CSU-Air Force rivalry heats up

Updated: October 15, 2003, 2:10 PM ET

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- In a game that typically pits two evenly matched teams, the kicking game might prove to be decisive. And that has Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry fretting.

Colorado State kick returner Dexter Wynn has been a difference-maker in recent weeks, and DeBerry isn't sure how to stop him when the Mountain West Conference title contenders meet here Thursday night.

Two weeks ago against Fresno State, Wynn had 110 return yards in a 34-10 win. Last week against BYU, Wynn gained 142 return yards, including a 37-yard punt return to set up the Rams' first touchdown in a 58-13 romp.

"Dexter Wynn has had a tremendous impact in the return game the last two weeks," DeBerry said. "I regard him as the best in the country. I don't know of anybody who's better.

"The kid in Kansas City (the Chiefs' Dante Hall) has kind of opened the door for him, and I anticipate that Dexter will have an opportunity to be a kick returner in the NFL. He's done it so well for four years. I'll just be glad when he graduates."

DeBerry's Falcons also must contend with multifaceted quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt, who has spurred the Rams back to dominance the last two weeks after unexpected losses to Miami of Ohio and Utah.

Van Pelt, who threw three touchdown passes against BYU, climbed from eighth to fourth in the NCAA pass efficiency rankings. He already has 14 TD passes after 10 last season.

Van Pelt also is a dangerous runner, having rushed for 154 yards against Fresno State and 51 against BYU.

The magnitude of Colorado State's win over BYU opened some eyes around the Mountain West.

"CSU did whatever they wanted to," DeBerry said. "They have the balance they've always tried to have. They're a very difficult team to prepare for because they can equally run the ball as well as throw it.

"I don't know where you attack them," he added. "I don't really see any weaknesses in their offense. They're capable of exploding like that against anybody."

CSU (4-3, 1-1 Mountain West) has had a full week to prepare, while Air Force (6-1, 3-0) is working on a short week. The Falcons beat UNLV 24-7 on Saturday.

Rams coach Sonny Lubick said the extra time is vital to prepare his defense for the Air Force wishbone and quarterback Chance Harridge, who ran for 89 yards and two TDs last week.

"You have to gear up so much to stop the run," Lubick said. "The techniques of your defensive linemen are different from what we've been teaching them throughout the year. We've tried to get a good pass rush, but that's not in the game plan at all this week. We don't care about the pass rush, even though they'll throw it a few times.

"We have to stop those power plays coming right at you. And your defensive linemen have to play a little more laterally and they can't be rushing up the field because then you create creases for the quarterback to duck up in there. So it's a whole new mentality for our guys."

CSU is averaging 456.7 yards per game in total offense -- 17th in the nation -- compared to Air Force's 404.1. The Rams lead the conference in scoring at 31.9 points per game, while Air Force is first in scoring defense at 16.6.

Colorado State has won the last two meetings, including 31-12 last year at the academy, but the teams have split the last six meetings.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index