UW-CSU Border War Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Kelly Lyell, who covers Colorado State football for the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Look for Q&As with writers who cover the opponents of the University of Wyoming football program every Friday.

What are the biggest differences you see in the program with new coach Jim McElwain compared to former coach Steve Fairchild?

The biggest differences are in the attitude of the players and coaching staff. McElwain emphasizes a sense of family and forces players to get to know and respect each other, and one of the first things he did was eliminate the daily competition that Fairchild had set up between the offense and defense. McElwain considers it his job to develop his players and not try to make them do things they’re not likely to be able to accomplish. Fairchild had an NFL coaching style that expected players to motivate themselves, and regularly chewed them out when they couldn’t do what needed to be done to execute his offensive and defensive systems. Players clearly prefer McElwain’s style, even if it doesn’t seem to be producing any more success right now than Fairchild’s did.

Colorado State has used three different starting quarterbacks due to injury. Who starts this week and is that the biggest factor for the offense’s lack of production this season?

Conner Smith, a redshirt freshman and the No. 3 quarterback at the beginning of the season, will start for the Rams for the second week in a row. He moved into the starting job by default, after sophomore Garrett Grayson broke his left collarbone in a Sept. 29 game at Air Force and senior M.J. McPeek injured his left shoulder in an Oct. 13 game at San Diego State. But Smith has performed well enough that McElwain believes he’s earned the chance to show what he can do, even with Grayson and McPeek both back this week.

The numbers indicate that the Rams’ defense has held up well despite the offense’s struggles Is that true and what is your assessment of the defense with two co-coordinators, including former Wyoming assistant coach Marty English?

The defense has outperformed the offense for the most part, particularly once a game gets going. The Rams have been absolutely horrible on defense at the start of games, though, allowing five of their eight opponents to drive for touchdowns and seven of the eight to build double-digit leads before halftime. Still, the offense has put the defense in difficult situations, and the defense has held up well, like limiting Hawaii to two field goals after giving the Warriors the ball inside the CSU 35-yard line on their first four possessions of the second half. The co-coordinator system with English and Al Simmons sharing the job seems to be working out OK.

This is the Border War, but both teams are struggling this season. Do you think CSU will be up for this game or go through the motions?

I think CSU will be up for the game, but I don’t think the Rams will be able to sustain that emotion once something negative happens to them. They’ve come to expect that they’re going to lose and even in the win over Hawaii last week tried to give the game back with numerous mistakes at the start of the second half. CSU’s two wins came over two of the worst teams in the country, Colorado and Hawaii, and the Rams haven’t even been competitive in the six games they’ve lost. Wyoming, at least, has been in most every game it has played, and is probably better than its 1-7 record indicates.

How do you see this game playing out, and your predicted final score?

I think Wyoming will play with more emotion and will be better able to overcome a negative play than CSU will. I expect a hard-fought game between two struggling team, and I think Wyoming will come out on top, 31-24, and keep the Bronze Boot in Laramie for another year.