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2021 opponent preview: Colorado State Rams

Steve Addazio is looking to build something in Fort Collins

NCAA Football: Colorado State at San Diego State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Much like Kent State, Colorado State’s original schedule was shortened to four games due to the Mountain West-only schedule & a number of cancellations. They went 1-3, scoring just 22 points per game while allowing nearly 36.

Their only win of 2020 was a 34-24 defeat of Wyoming where they were able to build a 17-point lead on the back of their defense and former QB Patrick O’Brien’s best game. They struggled on all sides of the ball in their three losses, including a 31-point loss to Boise State where they allowed a blocked field goal and two blocked punts to be returned for scores.

They were led by first year head coach, Steve Addazio, who went 44-44 in 7 years at Boston College before joining the Rams. In his tenure as CSU head man, five former BC players have transferred to Fort Collins.

CSU schedule ahead of Iowa

9/4: v. South Dakota State
9/11: v. Vanderbilt
9/18: @ Toledo

The Rams’ schedule is full of opportunity for them to flip the script from a staid 2020 campaign. With the reigning FCS runner up & the SEC doormat coming to town, it could mean a couple wins (or a couple losses!). A trip to Toledo, who went 4-2, may be their trickiest game if they get through their home slate unscathed.

Three guys

David Bailey (RB, 6’1”, 236 lbs, Jr): The incoming BC transfer could be just what the doctor ordered, in terms of juicing a run game which averaged just 3.2 yards per carry last fall. To be fair, it goes deeper than just running back ability but the Rams’ leading rusher from 2020 remains classified a wide receiver so getting Bailey could do the trick.

Bailey is a multi-dimensional back who led the Eagles last season in rushing and accumulated 844 yards as AJ Dillon’s #2 in 2019. Though he saw his role increase last season, he struggled to maintain the same efficiency as he had as the backup in 2019, seeing his yards/carry drop from 5.7 to 4.0.

However, this is a guy who can win his fair share of battles in 1-on-1 situations. The question will be whether the CSU scheme can get him enough of those to make a difference against Iowa.

Dante Wright (WR, 5’9”, 180 lbs, Jr): In just three games last season, Wright gained 315 yards for 15.8 per reception. However, he didn’t catch a single touchdown, down from 4 the prior season. Wright has also been used successfully in the run game, especially his freshman season, for 250 yards on 26 attempts.

He’s a speedster who can leverage shorter passes and runs for significant YAC but also someone who can beat coverages over the top. For Iowa to contain CSU’s passing game, it starts with Wright.

Dequan Jackson (LB, 6’2”, 235, Sr): One area where the Rams didn’t struggle was in run defense, holding opponents to just 2.5 yards/carry in 2020. Jackson was a big reason why as he led them in tackles at 40 with 5.5 coming for a loss.

Assorted Commentary

Does Iowa take advantage of CSU’s weakness?

Right now, CSU is a sieve in the defensive backfield, allowing 250 passing yards per game in Addazio’s first season. After some strong seasons of pass defense at BC - 2015 through 2017 saw the Eagles allow 205 or less YPG - it reverted in his final two seasons at Chestnut Hill. If the Rams are unable to right the ship early, it should mean plenty of opportunity for Spencer Petras. Yet the only time Petras has thrown for more than 250 yards in a game was his very first: 265 against Purdue with a 56% completion percentage.

Additionally, Iowa receivers should be coming into their roles by the fourth game of the season. Tyrone Tracy & Sam LaPorta could be game-breaking options with Nico Ragaini providing steadiness in the slot. If a tertiary option has not emerged by this juncture, Colorado State could be an opportunity for a freshman (Keagan Johnson?) or previously deep bench guy (Desmond Hutson??) to emerge.

Can Iowa build depth?

On the face of it, the Rams look to be the weakest team of Iowa’s first four opponents and the best opportunity for Iowa to (re)introduce a number of backups to the fray. Obviously, Alex Padilla, and Deuce Hogan, stick out as the most interesting of Hawkeye reserves who could get some run. However, running back might be the most important area for Iowa to find key reserves in this contest. With their stout run defense, rushing yards could be hard to come by but if any non-Tyler Goodson back steps up, it’ll be a great sign for the state of the position.

Additionally, Iowa’s defensive line may see a number of bodies rotate throughout the contest. If Bailey’s inclusion raises the Rams’ run game, does the line rise to the challenge?

Does Iowa look ready for Big Ten play?

Obviously they’ve played one game already at this point but a thorough win may allow Hawks fans to eliminate pessimism as the calendar turns to October and conference opponents return to Iowa’s schedule.