Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre says he isn't concerned with not knowing who will start at quarterback for Colorado State on Sunday because he doesn't expect much to change in the Rams offense regardless of who is taking snaps.
MacIntyre and his staff respect the fact that CSU can make plays in the passing game, but facing a potential All-American center anchoring a veteran offensive line, two potential NFL tight ends and several strong running backs, MacIntyre is emphasizing stopping the run.
"We have to stop the run," senior defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe said. "That's one thing our coaches have been preaching to us. I feel like we've been doing a good job out here.
"I feel good. My technique during this fall camp has gotten better against the run. There is still always some things I can work on to get better at it, but as far as my basic technique, I feel I have that down and I'm going to make a big step up against the run this year."
Uzo-Diribe and his teammates will face a big test on the ground when the season opens Sunday in the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Sports Authority Field in Denver.
Colorado State wasn't exactly stellar running the ball throughout the 2012 season, but the Rams improved in the final five weeks of the season rushing for at least 150 yards in four of their final five games. Most of the contributors to that improvement return this season including tailbacks Donnell Alexander and Chris Nwoke.
"They've been together for three years and they're very talented and they have their goals," CU defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat said. "At the end of the year, they were achieving their goals. They went from 99.6 yards a game to over 160 yards per game. We understand that it's a very talented offensive line group and we're going to have to play up to their level."
Jeffcoat has watched a handful of his defensive linemen drop significant weight in the offseason and learn to play with quickness and agility this month. But their first real test comes against the Rams.
Jeffcoat says he is going into the season believing he will be able to rotate between eight and 10 defensive linemen. But he said that number could change based on individual performances, injuries and other needs.
"I want to play guys and keep them fresh and going after people," Jeffcoat said. "I want to keep them with a lot of energy."
The CU defensive line will face a CSU offensive line featuring four seniors and one junior. Center Weston Richburg has started 36 straight games for the Rams and didn't commit a penalty all of last season. He is on the preseason watch lists for the Rimington and Lombardi Awards and the Outland Trophy.
"We've definitely have been paying attention to him on film and really making sure we know how he kind of works," CU sophomore defensive tackle Tyler Henington said.
CSU ran the ball 44 times for 125 yards in last year's game against the Buffs, but the Rams were able to control the game in the second half, earning tough yards by winning in the trenches.
The Buffs are expecting the Rams will try to pound them until they prove they can stop the running game. Jeffcoat said his players have to be mentally sharp and do all the little things right to win the battle this time around.
"The biggest thing is to understand our assignment and our gap control, not jumping out of gaps and understand where we've got to be at any certain time," he said. "That helps us. We have to make sure we're physical. Make sure we're using our hands and make sure that we're shedding blocks and getting to the ball."
Henington said he and his teammates on the defensive line feel confident about the task in front of them. They believe they can be much improved from last season when the CU defense allowed 226 rushing yards a game. Playing well up front will go along way toward becoming a tougher run defense.
"To me, a good D-line can basically win any game," Henington said. "If a D-line dominates an O-line, then that team has a great chance of winning. We've got to come out and we've got to play like we know how to. We'll see what happens."