To sum up Colorado State’s defense in a sentence, in the season opener, Colorado State allowed 7.5 yards per play against South Dakota State, an FCS team.
“But Tom,” you’re asking, “South Dakota State is a good FCS team!” Yes, the Jackrabbits averaged 6.7 yards per play last season, so you are correct that giving up 7.5 yards per play would only make Colorado State a below-average FCS defense. I watched part of that game and Colorado State’s defense was simply getting bullied by South Dakota State’s offensive line. Of course, I then watched Vanderbilt’s offense score three points on ETSU. Something has to give in this matchup.
That said, the Rams at least have some talent. 6’6”, 270-pound defensive end Scott Patchan had three quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss in the season opener; the Miami transfer was a first-team All-Mountain West selection in the abbreviated 2020 season. Having an experienced pass rusher with Power 5 size is a good starting point against, well, the Vanderbilt offensive line. Starting tackles Manny Jones (6’4”, 290) and Devin Phillips (6’2”, 305) are highly experienced, and by the standards of the Mountain West, this looks like a pretty good defensive line.
But that didn’t help Colorado State stop South Dakota State from ripping off big plays in the run game. The linebackers are experienced as well, with second-team All-Mountain West selection and team captain Dequan Jackson (6’2”, 230) manning the middle. Jackson and Cam’ron Carter (6’2”, 230) are both seniors and returning starters from 2020. The third linebacker, Tavian Brown (6’1”, 230) is basically new this season, getting his first career start in the opener after posting three tackles in 2020.
The defensive backfield is the weak point of this defense. The starting cornerbacks, Rashad Ajayi and Marshaun Cameron, are both multi-year starters (and Cameron is in his seventh year of college football after starting his career at FCS Northern Colorado), but neither of them are guys who opposing quarterbacks should be afraid to throw at; both of them only have a single interception in their careers at Colorado State. Starting safeties Henry Blackburn and Tywan Francis have both started three career games. This secondary got picked on by South Dakota State quarterback Chris Oladokun and if the pass rush isn’t making life miserable for Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks then this secondary probably won’t present much of a problem.