No. 22 ThunderWolves travel to Texas to battle defending champions and No. 1 Lions

No. 22 ThunderWolves travel to Texas to battle defending champions and No. 1 Lions

CSU-PUEBLO GAME NOTES (PDF)
TEXAS A&M-COMMERCE GAME NOTES (PDF)

PUEBLO, Colo. (Sept. 19, 2018) - Looking to bounce back from the first loss of the year, the No. 22 Colorado State University-Pueblo football team will travel to the defending NCAA Division II National Champions and No. 1 team in the nation, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Sept. 22. The contest is set for a 5 p.m. MT start in Commerce, Texas.

The game can be watched live on the Texas A&M-Commerce webstream here https://portal.stretchinternet.com/tamucommerce/ with a cost of $7.95 per game.

THE GAME 

• The meeting between the ThunderWolves and Lions is the first in program history.  

• The Pack will be coming off a 35-21 road loss at now-No. 17 Colorado School of Mines. The Orediggers used big plays on offense and defense to defeat the then-No. 9 ThunderWolves. CSU-Pueblo collected more yards (435-267), but allowed 14 points off turnovers in the second half to trail 35-14 with 10 minutes left in the fourth. 

• The Pack fell to No. 22 in the AFCA poll and No. 23 in the d2football.com poll.

• Texas A&M-Commerce is 3-0 and holds down the No. 1 spot in the AFCA poll after winning the 2017 NCAA Division II National Championship. They rank No. 3 in the d2football.com ranking. 

• The Lions are coming off a 21-11 win at Eastern New Mexico. TAMUC jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but the lead was 14-11 early in the fourth quarter after an ENMU touchdown and two-point conversion. With 9:54 remaining in regulation Carandal Hale broke a 32-yard touchdown run to give the road team a 21-11 lead it would hold to the end. 

• CSU-Pueblo owns a 17-7 (6-3 on the road) record versus ranked opponents (Division II) since 2011. 

• The ThunderWolves have battled the AFCA's No. 1 team twice, with both meetings being against Minnesota State University, Mankato. The Pack defeated the No. 1 Mavericks 13-0 in the 2014 National Championship game and lost 16-13 in overtime last season in the first round of the NCAA DIvision II Playoffs. 

• Since the restart in 2008, the ThunderWolves have a 4-2 record when playing in Texas. 

SCOUTING THE PACK 

• The run game was averaging 390.5 yards per game and ranked No. 1 in Division II before being slowed by Mines and only mustering 112 yards. The Pack are now fifth nationally with 297.7 yards per game. 

• RB Marché Dennard was kept in check against Mines, but still leads NCAA Division II with 9.77 yards per carry. His five rushing touchdowns is T-9th nationally and he ranks 33rd with 303 yards (101 ypg).  

• QB Brandon Edwards threw for a career-high 315 yards and a touchdown against Mines. His top target was WR Cole Forsgren, who had a career game with eight receptions for 130 yards.  

• The Pack defense allowed two big scoring plays in the first quarter of 70 and 58 yard runs and would allow 203 yards of offense in the first frame. The rest of the game the ThunderWolves allowed just 64 yards, totaled three sacks (-16 yards) and forced and recovered a fumble..

• Mines entered as the No. 4 passing team nationally (371.5 yards per game) and the defense help them to 88 yards through the air.  

• The ThunderWolves finished with eight tackles for loss (-42 yards) and three sacks (-16 yards) against the Orediggers. CSU-Pueblo sits 9th nationally in tackles for loss (10.3 TFLpg) and 21st in sacks (3.33 spg).  

• ILB Brandon Payer gathered 15 tackles against Mines. He leads the RMAC and ranks 11th nationally with 12 tackles per game. His 2.2 tackles for loss per game ranks 21st in DII. 

• The defense hand't allowed a fourth quarter score in the previous seven regular season games until giving up a touchdown at Mines. In the last 12 regular season games the team has allowed just 17 points, dating back to Sept. 16, 2017.

SCOUTING TEXAS A&M-COMMERCE

• The Lions went 14-1 last season to claim the NCAA Division II National Championship.

• The team's scoring offense and defense hasn't been as strong as last year (37.1 ppg on offense and 16.7 ppg allowed on defense),  as they are averaging 28.3 points per game and allowing 21.3 points per game.   

• TAMUC defense has been finding its way into the backfield and ranks 6th nationally with 4.0 sacks per game and 7th in team tackles for loss with 10.7 per game. 

• The O-Line has done a good job keeping QB Preston Wheeler clean with just two sacks allowed (12th nationally) and rank T-15th nationally with 3.67 tackles for loss allowed. 

• Wheeler has the tall task of following Luis Perez, who was named the Harlon Hill winner last year after throwing for 4,999 yards and 46 touchdowns. Through three games he is 59-for-109 (54.1%) with 586 yards and four touchdowns. 

• DL Michael Onuoha has 4.5 sacks (-25 yards) to lead the team and rank 4th nationally. LB Brucks Saathoff has 38 tackles (15 solo) to sit 5th in DII.

• The Lions have been successful on special teams coverage and rank 5th nationally in kick return defense (12.33 ypr), 11th in punt return defense (0.00 ypr)  

THE POLLS 

• CSU-Pueblo entered the 2018 ranked No. 14 in the AFCA and No. 13 D2Football.com polls. The Pack were as high as No. 9 in both polls, but currently rank No. 22 in the AFCA and No. 23 in the D2Football.com rankings.

• The Pack ranked in the AFCA top 25 for 66 consecutive polls ranging from Sept. 5, 2011 (21st) to Sept. 5, 2016 (19th).

• The ThunderWolves ranked in the top 10 nationally for a NCAA Division II-best 37 straight weeks from Oct. 17, 2011 (eighth) to Oct. 6, 2014 (second).

TEAM NOTES

• Since 2008, CSU-Pueblo is undefeated when scoring 35 or more points (52-0) and when allowing 10 points or less (39-0).

• Since 2008, the ThunderWolves are 53-11 (.828) at the ThunderBowl.

• The ThunderWolves have eight scoring plays of 65-yards or more and own five scoring drives of 75 yards or more. 

• The ThunderWolves have scored first in all three games this season (2-1) and since 2008 own a 75-9 record.

CSU-PUEBLO POSITION NOTABLES

OFFENSE

• Last season, the Pack were 4th in the RMAC during the regular season in rushing offense with 191.5 yards per game. Against Dixie State, the ThunderWolves established a program record with 497 yards on the ground. The previous top three were: 481 against Westminster in 1977, 435 yards against Western New Mexico, Oct. 31, 2009 and last season's 405 rushing yards against New Mexico Highlands. 

• With 297.7 yards rushing through three games, the ThunderWolves rank No. 5 in NCAA Division II. 

• The Pack are racking up the yards by committee with three players who own 215 or more yards. Marché Dennard owns 303 yards on 31 carries with five touchdowns. He ranks 1st nationally in yards per carry (9.77),  T-9th nationally in rushing touchdowns (5), 18th in total points scored (30), 33rd in rushing yards (303) and 36th in rushing yards per game (101). Austin Micci adds 252 yards (84 ypg) and three touchdowns. Finally, Bernard McDondle has 215 yards rushing  with three touchdowns and 74 yards receiving with a score. 

• With 37.0 points per game, the ThunderWolves are fourth in the conference and 25th nationally in scoring.

• Starting QB Brandon Edwards established a career high with 315 yards passing against Mines. He has produced an efficiency rating of 158.3, has thrown 25-for-43 (58.1%) for 458 yards and two touchdowns. His one interception was a desperation throw at the end of the Mines loss. Both his touchdown strikes have gone for 68 yards. 

• WR Cole Forsgren had a career game at Mines with eight receptions for 130 yards. He leads the team with 12 receptions (next has four) for 215 yards (next has 47) and a score. Forsgren is sixth in the RMAC in receiving yards. 

All five starting offensive linemen last season were seniors, but the new front didn't hesitate to step up and guided the rushing attack to a record 496 yards in game one. The Pack are fifth nationally in rushing. 

DEFENSE

• The Pack have been one of the most stingiest and unforgiving defenses in the nation the past eight seasons. Since 2011, the ThunderWolves have finished the season in the top 22 nationally in scoring defense, which includes leading the country in 2011 and 2014. CSU-Pueblo has also ranked in the top 21 in turnover ratio (or turnovers gained) in all but one season in that span with the nation's best mark in 2014. 

• The defense closed the 2017 regular season top 20 nationally in eight categories, red zone defense (3rd, 57.7%), interceptions (4th, 21), team passing efficiency defense (4th, 88.95), defensive touchdowns (7th, 5), scoring defense (10th, 14.3), total defense (10th, 273.5), turnovers gained (11th, 27) and passing yards allowed (18th, 164.6).

• CSU-Pueblo hasn't hesitated in creating turnovers and with five interceptions (three against Dixie State) the Pack rank 19th nationally. The seven total turnovers gained is 31st in DII. 

• Since 2008, the Pack have totaled 34 interception returns for a touchdown. The most in a season is five by the 2010, 2014 and 2017 squads. LB Kyle Rosenbrock recorded a pick six on the second play at Mines. He went 26 yards to the house.

• With 20.7 points per game allowed the ThunderWolves are second in the league.

• CB Darius Williams doesn't have a pick yet, but has at least one pick six in each of his three seasons with the Pack and four in his career. His eight interceptions last season established a new program record, was a RMAC best and ranked T-2nd in NCAA Division II. 

• Fellow starting CB Emery Taylor did have an interception against the Trailblazers after totaling six last season. He has one interception (vs Chadron) a team-high four pass break-ups this season. With five passes defended (1.7 per game), Tayor ranks 23rd nationally.

• CSU-Pueblo's rushing defense was established on game one of the program re-boot in 2008. The Pack allowed 13 yards rushing against Oklahoma Panhandle State (Sept. 8, 2008) and since have held their opponent to less than 50 yards rushing on 20 more occasions. 

• Six times since 2008 the ThunderWolves have allowed 10 or less rushing yards, with the record standing at -4 rushing yards at New Mexico Highlands Nov. 9, 2013.

• CSU-Pueblo was 1st in the league in the category last season and is second in the RMAC with 121.7 yards per game allowed.

• The Pack recorded seven sacks against DSU and compiled 15 tackles for loss. CSU-Pueblo ranks 9th nationally in tackles for loss (31, 10.3 TFLpg) and 21st in sacks (10, 3.33 spg). 

• DE Michael Wristen finished with 2.5 sacks (-16 yards) against Dixie State and leads the team in the category with 3.5 (-20 yards), which is good for third in the RMAC and 19th nationally (1.2 per game). He totaled 3.5 sacks in all of 2017.

• ILB Brandon Payer finished last season with 110 tackles with 71 solo. His 71 solo efforts established a new program record and ranked 22nd nationally.

• This season, Payer leads the RMAC with 36 tackles (14 solo) and adds with 6.5 tackles for loss (-14 yards) that ranks second in the RMAC. With 12.0 tackles per game he sits 11th nationally and the 2.2 tackles for loss per game is good for 21st in Division II.  

• CSU-Pueblo is third in DII in red zone defense. The ThunderWolves have allowed two scores in the red zone in five opponent attempts. 

• The Pack are second in the RMAC and 24th nationally in 3rd down conversion defense, as they allow their opponents to convert just a 26.9 percent of the time.

• The ThunderWolves are 11th nationally in passing yards per completion (16.9), 15th in passing efficiency defense (90.2), 20th in passing yards allowed (148 ypg).

SPECIAL TEAMS   

• The Pack had four blocked kicks last year and have already got their hands on a punt, an extra point attempt and a FG attempt, as Tanner Draper blocked a 27-yard attempt by Dixie State, which was recovered by James Maxie and returned by Darius Williams 68 yards for a touchdown. The three blocked kicks ties the Pack for 5th in Division II. On the flip side, CSU-Pueblo hasn't allowed a block in the first three games. 

• K Mitchell Carter was 55-for-56 on extra points in his first season with the Pack and started this year 15-for-15 and 2-for-4 on field goal attempts. 

• The ThunderWolves rank 14th nationally in net punting (40.5 yards) and 7th in punt return defense (-0.67 yards), while P Tanner Cuda's 43.6 yards per punt ranks 19th nationally.

• The Pack lead the RMAC and rank 22nd nationally in punt returns with 15.4 yards per return. WR Kevin Ribarich leads the RMAC and ranks 22nd nationally with 15 yards per punt return.  

#PACKPROS: CSU-Pueblo has three former players in the NFL right now. Ryan Jensen (2009-12) is in his sixth season  and first with Tampa Bay after five with the Baltimore Ravens. After a breakout season where he started all 16 games at center for the Ravens, Jensen inked the largest contract for a center in NFL history. Mike Pennel (2013) is in his fifth overall season and second with the New York Jets. Morgan Fox (2012-15) moved from the practice squad to active roster in 2016 and was on the active roster all of the 2017 season with the Los Angeles Rams. Unfortunately, Fox suffered a knee injury during OTAs and will miss the 2018 season. Darius Allen (2011-14) is currently with the Canadian Football league's Edmonton Eskimos. Pennel, Fox and Allen all play on the defensive line. 

VS. RANKED SQUADS: CSU-Pueblo owns a 17-7 (11-4 at home) record versus ranked opponents (Division II) since 2011. The ThunderWolves went 6-0 versus the nation's top 25 in 2014 and also added a 47-21 win against Sam Houston State (No. 15) to record the team's first-ever victory against a ranked FCS team. The Pack went 4-1 against ranked opponents in 2015 and had won 10 straight against the nation's best before the loss to Grand Valley State.

STREAKS: CSU-Pueblo posted three straight 11-0 seasons entering 2014 and was just one of two teams in NCAA Division II history to accomplish the feat. After starting 5-0 in 2014, the Pack owned 42 straight regular season victories, which was the second-longest in NCAA Division II history, behind only Grand Valley State, which posted 48 straight wins from 2004-09. The streak ended Oct. 11 in a 23-22 road loss at Fort Lewis.

The Pack recorded 28 consecutive regular season home victories from a 66-0 win against New Mexico Highlands Oct. 30, 2010 to a 51-20 win against Colorado Mesa Nov. 7, 2015. 

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As a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Colorado State University – Pueblo competes in 22 varsity sports in NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletics.