Shaq Bell picked today's game with San Jose State to highlight on his, because the Colorado State cornerback would like a bit of redemption when the Spartans (2-3, 1-1 Mountain West) and quarterback David Fales come to town for homecoming at Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium (1:30 p.m.; CBS-CS).
Fales torched the Rams (2-3) secondary for 370 yards and four touchdown passes a season ago, and Bell remembers all too well. He said they all do, and not in a good way.
"Yes sir," Bell said. "He's still very accurate, but he lost a couple of his good receivers. They've got young guys stepping up, but I've also seen that he's thrown four picks in two games. I'm going to try to take advantage of that, try to play sticky coverage and get my hands on the ball."
Fales, who made NFL scouts stand up and take notice in 2012, isn't having the same kind of year this season. It could be because the school's all-time leading receiver, Noel Grigsby, has been lost for the year. Or that another favorite target, Jabari Carr, has missed time (he is expected to play today). There's also the injury situation at running back and changes on the offensive front.
In short, Fales, who has still thrown for 1,512 yards and nine touchdowns (with seven interceptions), feels it's been hard for the group to find a rhythm. Against Hawaii last week, he felt the Spartans started to get their groove back.
"It's been a little difficult, but I think last week was a big step for our offense," he said. "We have flashes where we're kind of in synch, but when you lose a key player like Noel and Jabari Carr was out last week as well, and Tyler Ervin, it definitely throws a kink in your offense. We've got some young guys, Tyler Winston, Tim Crawley, Jarrod Lawson and Thomas Tucker, all freshmen, who played last week. I feel like we kind of got on the same page, and Hansell Wilson as well. It's just understanding our personnel and what we do well and using that to our advantage."
Crawley, Lawson and Tucker helped fuel a run game that hadn't existed before Hawaii (216 yards), and none of them were higher than fifth on the depth chart when the season started. But in the game, Fales still exhibited he has a strong enough arm to burn defenses deep, and that has been an issue for the Rams this year.
Giving up 25-yard gains through the air has been common, with four touchdown passes against the Rams covering 48 yards or longer.
In the words of Colorado State coach Jim McElwain: "I consider that a fatal flaw."
It could be today if the Rams don't improve, and the coach understands why his players want a shot at redemption.
"It's something I look forward, and as players, when you talk to your team, it's about challenges," he said. "Now, what are you guys on the edge going to do to challenge yourself not to give up those explosive plays? Safeties, when you're supposed to be in the deep third of the field, get there. Don't leave your corner on an island, a lot of those type of things. I think that's the fun part. Now you get to go on a Saturday, you get to put a plan in and now you get to go challenge yourself and see where you're at. This is a huge challenge."
Bell thinks the problems that have plagued the Rams this year -- missed assignments and sloppy tackling -- are easily correctable, but UTEP hit the Rams for three big passing plays in the third quarter two weeks ago.
It would also help if the Rams put a little more pressure on Fales than they did last year. They did get to him twice, but McElwain said the key is to try to make him move his feet and not set up and throw with fluidity all day.
"Well, just like any player, when you don't contain him and you don't do your job, there's going to be some threats," defensive lineman Curtis Wilson said. "That's going to put a lot of pressure on the defense. For a lot of guys, at least on the defensive front, we've got a lot of returners like Eli Edwards, Calvin Tonga and myself who have experienced him last year. And seeing the potential he has as an athlete, so that, along with the preparation we put in during the bye week and moving forward this week, we'll be in a better position to address that and really contain him and keep him from making plays on us like in the past."
With this being the start of Mountain West play, and also an afternoon where the Rams honor Greg Myers, the 1995 Thorpe Award winner as the nation's outstanding defensive back, there's not a better time to turn the page.
"It's very important, because I feel like most every game relies on the secondary," Bell said. "I feel that if we don't give any touchdowns or limit the explosive plays, we'll win the game. That's how I feel coming into this game."
San Diego St. 27, Air Force 20
San Diego St. 6 0 0 21--27
Air Force 0 10 10 0--20
SDSU -- Judge 44 pass from Kaehler (kick failed), :21.
AFA -- Romine 16 run (Conant kick), 10:54.
AFA -- FG Conant 48, :00.
AFA -- FG Conant 52, 9:27.
AFA -- Gagliano 71 pass from Romine (Conant kick), 3:53.
SDSU -- Pumphrey 20 pass from Kaehler (McMorrow kick), 11:25.
SDSU -- Ruffin 62 pass from Kaehler (kick blocked), 8:39.
SDSU -- Pumphrey 10 run (Vizzi pass from Kaehler), 1:39.
A -- 17,280.
First downs 22 14
Rushes-yards 46-214 49-169
Passing 249 150
Comp-Att-Int 15-26-1 6-12-0
Return Yards 5 0
Punts-Avg. 2-51.0 6-47.3
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 3-1
Penalties-Yards 6-40 6-45
Time of Possession 33:18 26:42
RUSHING -- San Diego St., Pumphrey 17-117, Muema 18-86, Kaehler 8-12, Young 1-3, Team 2-(minus 4). Air Force, LaCoste 22-109, Hart 9-27, Romine 8-15, Lee 2-11, Rushing 2-8, Huntsman 1-4, Roberts 4-0, Gagliano 1-(minus 5).
PASSING -- San Diego St., Kaehler 15-26-1-249. Air Force, Romine 5-11-0-111, Gagliano 1-1-0-39.
RECEIVING -- San Diego St., Ruffin 6-108, Lockett 3-29, Pumphrey 2-43, Craighead 2-3, Judge 1-44, Vizzi 1-22. Air Force, Griffin 2-37, Gagliano 1-71, Robinette 1-39, Hendricks 1-5, Brown 1-(minus 2).