CSU Rams vs. Middle Tennessee football: Key matchups, predictions

CSU Rams (0-1) vs. Middle Tennessee (0-1); 2 p.m. Saturday, Canvas Stadium

TV/Radio: KCDO-3/1600 AM

Line: CSU -11, 56.5 over/under

Weather: 52 degrees, showers possible

What to know

Taking shots. One of the first things new CSU coach Jay Norvell brought up in his introductory news conference last December? His love of the vertical passing game. Outside of a late 34-yard touchdown hookup between CSU quarterback Clay Millen and receiver Tory Horton, however, there wasn’t much of that to be found last week in Ann Arbor. While Millen completed 16 of 20 passes, he averaged just 6.9 yards per completion. Of course, those routes take time, something the freshman signal caller had little of against Michigan. That must change in Norvell’s home debut.

Secondary struggles. Think things were bad for CSU last week? Middle Tennessee is coming off a 44-7 drilling at the hands of FBS newbie James Madison on the road. And guess who carved up the Blue Raiders from the pocket? None other than former CSU quarterback Todd Centeio, who threw for 287 yards and six touchdowns — or 40% of his passing TD total in 2021 (15).

Turnover battle. A year ago, MTSU made its bones on takeaways, producing an FBS-best 32. While a handful of the players who contributed to that stat are gone, it still must be a point of emphasis for CSU given how well the Blue Raiders offense takes care of the ball. That’s especially true of senior QB Chase Cunningham, who has just three interceptions in his last 208 passes.

Long road. It’s not often the Blue Raiders travel this far west, with the program entering the Mountain Time Zone just three times since 2013 (BYU once, UTEP twice). Saturday will mark the first time in MTSU history it will play in the state of Colorado. A big challenge for a program that’s 5-16 in its last 21 road games — and facing a CSU team that is 15-5 in its last 20 home openers.

Key matchups

Rams OL vs. MTSU pass rush. The lasting image from last weekend’s trip to the Big House? Rams QB Clay Millen getting swallowed up by a gang of Wolverines pass rushers. Were those seven sacks simply a case of too much Michigan talent? Or are there lingering issues up front for CSU? Saturday should offer some clues against an experienced MTSU defensive line (83 combined starts).

Rams DBs vs. MTSU’s Yusuf Ali, Jaylin Lane. The talent in the Blue Raiders’ offense is on the outside, where Ali and Lane provide senior quarterback Chase Cunningham with a pair of reliable pass catchers. CSU’s secondary held up, for the most part, vs. Michigan. A repeat showing could go a long way toward shutting down MTSU.


Sean Keeler, sports columnist: CSU 27, MTSU 25

Q: If you’re the Rams, what do you take from an absolute hammering at Michigan? A: A check. Hey, MTSU got blistered in its road-opener, too. Salty as James Madison is, though, the Dukes ain’t the Maize & Blue.

Matt Schubert, deputy sports editor: CSU 34, MTSU 24

After the four most demanding quarters of football the Rams will play all season, the bar gets a whole lot lighter for their home opener. And this is a lift CSU should handle just fine.

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