 7, 2021

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Take Five: Getting to know Colorado State

Two 3-6 teams meet, both facing do-or-die situation heading into season’s final quarter

Leonard Mason


Colorado State junior running back Leonard Mason has been the motor behind the Rams’ offense in his first year in the program, with 606 yards and two touchdowns to his credit. CSU’s success on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium could depend on how productive he can be against a porous Rebels run defense.

Game Preview: Colorado State vs UNLV

With Colorado State coming to town, Rebels discuss bowl eligibility, Rodelin Anthony's health and Mojave-product Rashaun Greer.

Sanfordology: 7-on-7

UNLV head coach Mike Sanford breaks down the Rebels' 7-on-7 drill.

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Next game

  • Opponent: Colorado State
  • Date: Nov. 7, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
  • TV: The Mtn. (Cox Ch. 334)
  • Radio: ESPN 1100 AM
  • All-time series: CSU leads, 4-12-1
  • The line: UNLV by 1

What others are saying

Read what other writers are saying about UNLV's upcoming game against CSU:

Three weeks into the 2009 season, a regular season meeting down the road between UNLV and Colorado State had all the makings of deciding who lands one of the Mountain West Conference's last bowl bids.

That still could be the case, but it's just not as certain. Not by a long shot.

At that point, the Rebels were 2-1, with a narrow loss to Oregon State keeping them from a perfect start. Meanwhile, the Rams upset in-state rival Colorado en route to a 3-0 start, and were darlings of the MWC in the opening weeks.

Now, both are 3-6, and both need to win out to extend their respective seasons.

Tonight, when the two play at 7 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium, one season will essentially come to a close, while another clings to the last strand of hope for another week.

How UNLV slipped to where it is now has been well documented. Here's a look at CSU's path.

1) Bomb's away!

Colorado State may love to throw the ball deep downfield more than anyone in the conference. But at the same time, it's a double-edged sword for the Rams, as they possess the league's worst pass defense.

CSU ranks 110th in the nation out of 120 FBS programs in the category, surrendering 260.78 yards through the air per game.

However, this game could come down to whoever is more prolific in the passing game, as the Rebels haven't fared much better. They rank 85th in pass defense, allowing 237.44 yards per game. Making matters worse is that the Rebels rank dead last in the nation in interceptions with just two this season.

2) Power in numbers

UNLV coach Mike Sanford earlier this week alluded to the difference between the pass rush his offense will face this weekend against Colorado State and the attack they saw last Saturday in a 41-0 loss to No. 6 TCU.

While TCU goes on individual talent at the defensive end positions to create sacks and provide pressure, Colorado State sends the farm. One of the reasons the Rams are so vulnerable to the pass is that when they run into a veteran quarterback who can operate in a rapidly-shrinking pocket, it's do or die on their numerous blitz attempts.

This means that UNLV junior QB Omar Clayton could be in for a big night. Meanwhile, he may have several opportunities to get close with CSU defensive end Mychal Sisson, who is one of the Mountain West's true rising stars.

This season, he leads the Rams in tackles (65), tackles for loss (10.5) sacks (4) and pass break-ups (5).

The blitz-by-numbers approach has obviously been hit-and-miss. Aside from a poor performance in pass defense, CSU's 16 sacks ties for 70th in the nation.

3) Pound it, pound it, pound it

In his first season at Colorado State, head coach Steve Fairchild made a star out of burly senior running back Gartrell Johnson in his pro-style offense.

He had 1,476 yards on the ground and scored 12 times. Johnson helped himself become a draft pick of the San Diego Chargers with a 286-yard, 2-touchdown showing in a New Mexico Bowl victory over Fresno State.

Johnson was especially effective in wearing down the Rebels late in the Rams' 41-28 triumph over UNLV in Fort Collins last fall, leaving the opposing defense appearing helpless.

This season, the ground game was turned over to a newcomer of a similar build.

Junior college transfer Leonard Mason, who checks in at 6-foot and 216 pounds, has 126 carries for 606 yards this season, but has only reached paydirt twice.

Fellow junior John Mosure will also see some work, as he's produced 414 yards and three scores off of 86 totes.

This could turn out to be the bread-and-butter for the Rams, as UNLV's run defense was victimized yet again in Fort Worth and ranks 111th in the nation, giving up 212.33 yards per outing.

4) A great chance to stop the bleeding

Talk about two seasons in one.

After starting 3-0, including impressive victories against Colorado and UNR, the Rams completely faded.

The slide has been rough, too.

It started with a 42-23 loss at BYU, where CSU found itself down 21-0 after one quarter. Then came a two-point loss at Idaho. The next three were all gut-wrenching.

In succession, the Rams blew a 17-10 fourth quarter lead to fall at home to Utah, 24-17, then led early, 6-0, over TCU on the road, only to fall 44-6. After those was an embarrassing 42-28 loss at home to San Diego State in which the Aztecs outscored the Rams 35-7 in the second half.

However, the buzz is that the confidence hasn't wavered too much for CSU, who still believes strongly that it can get to 6-6 and eek out a bowl bid. The schedule says its possible.

If they can get past UNLV, the Rams get winless New Mexico on the road following a bye week, then finish up on the Friday afternoon following Thanksgiving at home against Wyoming, who is also fading late.

5) The deep duo

Two guys who could change this game in an instant are Colorado State senior receivers Dion Morton and Rashaun Greer.

The speedsters are each averaging over 18 yards per catch this season, and each have a season long catch of 57 yards.

Greer, a Mojave High grad who torched the Rebels a year ago with eight catches for 211 yards, has breakaway speed, while Morton averages 26.2 yards per kickoff return attempt this season.

Both have knacks for the big play, but that could depend on how accurate senior quarterback Grant Stucker happens to be. In his lone season as the Rams' starting quarterback, he's had his good days and his very bad days.

His so-so nature shows in his numbers, having completed 52.7 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions to his credit.

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