Sept. 17, 2013
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Tickets | Gameday Central | Wyoming Notes | Air Force Notes | ESPN3 Mountain West Conference play opens for the Wyoming Cowboys this Saturday when they travel to the Air Force Academy to face the Air Force Falcons for the 52nd meeting in the series between the two longtime rivals. Saturday's game is scheduled to kick off at 8:21 p.m., Mountain Time from Falcon Stadium.
The Cowboys (2-1 overall and 0-0 in the Mountain West) and Falcons (1-2 and 0-2 in the MW) have played many close games through the years, and the recent history of the series definitely reflects that. Since the 1996 meeting, which Wyoming won by three points (22-19), 10 of the last 16 meetings have been decided by single digits. Of those 10 close games, two were decided by one point (`05 and `12) and two by three points (`96 and `99).
This week's game will be televised live on ESPNU. As with all Cowboy football games, the Cowboy Sports Network will broadcast the game live on its 25 affiliate stations. This Saturday's pregame show will begin at 7 p.m., Mountain Time.
The Cowboys enter this week ranked No. 2 in the Mountain West and No. 19 in the nation in total offense, averaging 534.3 yards per game. Wyoming junior quarterback Brett Smith ranks No. 8 in the country in total offense (367.7 yards per game).
Smith needs only one more touchdown pass to set the new UW career record. He currently is tied with Casey Bramlet (2000-03) with 56 career TD passes.
Wyoming's defense ranks No. 2 in the Mountain West and No. 33 in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing only 18.0 points per game.
The Cowboys are looking to win their third game in a row this season. UW is coming off back-to-back home wins over Idaho (42-10) and Northern Colorado (35-7) the past two weeks. The Pokes won three in a row toward the end of last season, defeating Colorado State, New Mexico and UNLV in three straight weeks before losing the 2012 season finale vs. San Diego State.
Wyoming has scored 30 or more points in each game this season. The Pokes scored 34 at Nebraska in a 34-37 loss, 42 vs. Idaho in a 42-10 win and 35 against Northern Colorado in a 35-7 victory. That marks the first time since the last game of the 2010 season and first two games of 2011 that the Pokes have scored 30 or more points in three consecutive games. UW defeated Colorado State 44-0 in the final game of 2010 and began the 2011 season with a 35-32 win over Weber State and a 45-10 victory over Texas State. The last time Wyoming scored 30 or more points in three consecutive games in the same season was the 2009 campaign, with a 30-27 win vs. UNLV, followed by a 30-28 road win at Florida Atlantic and a 37-13 victory over New Mexico. Wyoming currently ranks No. 3 in the Mountain West Conference and is tied for No. 41 in the NCAA in scoring, averaging 37.0 points per game.
Last Saturday, the Wyoming defense played a big role in the scoring vs. Northern Colorado, returning two interceptions for touchdowns. In the second quarter, junior middle linebacker Jordan Stanton returned an interception 39 yards for a TD to give Wyoming a 14-0 lead. In the fourth quarter, redshirt freshman defensive back Cortland Fort intercepted a pass and returned it 50 yards for a TD. It was both Stanton's and Fort's first interceptions as Cowboys. The last time Wyoming had two interception returns for touchdowns in the same game was Oct. 9, 1999, when linebackers Cortney Barnes and Matt Klotz each returned interceptions for touchdowns in a 32-35 home loss to UNLV.
This year's Wyoming defense is led by senior free safety Marqueston Huff, who ranks No. 1 among all Mountain West defensive backs in tackles and ranks 20th in the nation in tackles, averaging 10.3 per game. Sophomore defensive end Eddie Yarbrough leads all MW defensive linemen in tackles, averaging 8.7 per game. Yarbrough also ranks No. 1 in the conference and No. 9 in the NCAA in sacks (1.33 sacks per game), and he is No. 2 in the league and No. 9 in the country in tackles for loss (2.00 TFLs per game).
Wyoming junior wide receiver Dominic Rufran was added this week to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, joining teammate Robert Herron on this year's list. Rufran currently ranks No. 3 in the Mountain West Conference and No. 11 in the nation in receptions (8.33 per game). He also ranks No. 3 in the MW and No. 34 in the NCAA in receiving yards (89.3 yards per game). The Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation, Inc., the creator and sponsor of the Biletnikoff Award, presents its award to college football's outstanding receiver each season.
Rufran and Herron form the top ranked receiving tandem in the Mountain West this season. Rufran and Herron enter this week ranked No. 3 and 4, respectively, in the Mountain West in receiving yards, and rank No. 34 and 37 in the nation in receiving yards. Rufran is averaging 89.3 yards per game, and Herron is averaging 87.7.
One facet of the Wyoming offense that is much improved this season is the running game. Wyoming is averaging 218.0 yards rushing per game to rank No. 4 in the Mountain west and No. 39 in the nation. A year ago, the Cowboy rushing attack generated an average of only 125.2 yards rushing per game to rank No. 9 in the MW. In terms of yards per carry, the Cowboys are averaging 5.9 yards per rush this season. In 2012, UW averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.
A big key to Wyoming's improved rushing attack is sophomore running back Shaun Wick, who is averaging 99.3 yards per game to rank No. 2 in the league and No. 36 in the country. Wick is also averaging 6.9 yards per carry, which is the highest average per carry of any of the top five ranked backs in the conference.
A look at Air Force
Air Force opened the season with a 38-13 victory over Colgate, but have dropped their last two contests. Utah State went to Colorado Springs on Sept. 7 and defeated Air Force 52-20. The next week, the Falcons traveled to Boise, Idaho, and fell to the Broncos 42-20.
Sophomore quarterback Jaleel Awini leads the Falcon offensive attack. Awini has 186 yards passing this season along with 152 yards rushing and a team-leading three rushing touchdowns. Awini leads the team with 112 yards of total offense per game. His counterpart in the backfield, junior running back Broam Hart, is the team's leading rusher with 182 yards (60.7 per game) and two rushing TDs. Senior wide receiver Ty MacArthur has seven receptions for 99 yards.
As a team, the Falcons average 253 yards per game on the ground and ranks No. 2 in the MW and No. 24 nationally. They utilize several players in the scheme, as 15 different players have rushing stats this year. Defensively, Air Force has yielded 470 yards per game and 36 points, including nearly 270 yards through the air each game.
Linebacker Joey Nichol and defensive back Christian Spear, both juniors, are the leading tacklers entering the UW game with 29 and 23, respectively. Spears has one interception this season, while Nichol has two tackles for loss.
The Falcons have performed well on special teams this year, as junior place-kicker Will Conant has hit all five of his field-goal attempts, including three from 30-plus yards and one from 50-plus.