Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl has had his team focused on one thing and one thing only this week. Their focus has been squarely on the New Mexico Lobos in the regular-season finale for both teams in Albuquerque. Wyoming enters the game with an 8-3 overall record and a 6-1 mark in the Mountain West Conference. New Mexico is 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the MW.
The game will kick off at 8:15 p.m. from University Stadium and will be televised on ESPN2. The Cowboy Sports Network radio broadcast will begin at 7 p.m. with the pregame show.
Bohl has emphasized to his team that their only goal is to be 1-0 after Saturday’s game. He and his team certainly know what is at stake Saturday -- a possible berth in the 2016 Mountain West Championship Game and a potential conference title. But the head coach has only spoken to his team about the fact they will be playing a quality team in the Lobos, who up until a week ago were also in contention for the conference championship.
This year’s meeting will be the 69th between the Cowboys and Lobos. Wyoming leads the overall series 36-32, but New Mexico has won the last two meetings in 2014 and 2015. Wyoming’s most recent win in the series was a 38-31 win in Laramie in 2013. The last time the Pokes won in Albuquerque was 2012. The largest margin of victory in the last four meetings was a 10-point win (38-28) by the Lobos last year in Laramie. The previous three meetings were each decided by a touchdown or less – Wyoming won in 2012 (28-23) and 2013 (38-31) and New Mexico won in 2014 (36-30).
The Cowboys control their own destiny in terms of capturing first place in the Mountain Division and earning a spot in the 2016 Mountain West Championship Game. Wyoming will capture the Mountain Division if it defeats the Lobos. The Cowboys also hold the tiebreaker over Boise State if both Wyoming and Boise State would lose this weekend. Boise State (10-1, 6-1 in the MW) travels to Air Force (8-3, 4-3 in the MW) for a Friday afternoon game. The only way Boise State can capture the division is if the Broncos win and Wyoming loses this weekend.
Wyoming features an offense that leads the league in scoring offense and ranks 19th nationally at 38.5 points per game. The Cowboys offensive attack has been very balanced, averaging 219.5 yards rushing and 227.6 yards passing per game for 447.1 yards of total offense per game. The Lobos are leading the nation in rushing offense, averaging 342.1 yards per game. While the two teams go about generating their offense in different ways, they have almost identical numbers in terms of total offense. New Mexico is averaging 450.3 yards of total offense per game. Wyoming is averaging 447.1 yards per game. UNM has also been effective at scoring points, ranking fourth in the Mountain West and 29th nationally with a 36.2 scoring average.
The Pokes offensive has a dynamic trio of running back Brian Hill, quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Tanner Gentry. It has been rare to have a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver and a 2,500-yard passer in the same season during Wyoming Football history. But this season the Cowboys have three individuals who have reached those milestones with Hill rushing for 1,548 yards, Gentry having 1,020 yards receiving and Allen passing for exactly 2,500 yards entering Saturday’s game. The last time Wyoming accomplished that triple was back in 1994 when Ryan Christopherson rushed for 1,455 yards, Marcus Harris had 1,431 yards receiving and John Gustin passed for 2,757 yards.
Gentry reached the 1,000-yard milestone for a single season last week when he caught four passes for 58 yards against San Diego State. He is the first Cowboy to have a 1,000-yard receiving season since Jovon Bouknight had 1,116 receiving yards in 2005.
Hill is in pursuit of his own school single-season record of 1,631 rushing yards that he set a year ago. Hill has 1,548 yards thus far this season, and needs only 84 yards to break his own record. He also enters this week with 3,975 career rushing yards and needs only 25 to become the first Cowboy to rush for 4,000 career yards.
Defensively, Wyoming continues to make big plays as it did last Saturday when senior linebacker Lucas Wacha recovered a San Diego State fumble that led to a field goal. Wacha also broke into the Wyoming Top 10 in career tackles last Saturday. He enters this week with 325 career tackles to rank No. 9 in school history. He needs only 10 more tackles to pass former Cowboy Tyler Gottschalk (334 tackles from 2000-03) for eighth place.
Special teams has also been playing a key role in Wyoming’s outstanding season. True freshman place-kicker Cooper Rothe has been a big part of the success story for Wyoming’s special teams. Rothe is on quite a field-goal streak of late. He has made his last six field-goal attempts. He made 2 of 2 field goals versus Boise State (40 and 39 yards), 1 of 1 against Utah State (20 yards), 1 of 1 at UNLV (46 yards) and 2 of 2 against San Diego State (32 and 34 yards). The last time Rothe missed a field goal was a 47-yarder against Nevada on Oct. 22.
Wyoming’s successful 8-3 record this season has been accomplished against the 19th most difficult schedule in the nation and the most difficult schedule in the Mountain West, according to NCAA Statistics. The NCAA measures the toughest schedules based on the winning percentage of a team’s FBS opponents for the season. The opposing FBS opponents that Wyoming has already played have a winning percentage of 57.6 percent against FBS schools, combining that with the winning percentage of UW’s final regular-season opponent, New Mexico, which is 6-4 (.600) against FBS opponents and the Cowboys’ opponents to date have a winning percentage of 57.8 percent. The next most difficult schedules faced by Mountain West teams were: Utah State (No. 21), San Jose State (No. 35) and Colorado State (No. 37).
New Mexico is led offensively by two outstanding running backs in senior Teriyon Gipson and sophomore Tyrone Owens. Gipson, who is a brother of former Wyoming Cowboys Marcell Gipson and Tashaun Gipson, ranks No. 4 in the Mountain West and No. 16 in the NCAA in rushing yards this season, averaging 110.2 yards per game. Owens is averaging 98.5 yards rushing per game to rank No. 6 in the MW and No. 29 in the country. Wyoming’s Hill ranks No. 3 in the conference and No. 4 in the nation at 140.7 rushing yards per game.
On defense, senior middle linebacker Dakota Cox leads the Lobos. He has 67 tackles on the season, including 2.0 sacks and 5.0 tackles for loss. Strong safety Ryan Santos and outside linebacker Austin Ocasio each have two interceptions this season. Defensive end Garrett Hughes leads the Lobos in sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (7.5).
This Saturday, Wyoming will be trying to win nine games in a single season for the first time since 1996, when the Cowboys posted a 10-2 record.