It has been awhile since the Wyoming Cowboys have started out a season like this. The Cowboys are 6-2 overall and are a perfect 4-0 in the Mountain West Conference, sitting atop the Mountain Division by themselves. The 1998 season was the last time the Pokes started a season like this, with a 7-1 overall record and a 6-0 start as a member of the Western Athletic Conference. This week the Cowboys continued to received votes in the national polls, ranking 33rd in the Associated Press poll and 34th in the Amway Coaches poll. Wyoming was also selected by the Football Writers Association of America as its National Team of the Week following its win over No. 13 ranked Boise State last Saturday.
But it is their next challenge that the Cowboys are focused on and that is an old rival this week in the Utah State Aggies.
Fans may purchase tickets to this Saturday’s game at: GoWyo.com/tickets, by calling 307-766-7220, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by stopping by the UW Athletics Ticket Office on the west side of the Arena-Auditorium.
The Cowboys and Aggies will be meeting for the 67th time in the two schools’ histories. For the fourth straight year they will be playing for the "Bridger Rifle" traveling trophy. Of late the Aggies have had the edge, winning the last four meetings. But this year’s Cowboy team is a much different team than past years. Wyoming is one of the top scoring teams in the Mountain West Conference this season. UW is averaging 33.9 points per game, ranking No. 2 in the conference and No. 37 nationally. That is a dramatic improvement from last season when the Cowboys averaged 19.0 points per game to rank 11th in the Mountain West.
The Cowboys are seeking their fifth consecutive win of the season. The last time UW won five games in a row was back in 1998, winning seven consecutive. In terms of home games Wyoming is pursuing its sixth consecutive home win dating back to the final game of the 2015 season. The last time that milestone was accomplished was midway in the 2006 season through midway into the 2007 campaign when UW won six consecutive home games.
Other phases of the game that the Cowboys have improved in are rushing offense and rushing defense. Those are two areas head coach Craig Bohl and his staff have emphasized since they came to UW three years ago. Wyoming ranks No. 5 in the Mountain West and 28th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 223.9 yards per game. Defensively, the Pokes rank No. 3 in the Mountain West and No. 40 in the nation in rushing defense, allowing opponents only 141.9 rushing yards per game. A year ago, Wyoming ranked No. 9 in the MW in rushing offense (173.4 ypg) and No. 10 in rushing defense (225.2 ypg).
Junior Brian Hill continues to be one of the nation’s top running backs, ranking No. 3 in the NCAA this season, rushing for 144.5 yards per game. Last week in Wyoming’s victory over No. 13 ranked Boise State, Hill ran for 146 yards to improve his UW career record to 3,583 yards and become the first Cowboy in history to rush for over 3,500 career yards. Hill has 1,156 rushing yards this season, and is pursuing his own Wyoming single-season records of 1,631 total yards and 121.3 yards per game.
Numerous Cowboys received individual accolades after last week’s victory. Senior nose tackle Chase Appleby and senior tight end Jacob Hollister were named the Mountain West Defensive and Offensive Players of the Week. Senior punter Ethan Wood was selected the Ray Guy Award National Punter of the Week, and redshirt sophomore quarterback Josh Allen was one of eight quarterbacks nationally named Manning Award Stars of the Week.
The Cowboy defense has come up with big plays all season but none bigger than last Saturday when Appleby sacked Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien for a game-winning safety. Junior cornerback Rico Gafford also made two key plays, intercepting a Bronco pass to set up a Wyoming TD, and forcing a fumble that was recovered by fellow junior cornerback Robert Priester.
Other big plays in the win came from quarterback Allen, who threw for a career high 274 passing yards and three touchdown passes and accounted for a career best 327 yards of total offense. Allen’s favorite target on the day was Hollister, who also set personal career highs for catches (6), receiving yards (144) and TD receptions (2). Hollister’s most spectacular catch came on Wyoming’s game-tying touchdown drive when, with a defender in his face, he caught a 27-yard pass down the sideline. Later in that drive, Allen scrambled out of the pocket and found senior wide receiver Tanner Gentry in the back of the end zone, where Gentry went high above his defender to pull down the TD reception. Allen found another senior receiver, Jake Maulhardt, for the two-point conversion to tie the game.
The Wyoming special teams also made a huge impact in the game. Wood punted five times, placing four of his punts inside Boise State’s 20-yard line, including pinning the Broncos back on their own 10-yard line to set up Appleby’s winning sack for a safety. Boise State did not score on any of its possessions following Wood’s punts. True freshman place-kicker Cooper Rothe was a perfect 2 for 2 in field goals against Boise State, including hitting a career long 40-yarder and a 39-yarder. Rothe continued his season long streak of consecutive point-after-touchdown attempts. He was a perfect 2 for 2 in PATs vs. the Broncos, and has now made all 33 of his extra-point attempts this season. Wyoming’s punt coverage team allowed Boise State a net of only two punt return yards on five punts.
An amazing stat from Saturday’s game is the Cowboys did not commit a single penalty in their 30-28 win over Boise State. That is the first time Wyoming did not have a penalty in a game since Nov. 11, 1989, on the road at San Diego State. The Cowboys, however, lost that game to the Aztecs 27-17.
Utah State brings a 3-5 overall record into Saturday’s game and is 1-4 in Mountain West Conference play. The Aggies entered the 2016 season having appeared in five consecutive bowl games. This season they could easily have two more wins to their credit. They lost a seven-point game, 27-20, to Air Force and lost another seven-point game at Colorado State, 31-24. The Aggies have built much of their recent success around their defense, and that continues this season. USU ranks third in the MW and 35th in the country in total defense. On offense, junior quarterback Kent Myers ranks No. 2 in the league in total offense, averaging 245.5 yards per game, and he ranks No. 3 in the MW in passing yards, 208.2 yards per game.
Saturday’s game will be televised live on ESPN2. The game will be broadcast live on radio over the 25 affiliate stations of the Cowboy Sports Network, beginning with the pregame show one hour prior to kickoff