The fifth-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes will play their final non-conference game on Saturday against the Colorado State Rams. Coming off a 30-7 win against Kent State, Iowa took a step forward on offense while continuing to perform at an elite defensive level. Colorado State enters this game 1-2 on the season with an upset win over Toledo last week. The Rams have been progressing with every game this year under second-year head coach Steve Addazio and will have their toughest matchup to date.
Tight End U: Iowa v Colorado State
Colorado State began a rebuilding situation in 2020 when former Boston College head coach Steve Addazio took over the Rams program. They stumbled to 1-3 in the shortened season last year, but returned some numbers for the 2021 season. Their star offensive player is tight end Trey McBride. He led the Rams in receiving last year with four touchdowns and averaged 15 yards per catch.
This season, McBride continues to be the go-to guy. With 14 targets in each of the Rams’ first three games, he has recorded over 100 yards in each contest. McBride has a 92.6 overall receiving grade according to Pro Football Focus. That’s good for second-best in the country among all tight ends. McBride is a tough guy to bring down as well. At 6’-4” and 260 pounds, he has a good amount of quickness and can break tackles. Against Toledo last week, McBride caught a short pass at the line of scrimmage and broke two tackles, stiff-armed a linebacker, and hurdled a defensive back on his way to a 28-yard gain. He averages nearly six yards after the catch and will be a force for the Rams on Saturday. As one of the top-rated tight ends on many NFL draft boards, McBride has a future on Sundays.
Iowa has had a long line of top tight ends since Kirk Ferentz took over back in 1999. Guys like Dallas Clark, Tony Moeaki, George Kittle, and TJ Hockenson stand out, to name a few. The tight end room has proven to be top-notch this year as well. Sam LaPorta is the starter and has been Iowa’s leading receiver through three games this year. The third-year guy had a career-high seven receptions against Kent State last week and recorded a touchdown. LaPorta has been Spencer Petras’ favorite target all season, and his hands have been solid in the face of big hits. LaPorta stands at 6’-4” and 250 pounds, making him and McBride look like very similar targets.
While this Colorado State matchup might not be even on all ends, the showcase between two of the country’s best tight ends will be worth the watch. Both McBride and LaPorta have similar size and NFL potential. As their team’s top targets, expect both pass-catchers to have the ball in their hands often on Saturday. This “Tight End U” Iowa v Colorado State contest could have NFL scouts tuned in.
Colorado State began the season hosting South Dakota State who was the runner-up in the FCS Championship game earlier this spring. The Jackrabbits handled CSU fairly easily in the Rams’ late-night home opener. Colorado State then hosted Vanderbilt out of the SEC and took an early 14-0 lead. Running back David Bailey had a productive first half with two touchdowns, but the second half was all Vanderbilt. CSU gave up 21 unanswered points and couldn’t slow down the Commodores’ quarterback. Colorado State ended up losing the game, but they built off of that rhythm they had in the first half in the following week.
Last Saturday, the Rams traveled to Toledo and had themselves a rock-fight first half where they were only able to trade field goals. Late in the third quarter, Thomas Pannunzio ran a punt back 70 yards to give CSU a 13-6 lead. They ended with three field goals to beat the Rockets 22-6 in upset fashion. The Rams entered the game as 15-point underdogs and left Ohio with a 16-point victory. The key in that game was their defensive progression. Toledo put up nearly 800 yards of offense through two games including 353 in their near upset of Notre Dame. However, they only gained 291 yards against the CSU defense. Much of this production came from defensive back Jack Howell. In his first collegiate start, he recorded nine tackles and earned Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Week honors. The Rams have made solid progress defensively through only three weeks of play and things are looking up for this program.
Addazio Knows the Challenge
This game in Iowa City will be Colorado State’s first top five matchup since playing top-ranked Alabama back in 2017. They’ve only played two ranked teams since. Addazio knows the kind of preparation this caliber of matchup requires, and it doesn’t come easy. In his time at Boston College, Addazio routinely faced Clemson in the Top Five. He knows the challenge and the factor that crowd noise can play.
In an interview with Denver’s 9News this week, Addazio said, “There’s going to be a real crowd-noise deal here, this is something we have not had yet.” He said his team is excited and recognizes the physicality that will be required against this Iowa team.
He went on to say, “I want to see our physicality against what many would say would be one of the most physical football teams in all of America.”
Addazio will have the Rams ready for Saturday in what will be one of their more difficult contests of the season. Iowa has proven to be a physical team through the years. Colorado State will need to bring their best to this matchup inside Kinnick Stadium.
Tight End U: Iowa v Colorado State
In terms of an advantage, Iowa will have the edge when it comes to the defense. Although the Rams have improved significantly through three games, their offensive front is ranked 115th in the FBS in run blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus. Their pass blocking isn’t much better. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Iowa’s defensive line get consistent pressure on CSU quarterback Todd Centeio. If Centeio can get the ball out, however, Trey McBride is a big target at tight end and can be a weapon for the Rams’ offense. This matchup features two of the better tight ends in the country, and they should both get solid production all afternoon. At the end of the day, this should be a final tune-up game for the Hawks as they prepare for the remainder of their Big Ten schedule.