Oct. 2, 2012
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
The 2012 season marks the 14th season of the Mountain West Conference, and this Saturday's Wyoming-Nevada contest is the first conference game of the year for the Cowboys. Wyoming enters this week with a 1-3 overall record. The Wolf Pack is 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the Mountain West this season, having defeated Hawai'i on Sept. 22. All MW schools, except UW, have already played at least one conference game this season. Saturday's Wyoming-Nevada game will kick off at 5 p.m., Mountain Time (4 p.m., Pacific).
The Cowboys are coming off their only bye week of the 2012 season. The week prior to its bye, UW captured its first victory of 2012, defeating Idaho 40-37 in overtime in Moscow, Idaho.
Nevada is coming off a 34-21 road win at Texas State last week.
This week's Mountain West opener with first-year conference member Nevada will mark the third time in the 14 seasons of the conference that the Cowboys have opened Mountain West play against a team from the state of Nevada. The other two MW openers vs. teams from the state of Nevada were against the UNLV Rebels, including a 41-14 Cowboy win last season. Cowboy head coach Dave Christensen is 2-1 in his three previous conference openers. Wyoming has won five of its last eight MW openers
Wyoming and Nevada will be meeting for the fifth time in the two schools' histories. The series is tied at 2-2. This week's meeting will be the first time that Wyoming and Nevada have played each other as conference foes. The Cowboys and Wolf Pack have never been members of the same conference until this season.
Wyoming and Nevada are two of the most explosive offenses in the nation this season. Wyoming is No. 2 in the Mountain West and No. 36 in the NCAA in passing offense. Nevada is ranked No. 2 in the Mountain West and No. 4 in the nation in rushing offense, and is No. 1 in the MW and No. 5 in the nation in total offense. Wyoming is averaging 277.8 yards passing per game. Nevada is averaging 308.8 yards rushing per game and 557.6 yards of total offense.
Some of the most dynamic offensive performers in the nation will be on display when the Wyoming Cowboys and Nevada Wolf Pack play on Saturday. Cowboy quarterback Brett Smith leads the MW and ranks in the Top 10 in the NCAA in passing yards, total offense and passing efficiency. Nevada running back Stefphon Jefferson ranks No. 1 in the nation in rushing offense.
Smith is rated No. 1 in the MW and No. 6 in the NCAA in passing efficiency (179.6 rating), is No. 1 in the conference and No. 7 in the nation in total offense (362.3 yards per game) and is No. 1 in the league and No. 9 in the country in passing yards (328.3 yards per game). His leading target is senior wide receiver Chris McNeill, who is No. 2 in the MW and No. 41 in the nation in receiving yards (80.5 yards per game). McNeill enjoyed one of the greatest single games in Wyoming history when he had 219 receiving yards at Idaho on Sept. 22. McNeill caught eight passes, including catches of 73 and 80 yards. His 73-yarder was good for a touchdown. The 219 yards ranks as the sixth best single-game performance in school history, and was only the 11th 200-yard receiving game in the 116 seasons of Cowboy Football.
For Nevada, Jefferson is averaging 175.4 yards rushing per game to lead the nation. His running mate in the backfield is sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo, who ranks No. 2 in the Mountain West in total offense behind only Smith. Fajardo averages 351.4 yards per game. He is No. 5 in the conference and No. 29 in the NCAA in rushing (102.6 rushing yards per game), and is No. 3 in the league and No. 42 in the country in passing yards (248.8 yards per game).
The Wyoming Cowboys took a very positive step forward in their Sept. 22 game at Idaho as the defense forced three turnovers by the Vandals, while the offense didn't commit any turnovers themselves. It was the first time this season, that Wyoming won the turnover battle. The Cowboys have to continue to improve to match their very successful turnover numbers of the 2011 season, when they ranked No. 1 in the Mountain West and No. 9 in the nation in turnover margin.
Winning close games was a hallmark of the Wyoming Cowboys 2011 season. UW won all five games it played that were decided by eight points or less. Through the first four games of the 2012 season, the Pokes have had three games decided by a total of eight points, but the Cowboys haven't enjoyed the same success. Wyoming has won one of those close games by three points in overtime at Idaho but lost the other two close games by two and three points to Cal Poly and Toledo, respectively.
On defense, three Cowboy seniors rank among the top individuals in the nation in tackles this season. Linebacker Korey Jones ranks No. 1 in the Mountain West and No. 34 in the nation in tackles this season (averaging 9.5 per game). Defensive tackle Mike Purcell ranks No. 3 in the MW and No. 57 in the NCAA (averaging 8.8 tackles per game), and free safety Luke Ruff ranks No. 8 in the MW and No. 88 in the nation (8.0 tackles per game).
In 2011, Wyoming's Blair Burns was named First Team Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. In 2012, he has continued to distinguish himself as one of the top defensive backs and punt returners in the Mountain West and the nation. Burns has broken up 6.0 passes this season -- two each against Texas, Toledo and Cal Poly -- to rank No. 3 in the Mountain West and tie for No. 22 in the nation in passes defended. He is averaging 12.6 yards per punt return this season, ranking him No. 2 in the MW and No. 29 in the NCAA.
As with all Cowboy Football games, the Cowboy Sports Network will broadcast Saturday's game live over its 25 affiliate stations beginning with the pregame show at 4 p.m., Mountain Time, one hour prior to kickoff at 5 p.m.
There is no television coverage of Saturday's game from Reno, Nev.