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Arkansas State Worries Bruce

From Associated Press

This time, Earle Bruce isn’t blowing any smoke when he praises a relatively obscure opponent.

Arkansas State set school records for first downs (224), passes completed (120) and passes attempted (307) last season, and the Indians return 10 starters from that offense.

“The only one that didn’t return was their center,” Colorado State’s head coach noted. “That means that Roy Johnson, their quarterback, and Larry Harris, their running back -- who’ve been very good for them -- are returning.

“We’re not going to take this team lightly, because they are experienced, they’re well-coached and they’re talented. This is a dangerous opponent.”

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When the two teams open the 1991 season Saturday at Hughes Stadium, it will be a near homecoming for former Wyoming coach Al Kincaid. Kincaid took over the ASU program last year, guiding the Indians to a 3-2-1 start that disintegrated into five straight losses to finish the season.

ASU nearly upset Wyoming, rallying from a 18-0 deficit into a 27-27 tie. The Indians were driving for a potential tying score when an interception at the Wyoming 18 with 1:12 left quelled the rally. The heavily favored Cowboys prevailed 34-27.

Kincaid has built his offense around Johnson, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior. The Indians will utilize the wishbone and double-slot formations, and they’re not afraid to throw the ball. Johnson set a school total-offense record in 1990, generating 1,941 yards, including 1,561 through the air.

Harris was the team leader in rushing with 490 yards on 90 attempts -- a 5.5 yard-per-carry average.

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Defense proved to be ASU’s Achilles heel, however. They allowed 313 points (28.5 average), the most by an ASU team since 1954, and yielded 30 or more points on six occasions. They also surrendered 430 yards per game, the most since such records began to be kept in the mid-1950s.

That’s an area no self-respecting Earle Bruce team would dare be vulnerable in.

CSU finished second in the Western Athletic Conference last season in total defense and scoring defense, and ranked ninth nationally in turnover margin -- with 40 takeaways and 26 giveaways. The Rams were second in the WAC and 18th in the nation in rushing.

The result was a 9-4 season that included a 32-31 Freedom Bowl victory over Oregon and tied the school record for most victories in a season.

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Among key returnees are quarterback Kevin Verdugo, tailback Brian Copeland, split end Greg Primus, linebackers Kevin Bruce and Otis Hamilton and cornerback Selwyn Jones.

Lynch (groin) and Copeland (hamstring) have been slowed by injury but are expected to play.

The Rams, after 1-11 and 1-10 seasons before Bruce’s arrival, went 5-5-1 in his first year in 1989, then followed with the nine-win campaign. But Bruce apparently doesn’t view the 1989 season as a winning campaign.

“This year is pivotal,” he said. “We need to be back-to-back winners, not just be a fly-by-night one-year affair.”

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