BYU Faces Tough Test Against CSU in MWC Opener

<b>TODD WATKINS</b>

On the heels of a tough nationally televised 28-27 road loss last Friday to No. 21 Boise State, BYU looks to rebound Saturday in Fort Collins, Colo., when the Cougars take on Mountain West Conference foe Colorado State.

The Rams enter the game 1-3 following a 39-14 victory over Montana State on Saturday. Colorado State, like BYU, has faced a very difficult schedule, losing games against No. 1 ranked USC and No. 19 Minnesota.

Last season, the Rams defeated BYU 58-13 in Provo. Senior quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt led the Rams attack throwing for three touchdowns in the Colorado State victory. Still, the Cougars lead the series 32-27-3. The two teams first faced off in 1922 with a 33-0 Rams victory. BYU, however, hasn't defeated the Rams in Fort Collins since their 28-21 victory in 1995.

Since the MWC was established in 1999, BYU has posted a 3-2 record in conference openers. Last season, BYU recorded a 10-7 win over New Mexico in Albuquerque in a game where the Cougars lost starting quarterback Matt Berry for four games after he injured his hand in the first half.

BYU has also posted a 3-2 record in conference road openers. Including Saturday's game against Colorado State, BYU has opened its Mountain West schedule on the road in five out of the last six seasons.

The Cougars currently have two players from Colorado on their roster – John Denney (Thornton High) and Nick Alletto (Parker High).

One of BYU's most memorable games came against the Rams in 1974, helping to propel the Cougars, who were 0-3 going into the game, to a 7-4-1 season and their first-ever bowl game. The Rams scored a touchdown to tie the game with no time on the clock, but missed the extra point.

BYU coach Gary Crowton also has ties to Colorado State, having played quarterback in Fort Collins in the late seventies.

Since the conference formation, the Cougars have posted a 21-14 record in the MWC, but only one outright MWC title when they posted a 7-0 conference record in 2001. It is the only perfect conference record in the brief history of the MWC.

In all sports, BYU has won an overwhelming number of MWC championships, winning 53 out of a possible 95 championship titles.

Saturday's game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain and by SportsWest TV locally beginning at 8 p.m. MST. As usual, KSL Radio and Dish Network (channel 980) will also carry the game on radio.

BYU's projected starting offensive line averages 6-4 and 312 pounds and they face a CSU defensive line averaging 6-4 and 268 pounds. When the Rams' have the ball, Cougar defensive linemen that average 6-4 and 293 pounds will face a CSU front five that are listed at 6-4 and 300 pounds.

Todd Watkins, BYU's top wide receiver, had a breakout game against Boise State with nine passes for 211 yards and one touchdown. He is currently ranked fourth in the nation and first in the MWC in receiving yards per game with an average of 127 yards per game. In his first season at BYU, Watkins has recorded touchdown receptions of 69 and 79 yards on the season. He ranks just ahead of Colorado State's top wide receiver David Anderson, who is ninth nationally and second in the conference with 108.25 yards per game.

Meanwhile, BYU punter Matt Payne currently ranks third in the nation and first in the MWC in punting with an average of 46.25 yards per game. Behind Payne's powerful leg, the Cougars lead the MWC and are fifth in the nation in net punting, posting a 45.14 yard net average per punt. The 6-4, 234 pound kicker from North Ogden, Utah, was also been a tackling terror on punt coverage, recording two ESPN SportsCenter highlight-reel hits on Boise State kick returner Chris Carr last Friday.

On offense, BYU is currently last place in the MWC and 95th nationally in total offense with an average of 309 yards per game. Despite the low ranking in total offense, the Cougars are second in the conference in passing offense and 14th nationally.

Following John Beck's career-high 390 yards against Boise State, the Cougars are now averaging nearly 284 yards passing per game. BYU continues to struggle in the running game, however, ranking last in the conference and next to last in the nation in rushing. The Cougars average just 25.25 yards rushing per game.

In Colorado State, BYU will face a defense that ranks seventh in the MWC in total defense, giving up just over 434 yards a contest. The Rams are 112th in the nation against the rush, yielding 262.25 yards per game, but are first in the conference and 33rd in the nation against the pass. Colorado State gives up just 172 yards a game through the air.

On defense, the Cougars rank fifth in the MWC and 79th nationally in total defense, giving up 389.5 yards per game. BYU also ranks seventh in the MWC against the pass, giving up 277 yards passing a game, and third in the conference against the rush giving up 112.5 yards per game.

BYU faces a Ram offense that boasts the nation's ninth best passing attack. CSU quarterback Justin Holland is fourth in the conference in pass efficiency. Also, Colorado State ranks just ahead of BYU in rushing offense in the MWC, averaging 82.75 yards per game.

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