Cowboys Visit Aztecs For First Conference Road Trip of the Season

Oct. 25, 2011


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This week will see the Wyoming Cowboys make their first Mountain West road trip of the season, traveling to San Diego State. Saturday's game is scheduled to kickoff at 8 p.m., Mountain Time (7 p.m., Pacific) from San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.

Wyoming and San Diego State both enter this week with 4-2 overall records. Both teams began the 2011 season 3-0, then lost their next two games and won their most recent outings. Both are also coming off a bye last week. Wyoming is 1-0 in conference games, having defeated UNLV, 41-14, in Laramie. San Diego State is 1-1 in conference play. SDSU lost at home to TCU, 14-27, and then captured a road win at Air Force, 41-27.

The Cowboys won their last meeting in San Diego versus the Aztecs by a score of 30-27 in 2009, and defeated SDSU 35-10 in Laramie in 2008. Wyoming will be looking to win for the third time in the last four overall meetings versus SDSU. The one meeting won by San Diego State in the last three meetings was last year in Laramie, by a score of 48-38.

The Cowboys and Aztecs will be playing each other for the 33rd time on Saturday. Wyoming holds a two-game advantage in the series with 17 wins versus 15 losses. The last two meetings in 2009 and 2010 were won by the road team. Four of the last nine games in the series have been decided by five points or less and eight of the nine have been decided by less than two touchdowns. The only game in the last nine meetings decided by more than two touchdowns was a 35-10 Wyoming victory in Laramie in 2008. The Cowboys are 6-10 in games played in San Diego, Calif.

Wyoming's Brett Smith is one of only two Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) starting freshman quarterbacks who have led their teams to winning records this season. Smith has led UW to a 4-2 record. Rutgers' Gary Nova has led his team to a 5-2 start. Smith enters this week ranked No. 2 in the Mountain West Conference and No. 38 in the nation in total offense (255.8 yards per game) this season. He also ranks No. 3 in the MW and No. 48 in the NCAA in passing yards (220.7 yards per game).

San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman leads the nation in rushing entering this week, averaging 138.8 yards per game. But as a team, the Wyoming Cowboys rank higher than the Aztecs in rushing offense. Wyoming ranks No. 28 in the NCAA this season in rushing offense (192.7 yards per game). SDSU ranks No. 39 as a team (179.3 yards per game).

The other featured offensive performer for SDSU is senior quarterback Ryan Lindley, who was a Second Team All-Mountain West selection as a junior in 2010. Lindley is ranked No. 4 in the Mountain West in both passing yards (214.2 yards per game) and total offense (210.7 yards per game).

The Cowboys and Aztecs enter this week's game sharing several similarities. Both teams won their first three games of the 2011 season, lost their next two games and then won their most recent game entering this week. The Cowboys and Aztecs have each had two byes this season -- both had their first bye on Oct. 1 and lost their first game coming off the bye. Both teams also had a bye this Saturday. Each team has faced one nationally-ranked team to date. Wyoming lost at home by 24 points (14-38) to then No. 9 ranked Nebraska. SDSU lost by 21 points (7-28) on the road at then No. 21 ranked Michigan.

Wyoming is ranked No. 4 in the MW in scoring offense, averaging 30.3 points per game. San Diego State is ranked No. 5 in the conference, averaging exactly one point less per game than the Cowboys at 29.3 points per game. Wyoming and SDSU are tied for No. 2 in the Mountain West and No. 35 in the nation in sacks, averaging 2.33 sacks per game. San Diego State is the least penalized team in the Mountain West and ranks No. 11 in the nation, averaging only 38.0 yards in penalties per game. Wyoming ranks No. 2 in the MW in fewest penalty yards, and ranks No. 34 in the nation, averaging 42.3 penalty yards per game. Both teams are among the best in the nation in Turnover Margin. SDSU ranks No. 1 in the MW and No. 6 in the nation, with a +1.50 turnover margin. Wyoming ranks No. 3 in the conference and No. 13 in the NCAA with a +1.00 turnover margin.

UW will be looking to see if it can capture the magic it experienced the last time it visited San Diego on Nov. 14, 2009. Wyoming was able to win that road game versus the Aztecs, 30-27. That preceded a second road win at Colorado State on Nov. 27, 2009. Those two road wins catapulted UW on to a postseason appearance in the 2009 New Mexico Bowl. The two MW road wins at San Diego State and Colorado State were the last two conference road wins by the Pokes. Wyoming lost its four conference road games in 2010 -- at TCU, at BYU, at New Mexico and at UNLV. The Cowboys are 1-1 in road games this season, having won at Bowling Green and lost at Utah State. Wyoming is 5-9 in road games during the Dave Christensen era, which breaks down to a 3-3 road record in 2009, a 1-5 road record in 2010 and a 1-1 record away from home this season. UW is 3-3 in non-conference road games under Christensen and 2-6 in MW road games.

Wyoming senior linebacker Brian Hendricks is averaging 8.7 tackles per game this season to once again lead the Cowboys in tackles. He not only leads UW in tackles, but entering this week, he ranks No. 3 in the Mountain West Conference and is tied for No. 52 in the nation among all defenders in tackles this season.

For the past four seasons, there has been no more consistent player for the Wyoming Cowboys than senior defensive lineman Gabe Knapton. He started his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons at inside linebacker in UW's 3-4 defense. As a junior, he was asked by the coaching staff to move to defensive end in a new 4-3 defensive alignment, and as a senior he has played both defensive end and defensive tackle. Through it all, Knapton has epitomized the term "team player". Against UNLV on Oct. 15, 2011, Knapton recorded 10 tackles to improve his career tackle total to 325 and move him into eighth place in UW history. He passed former Cowboy great Mike Schenbeck, who made 324 career tackle from 1985-88.

Knapton was named by as the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in a 41-14 home win over UNLV on Saturday, Oct. 15. He recorded 10 total tackles, including 1.0 sack for eight yards, while leading a Wyoming defense that allowed UNLV only 104 passing yards, only 258 yards of total offense and held the Rebels to only 14 points. Knapton keyed the Wyoming defense as they shut out UNLV in the second half and allowed the Rebels only 75 total yards in the second half.

Wyoming junior wide receiver and punt returner Chris McNeill was named the Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week by the Mountain West for his performance versus UNLV. He was also honored by as the National Punt Returner of the Week. McNeill, a junior from Simi Valley, Calif., returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown at a critical point in the third quarter of Wyoming's game versus the Rebels. With Wyoming leading by only nine points (23-14), McNeill fielded a UNLV punt on the bounce at his own 24-yard line and took it down the sideline and into the end zone to extend Wyoming's lead to 16 points at 30-14. It was McNeill's first career punt return for a touchdown, and was the first punt return for a TD by a Cowboy since Josh Barge returned a punt for a touchdown against Ole Miss on Sept. 25, 2004. On Wyoming's first play of the fourth quarter versus UNLV, McNeill threw the first touchdown pass of his career -- a 28-yard TD strike to quarterback Brett Smith. McNeill followed up that TD pass with a successful two-point conversion, throwing a pass to UW H-Back Mat Birkeness to give Wyoming a 38-14 lead.

The Aztec defense has been one of the best in the nation in pass defense this season, allowing opponents only 181.2 yards passing per game to rank No. 15 nationally. Opponents have been more successful on the ground, rushing for an average of 223.3 yards per game, which ranks SDSU 117th in the country. Even though they've given up an average of 404.5 yards of total offense to opponents, ranking them 76th in the nation, the Aztec defense has been stingy giving up points. SDSU is allowing only 24.5 points per game to rank No. 49 in the nation.

Rocky Long is in his first season as head coach at San Diego State, but he is no stranger to Mountain West Conference opponents as he served as the head coach at New Mexico for 11 seasons from 1998 through the 2008 season. Long posted a 65-69 overall record as head coach at New Mexico and a 41-41 conference mark. He led the Lobos to five winning seasons, including an 8-5 record in 2003 and a 9-4 mark in 2007, and five bowl games -- the 2002 and 2003 Las Vegas Bowls, the 2004 Emerald Bowl and the 2006 and 2007 New Mexico Bowls. For three consecutive seasons from 2002-04, the Lobos finished second in the Mountain West Conference.

Long was the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Wyoming for five seasons from 1981-85. He coached under head coach Al Kincaid at Wyoming.

Saturday's game will be televised live by The Mtn. As with all Wyoming Cowboy Football games, the Cowboy Sports Network will broadcast the game on radio beginning with the pregame show one hour prior to kickoff, or 7 p.m., Mountain Time this Saturday.