Coming off a thrilling last-minute victory at home last Saturday, the Wyoming Cowboys, 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the Mountain West Conference, will travel to East Lansing, Mich., this Saturday to face the Michigan State Spartans, 2-1 overall and 0-0 in the Big Ten, in a game that will kick off at 10 a.m., Mountain Time (Noon, Eastern Time). The Spartans are ranked No. 9 in both this week's Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls.
Saturday's game will be televised nationally on ESPN2, and as always the game will be broadcast on radio over the 26 affiliates of the Cowboy Sports Network. The radio broadcast will begin one hour prior to kickoff.
This is the second consecutive year that Wyoming has faced a Top 25-ranked Big Ten team. The Cowboys opened the 2013 season at then No. 18 ranked Nebraska. Wyoming fought the Huskers to the end as the Cowboys had one final possession to try and win the game before falling by a score of 37-34.
The Cowboys and Spartans of Michigan State will be playing for the third time in the two schools' histories. The previous two meetings were back in 1976 and '77, when the Cowboys made back-to-back trips to East Lansing. MSU won both previous meetings by scores of 21-10 in 1976 and 34-16 in 1977.
It's not often that the Wyoming Cowboys travel east of the Mississippi River to play football, but when they do the Pokes have enjoyed some past success. The last time Wyoming traveled east of the Mississippi was on Sept. 17, 2011, when they defeated Bowling Green, 28-27, on the Falcons' home field in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Wyoming has won five-consecutive games when traveling east of the Mississippi, and has won six of their last eight games played east of the Mississippi, with the only two losses coming in double overtime at Syracuse and in single overtime at Virginia. Over the past 15 seasons, Wyoming has traveled east 12 times and has posted a 6-6 (.500) record in those 12 road games.
The Wyoming Cowboys have shown an ability to put together exciting last-minute drives this season to capture two of their three victories. Wyoming trailed Air Force, 13-10, on Sept. 6 with 3:25 remaining in the game. Senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard proceeded to lead the Cowboys on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that took 2:27 off the clock for the winning touchdown on the Pokes final possession. Kirkegaard completed 6 of 7 passes on the drive for 73 of the 75 yards, and threw the winning TD pass to senior tight end J.D. Krill.
Last week's win over FAU will go down as one of the most memorable wins in Wyoming football history. It appeared as if the Cowboys were out of chances to comeback against Florida Atlantic. But every phase of the team contributed in the final 2:09 of the game to capture the unlikely win. Having failed to convert a fourth down and 22 at their own 11-yard line, the Cowboys turned the ball back to FAU on downs with only 2:09 remaining. But on the Owls first play of the ensuing series, senior linebacker Mark Nzeocha forced the FAU quarterback to fumble, and fellow senior linebacker Jordan Stanton recovered at the Wyoming eight-yard line.
It was then the offense's turn to make a big play. On first down Cowboy QB Kirkegaard found senior wide receiver Dominic Rufran over the middle and Rufran took off down the sideline for 88 yards before he was tackled on the FAU eight-yard line. A facemask penalty against the Owls on the play moved the ball to the four.
The Cowboy special teams finished off the miracle comeback four plays later as senior place-kicker Stuart Williams kicked an 18-yard game winning field goal with only 15 seconds remaining in the game.
Williams earned the first Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honor of his career on Monday, when the conference named him MW Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance versus Florida Atlantic. He kicked a 50-yard field goal in the second quarter to give the Cowboys a 10-3 lead. It was the longest field goal of Williams career. His previous long was 43 yards. His 18-yard game-winner was the second game-winning field goal of his career. He also kicked the game winner in a 59-56 overtime victory over Hawai'i in 2013. Williams was perfect against FAU, making both field-goal attempts and both PAT attempts. The senior is also perfect on the season, converting 4 of 4 field goals and 8 of 8 PATs.
Other Cowboys who had outstanding days last week were: senior linebacker Devyn Harris, who led the Pokes in tackles with 10; senior wide receiver Dominic Rufran, who recorded the eighth 100-yard receiving game of his career with 110 yards on four catches; junior running back Shaun Wick rushed for over 100 yards for the third time in four games this season with 111 rushing yards; and cornerbacks Blair Burns (senior) and Robert Priester (freshman) both recorded nine tackles. Priester also forced a fumble.
Even though it is early in the 2014 season, the Wyoming Cowboys and Michigan State Spartans have shared one common opponent this season -- the Oregon Ducks. Michigan State traveled to Eugene, Ore., on Sept. 6 and lost to the Ducks by a score of 46-27. The Spartans accounted for 466 yards of total offense, and gave up 491 yards to Oregon. Wyoming was Oregon's opponent the following week on Sept. 13, and fell to the Ducks, 48-14. The Cowboys generated 439 yards of total offense vs. Oregon, while giving up 556.
There is a family tie surrounding this week's game. Wyoming redshirt freshman strong safety Tim Kamana hails from Honolulu, Hawai'i, but his family has a direct tie to this week's opponent Michigan State. His father, Carter Kamana, lettered as a cornerback for the Spartans for four seasons from 1981-84. Tim Kamana played extensively in relief for senior starter Jesse Sampson in the Florida Atlantic game. Kamana could potentially make his first start against Michigan State this coming Saturday.
Another tie between the two teams' coaching staffs is current Michigan State wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel. Samuel was the wide receivers coach at North Dakota State in the 2008 and 2009 seasons under then NDSU head coach and current Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl.
Following this Saturday's game, Wyoming will enjoy its first bye of the season the weekend of Oct. 4. The Cowboys will return to action on Oct. 11 for a Mountain West Conference game at Hawai'i.