Nov. 26, 2013
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
As the Wyoming Cowboys and Utah State Aggies prepare for their regular-season finale this Saturday, there will be a lot on the line for both teams. For Wyoming, 5-6 overall and 3-4 in the Mountain West Conference, it must win Saturday to earn a 6-6 record to become bowl eligible. For Utah State, the Aggies are already bowl eligible at 7-4, 6-1 in the Mountain West, but they need to win to assure themselves a spot in the inaugural Mountain West Championship game on Dec. 7 in Fresno, Calif.
It will be a contrast in style when the two teams meet, with the nation's 13th ranked offense in the nation, the Wyoming Cowboys, facing the 13th ranked defense in the country, the Utah State Aggies.
Wyoming has relied on its offense all season. The Cowboys are averaging nearly 500 yards of total offense per game, and junior quarterback Brett Smith is ranked No. 8 in the NCAA in total offense, generating 344.7 yards per game himself. Smith is coming off a 640-yard effort last week in a 59-56 overtime win over Hawai'i. His 640 yards were the most yards generated by an individual player at the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level this season, and Wyoming's 793 yards of total offense ranked as the third best total by an FBS team this season. The Cowboys have achieved their offensive success with an extremely balanced attack, rushing for 205 yards per game (28th in the nation) and passing for 293 yards per contest (21st in the NCAA).
Utah State will enter Saturday as the No. 1 defense in the Mountain West in 2013. USU is allowing opponents only 333.4 yards per outing, ranking the Aggies No. 13 in the NCAA. Utah State is particularly adept at stopping the run, giving up an average of 119 yards on the ground (15th in nation). They also have been effective defending the pass, allowing only 214 passing yards per game (35th in the NCAA). The greatest strength of their defense has been in limiting opponents scoring. Utah State allows only 17.6 points per game to opponents, ranking the Aggies seventh in the country. A week ago, they shutout Colorado State in a 13-0 Utah State victory.
Smith became Wyoming's all-time leader in total offense last week. His 640 yards increased his career total to 10,209 yards as he passed former UW record-holder Casey Bramlet (9,575 yards of total offense). Smith set the Wyoming and Mountain West single-game records with his 640 yards. He also set new Wyoming and Mountain West records for touchdown passes in a single game (7) and touchdowns responsible for in a single game (8), as he rushed for one TD against Hawai'i to go with his seven TD passes.
Three Cowboys enter this week with an opportunity to achieve 1,000-yard seasons in rushing and receiving yards. Senior wide receiver Robert Herron enters this week with 929 receiving yards on the year. He needs 71 yards to reach 1,000. His junior running mate at receiver, Dominic Rufran, currently has 868 yards for the year and needs 132 to reach the 1,000-yard threshold. Junior running back Shaun Wick has accumulated 939 rushing yards in 2013, and is 61 yards away from rushing for 1,000 yards this season.
On defense, two Cowboys have already recorded 100-tackle seasons. Junior linebacker Jordan Stanton leads the Cowboys with 123 tackles. Senior free safety Marqueston Huff is close behind with 107. A couple other Cowboys are nearing the 100-tackle milestone. Junior linebacker Mark Nzeocha has 94 on the year, and sophomore defensive end Eddie Yarbrough has recorded 87 tackles this season.
A new tradition will be incorporated into Wyoming's century-old rivalry with Utah State this week. The two schools will introduce a new "Bridger's Battle" tradition to the football series. As part of the new tradition, a traveling "Bridger Rifle" will be awarded to the winner each year. The rifle is a .50-caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken rifle that was popular among mountain men of the 1800s, and is widely-considered to be the rifle carried by the legendary Jim Bridger. "Bridger's Battle" was chosen as the name for the new series due to Bridger's ties to the Wyoming-Utah region.
Born in 1804, Bridger was the foremost mountain man in the history of the American West. He was one of the first Americans to set foot in what is now Yellowstone National Park, documenting the natural wonders of what would become the nation's first national park and establishing the first fur trading post in the area. While leading the Stansbury expedition in 1849, Bridger discovered the Great Salt Lake, and also helped construct a route that would one day become part of the Transcontinental Railroad. Bridger spent a majority of his life in the Rocky Mountain region, primarily in the areas that would become the states of Wyoming and Utah.
Beginning with this coming Saturday's game, the score from each year's contest will be recorded on the maple stock of the new "Bridger Rifle".
Wyoming and Utah State first played in 1903, and this year's meeting will be the 64th in the series. Wyoming has won 24 of the previous 63 meetings, while Utah State has won 35 times and there have been four ties. The two teams most recent meeting came in 2011 in Logan, Utah.
This year's meeting will begin a new rivalry as conference opponents in the Mountain West, and is the first meeting as conference opponents since 1961. The two schools were members of the Skyline Conference from 1938-61.
This Saturday's game is scheduled to kick off at Noon, Mountain Time from Merlin Olsen Field at Romney Stadium in Logan and will be televised live by ROOT Sports.
As with all Cowboy Football games, the Cowboy Sports Network will broadcast the game on its 25 radio affiliates beginning with the pregame show at 11 a.m. this Saturday.