When Colorado's Ken Crawley watched film of the end of Colorado State's 2013 season, he saw a much different quarterback than the one he and the Buffaloes faced in the 2013 opener.
"I've noticed that he's progressed a lot," Crawley said about CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson. "He got better as the season went on and he matured a lot."
On Friday, the Buffs and Rams will square off in the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown at Sports Authority Field. The Buffs can expect to see a better performance from Grayson, who completed just 22 of 39 passes for 201 yards in the 2013 Rocky Mountain Showdown.
The 6-foot-2 Grayson was even worse in the Rams' second game last year, against Tulsa. It's no coincidence that CSU started off 0-2.
By season's end, though, Grayson had a school-record 3,696 passing yards, along with 23 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. The Rams went 8-4 in their final 12 games, including a victory over Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl. Six times in those last 12 games, Grayson threw for more than 300 yards and five times he completed at least 70 percent of his passes.
"He's a great quarterback," Crawley said. "To me, I compare him to a Pac-12 quarterback. He's good. He'll hit his targets and he's got veteran receivers."
Of course, the emergence of running back Kapri Bibbs, who set CSU single-season records for rushing yards (1,741) and rushing touchdowns (31), helped. CU coach Mike MacIntyre said he thinks Bibbs' play made life easier on Grayson.
Still, MacIntyre credited Grayson for then coming through with big plays.
"I do think that he has improved every year," MacIntyre said. "The thing that you notice about Garrett, he gets them in the right play, he makes the right reads, he makes all the throws and he's a big strong guy that can run a little bit. So, I'm impressed with the young man. I really am."
That could spell trouble for a CU defense that has been porous against the pass in recent seasons. But, Crawley is one of several veteran defensive backs on the roster and he believes that group is better equipped to handle quarterbacks like Grayson.
"We've got quarterbacks that give us great looks, just the same as him," Crawley sad. "We just do our job and we'll be fine. We're mature. We've got chemistry. As a group, I feel like we're better as a secondary."
Senior defensive tackle Juda Parker agrees. He's seen a lot of big plays and touchdowns throws against the Buffs in recent years, but said that has changed in practice.
"When I look back and the ball is being thrown 40 yards down the field, I see pass breakups, I see interceptions, I see strip attempts and stuff like that," Parker said. "So, I feel that the guys are really coming together as a unit. I'm excited to see what's going to happen on game day."
Helping the young DEs
Of the top six defensive ends on the CU depth chart, four are freshmen that have never played a college snap. The other two — Jimmie Gilbert and De'Jon Wilson — are sophomores with a combined one start and 437 plays under their belts. In fact, Gilbert and Wilson are the only two among CU's 10 ends to have played a Division I snap.
Because of that inexperience, the Buffs could lean on their veteran defensive backs, led by senior Greg Henderson and Crawley, for assistance. Better coverage in the back helps the pass defense, even if the linemen aren't getting to the quarterback.
"I really feel it will ease us up, knowing that they can hold a lot longer and all the things they need to do," said Parker, a starter at defensive tackle.
Parker added, however, that the key to the pass defense is getting the linemen to bring heat, so those young ends will have to come through eventually.
"It all starts up front," he said. "If we can't get the job done up front, it makes it tough for the secondary. We're going to get those guys right up front. I have a ton of confidence in our upperclassmen leadership to get it done."
Henderson said the game with CSU is always a fun one. "It's definitely a chippy game every year I've played in it," he said. "I love rivalries. It reminds me of old-school football and I like stuff like that." ... Since the CU-CSU series resumed in 1983 after a 25-year hiatus, only one CSU quarterback has led the Rams to two wins against the Buffs: Matt Newton in 1999 and 2000. Grayson, who beat the Buffs in 2012, is looking for his second win against CU.