Here are news and notes from all 12 Mountain West football team compiled by the beat writers who cover each squad.
Look for this feature every Tuesday on this blog, and at wyosports.net Wednesday.
For the first time since the season opener, Air Force’s choice at quarterback will be dictated by merit rather than circumstance.
Karson Roberts returned to practice on Monday, so coach Troy Calhoun and his staff must choose between the sophomore and freshman Nate Romine, who appeared in relief in the previous game and nearly led the Falcons to a victory over San Diego State.
“We’ll see who practices best the next two days, just because Karson did not practice last week,” Calhoun said.
Roberts had been sidelined with a concussion since the first quarter of the game on Oct. 10 against the Aztecs.
His departure marked the latest in a string of bad fortune at the spot for the Falcons, starting with the loss of Kale Pearson to a knee injury in the season’s first half and the ineligibility of backup Jaleel Awini late in September.
This will be the first time that the Falcons will enter a game with a backup who has seen game action other than mop-up time.
Next game: vs. Notre Dame, 3 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Air Force appears refreshed coming off an open week following a stretch in which it played three games in 12 days in three time zones. The Falcons lost all three of those. …. RB Jon Lee (elbow) and LB Spencer Proctor (concussion) are expected to return.
— Brent Briggeman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs)
Junior Grant Hedrick on Friday will become the first Boise State backup quarterback to start a game because of injury in 11 years.
Hedrick, who took over on the second offensive snap last week against Nevada, will face BYU. He replaces senior starter Joe Southwick, who likely will miss at least three games with a broken right ankle that required surgery.
Hedrick provides a different dimension than Southwick, whose strengths are his command of the offense and accurate passing. Hedrick is a dynamic runner.
“We’ll always cater toward the guy back there’s strength, but it will be tweaks here or there,” coach Chris Petersen said. “It’s not going to be a brand-new offense.”
Hedrick was 18-for-21 for 150 yards with an interception in the 34-17 defeat of Nevada. He rushed eight times for 115 yards and two touchdowns — the first 100-yard rushing game by a Broncos quarterback since 2004.
Hedrick led the Broncos to touchdowns on five of their last six full drives. They rushed for 407 yards, including a 222-yard outing by sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi.
“Great credit to Grant,” Petersen said. “That’s just not an easy position and when you’re not preparing all week like it is your show, that’s a hard thing to be put in. We’ve said all along, Grant is a good player, and he is, and he showed it tonight.”
The Broncos went 4-0 with backup quarterback B.J. Rhode in 2002, when starter Ryan Dinwiddie had a broken ankle. The only other time that a backup has started since then was in 2008, when Bush Hamdan took the first series on Senior Day.
Southwick could return in time for his own Senior Day, which is Nov. 30 against New Mexico.
“He is in good spirits,” Petersen said. “He wants to get back as soon as possible. That’s his whole mission.”
Next game: at BYU, 6:06 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN)
Notable: Boise State’s defense has allowed just 40 points in the past three games. The Broncos shut out the Wolf Pack in the second half. … The Broncos have two healthy, scholarship quarterbacks left — Hedrick and redshirt freshman Nick Patti. … DE Demarcus Lawrence set a national high with his 3.5 sacks against Nevada. … The Broncos have won 50 straight games in October.
— Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
Jim McElwain doesn’t want to make too big a deal about the difficulties of playing at Hawaii.
The second-year Colorado State coach never has done it before, and neither have his players.
But he hopes his plan to follow their usual routine this week will keep his Rams (3-4, 1-1 Mountain West) focused on the Hawaii team they’re going up against and not on the 7- to 8-hour plane trip across four time zones to Honolulu for Saturday night’s game against the Rainbow Warriors (0-6, 0-4) or the 10 p.m. MT starting time. CSU hasn’t played at Hawaii since 1996.
“This is a business trip,” tight end Crockett Gillmore said Monday. “We’re there to play a football game, and (players) know that.”
The Rams, McElwain said, held some workouts this summer under the lights at Hughes Stadium at 11 p.m. to help prepare for this game. And they won’t fly to the islands until Friday, leaving campus at mid-morning after going through their usual Friday morning meetings and walk-through. The only difference is they’ll spend most of the day on the chartered plane from Denver to Honolulu, with a stopover in California to refuel.
Strength coach Mike Kent will get the players up for exercises, one position group at a time, every 45 minutes or so to keep them loose during the flight, McElwain said, suggesting that they’ll even be running windsprints in the aisles.
“I’m a little worried about the counterbalance on the plane when some of those linemen get up,” McElwain said. “It should be OK, but I feel sorry for those stewardesses.”
McElwain said he’ll also relax his travel dress code for this trip, allowing players to forego the usual coat and tie for their team warm-up suits.
Otherwise, the routine will be the same as it is for any other road game, McElwain said.
“I know that the travel over, you can use it again as an excuse as to maybe why you don’t play to your fullest,” McElwain said. “How we handle it will be part of the growing experience and see if we’re mentally capable of taking the distractions and understanding what kind of business trip we’re going on here.”
CSU has yet to win a true road game under McElwain, going 0-5 over the past two seasons in games they’ve had to travel to by plane. They stayed at a hotel in Fort Collins this past Friday night before making the 65-mile bus trip to Laramie, Wyo., where they beat Wyoming 52-22. They also were technically the road team for the 2012 season opener in Denver against the University of Colorado, which they won 22-17.
Next game: at Hawaii, 10 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: CSU has yet to win back-to-back games under McElwain, who is 7-12 in his two seasons. The first of his team’s three home wins in MW play — with road losses in between — late last season was a 42-27 win over Hawaii. … Senior Shaq Bell, who plays both cornerback and safety, pulled a muscle in his left leg during the first half of Saturday’s game at Wyoming and did not return. He’s listed as “day-to-day” this week, McElwain said. … CB Bernard Blake, who was ejected on a questionable targeting call late in the first half at Wyoming, sat out the second half and won’t have to miss any time at Hawaii because of the violation.
— Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
Next game: Nov. 2 at San Diego State
After a punishing eight weeks of football, getting a bit of rest sounds pretty good to the Aggies.
It’s a light week on tap for Utah State, with younger players getting more reps in practices as some of the veterans get rested.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who have played 300, 400, some of them 500 snaps in the last eight weeks, plus three and a half weeks of training camp,” coach Matt Wells said Monday. “A lot of these games were extremely physical. We need to be smart and get some work in, get some lifting in, and get some conditioning in.”
For 4-4 Utah State, the hope of the season hasn’t met the reality. The Aggies are still a step behind Boise State in the Mountain Division race. But finally winning a football game helps the program find its footing for a well-timed week of rest before its final four games.
The defense looked on-point for the first time in weeks, holding New Mexico to just 58 yards in the first three quarters of a 45-10 win. The injury-riddled offense was rejuvenated behind a strong running game and an effective performance under center from freshman Darell Garretson.
Even the Aggies’ special teams got in on the scoring, as Jojo Natson returned a punt for a touchdown and punter Jaron Bentrude found a lane to run for a 72-yard score on a called punt.
The Aggies are still looking for sustained success, but hope is growing in Logan that they can rebound for a strong finish to the season with some of their goals intact.
“Wins heal a lot of hurt and heartache,” Wells said. “I think it gives us a great outlook and perspective of where we’re at right now. It gives us confidence as we go into a bye week that the plan, although a bit revised, is succeeding and it’s working.”
Next game: Nov. 2 vs. Hawaii
Notable: Quarterback Chuckie Keeton had knee surgery on Tuesday to address his season-ending injury he suffered against BYU. His recovery is expected to take eight months. … Natson was named the special teams player of the week for his punt return touchdown. He nearly had another in the game, but it was called back on a penalty. … Bentrude’s special teams run ended up being controversial. Wells offered that he had not called a fake, but his punter had simply seen an opportunity to run: “I understood the complexity of the game and where we were. We were just trying to punt the ball. I can’t apologize for trying to punt it and the kid doing what he was supposed to do. I was a little surprised by the final outcome of it, but I’m not going to ask a kid to not compete. He needs to trust what he’s been coached to do.”
— Kyle Goon, The Salt Lake Tribune
The Cowboys gave up 509 yards — 290 rushing and 219 passing — in their 52-22 home loss to Border War rival Colorado State last week.
One of the big reasons why, coach Dave Christensen said, was mental errors.
“About 80 percent of the errors were alignment errors,” he said.
“It’s our responsibility as coaches to have our players aligned properly. It’s also our responsibility to prepare throughout the week so they can do that.”
Wyoming (4-3 overall, 2-1 MW) gave up its most points to its rival since the 1920s, and its rushing defense continues to drop as it is 117th out of 123 FBS teams (246.9 yards per game).
The meat of the Cowboys’ schedule begins this week as they play at San Jose State (3-3, 2-1) on Saturday. Four of their last five opponents are .500 or better, and three of those games are on the road.
San Jose State averages 327.5 passing yards per game and is coming off a bye week after it won at Colorado State 34-27 on Oct. 12.
Christensen’s high-tempo offense was stuck in first gear last week as the starters scored just 14 points and had a season-high three turnovers.
“We just need to execute better,” said junior quarterback Brett Smith, who threw two interceptions against CSU for the first time in 15 games dating back to early last season.
“It shows us that we’re going to have to kick it into overdrive and prepare even harder than have in the past.”
Next game: at San Jose State, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports/MW Digital Network)
Notable: San Jose State senior quarterback David Fales walked on at Wyoming in the summer of 2011 for about a month but left before fall camp started. Fales has family in Torrington, Wyo. … Junior starting strong safety Darrenn White (shoulder) will have season-ending shoulder surgery this week. White was injured Oct. 12 against New Mexico. He had 28 tackles and a team-best two forced fumbles. … Wyoming listed three positions as “or” in terms of starters this week. At center it’s between sophomore Rafe Kiely and junior Albert Perez, at strong safety it’s juniors Jesse Sampson and Chad Reese and at strong-side linebacker it’s Mark Nzeocha and sophomore Malkaam Muhammad. Christensen said injury or illness have nothing to do with the competition, and the starters will be based on how they practice this week. … The Cowboys are last in the nation in time of possession (24:31 per game).
— Robert Gagliardi, WyoSports
It was a topic of conversation before fall camp had even started, mainly because the Bulldogs had such success prying the football away from their opponents a year ago, and because teams that do that one year historically have not been able to do it the next.
Whether a statistical anomaly or there is a difference in emphasis or the way it was coached one year to the next, it is something of a mystery. But only 19 of the 116 teams ranked in the Top 10 or tied for 10th in the bowl subdivision in turnovers gained over the past 10 years had been able to repeat the following season and more than half, 59, had had their number of turnovers fall by 10 or more.
And here are the Bulldogs, a perfect 6-0 and ranked No. 17 in the first BCS standings, but stewing about a number of things including a turnover margin that is only ninth-best in the Mountain West Conference at minus-1. They have lost 13 turnovers while gaining 12.
In the last game, a victory over UNLV, they did not create a turnover for the first time in 19 games.
“Sometimes it can be cyclical,’’ said coach Tim DeRuyter, who had the Bulldogs jump to fifth in the nation in turnovers gained from a tie for 119th and last with a turnover margin of plus-15 last year.
“Sure, you can have dips, but it shouldn’t be 50 percent of what you had the year before. We have to continue to emphasize it. We had opportunities the other night. L.J. (Jones) will tell you, that one ball that was overthrown hit him in the arm and he has to make that play. We had a chance when Ejiro (Ederaine) knocked the ball loose, it was on the ground, and he should have got on it and made the official make a call. But because he didn’t, he blew the whistle and it was over.
“It’s going to be a continual emphasis for us. If we’ll take care of it on offense and create more on defense, we’ll get that back to where we want it to be.’’
But with the Bulldogs’ defense finally playing faster and more consistently the past few weeks in victories at Idaho and against UNLV, turnovers could come in greater numbers.
“When you’re playing fast and not thinking, you have a chance to make plays,’’ DeRuyter said. ‘’(Phillip Thomas) just played natural football last year and created a ton of plays. We have some guys that didn’t have that experience level this year and they’re starting to come into their own and I think it’s going to come. Two weeks ago it did. Last week we had opportunities and didn’t quite make it.
“But we’re getting closer to the point where we have some guys playing harder, playing more confidently and hopefully more takeaways will result from that.”
Next game: at San Diego State, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2)
Notable: Weird stat: In its six games this season, Fresno State has defended 480 plays. Of those, opponents have gained 1,312 yards on 445 plays and 1,206 yards on the other 35. That’s 2.9 yards per play, 34.5 yards per play, and one very large discrepancy. … Davante Adams has caught seven TD passes over the past two games including four last week against UNLV. He tied the school record for career touchdown receptions with 25 in only 19 games.
— Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee
This week — and for the rest of the season — each Rainbow Warrior will be sporting a green “Play Hard” wristband. The players wore similar bands last year, Norm Chow’s first season as head coach. The bands were re-issued this week as a symbolic re-commitment to the team. The Rainbow Warriors, who had a bye this past weekend, were winless in their first six games. For the second half, they will play six games in six weeks, including road games against Utah State, Navy and Wyoming.
For the first time in a month, quarterbacks Taylor Graham, Sean Schroeder, Ikaika Woolsey and Jeremy Higgins are each healthy. Graham started the first three games but missed the next three because of a dislocated left (non-throwing) shoulder. Graham played well in last week’s scrimmage, teaming with Bubba Poueu-Luna on a 60-yard scoring pass. Schroeder, Woolsey and Graham are expected to have roles in Saturday’s homecoming game against Colorado State.
The Warriors expect to expand the defensive rotation this week. In the past game, UNLV amassed 113 plays. Cornerback Ne’Quan Phillips and safety John Hardy-Tuliau played every defensive snap, as well as six plays each on special teams. Defensive end Beau Yap logged 111 plays. Daniel Masifilo, an Arizona State transfer who was a wide receiver through the first six games, moved to cornerback to boost the depth in the secondary. Freshman Trayvon Henderson is now the No. 1 nickelback.
Next game: vs. Colorado State, 10 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: The Rainbow Warriors, who were in 3-4 and 3-3 fronts the past three games, are expected to play more 4-3 schemes this week. … Running back Faga Wily, who started the first two games, will not play the rest of the season after continuing to experience complications from a concussion.
Saturday’s UNLV-Nevada football game is nearing a sellout, Nevada officials said Monday.
Only about 350 tickets remained at close of business Monday for the 4:05 p.m. MT kickoff at Mackay Stadium, which has a capacity of 30,000. The annual rivalry game is also the Wolf Pack’s homecoming game and is being played on Nevada Day weekend.
The rivalry game hasn’t been a sellout in Reno since 2003.
Nevada has won eight straight in the series, the longest winning streak by either team in the 38-game history, which began in 1969. This just the sixth game in the series that is a conference game, however. Both teams were in the Big West Conference from 1992 to 1995. They were reunited when Nevada joined the Mountain West on July 1, 2012.
Brian Polian, Nevada’s first-year coach, also said at his weekly Quarterback Club luncheon that both teams will wear their usual home jerseys — Nevada in blue and UNLV in red.
“A couple years ago there was a deal when UCLA and (USC) played each other, both teams wore their home uniforms. That is what we’ll do this week,” Polian said. “… It’s one of those games. It’s one of those rivalry games, a neat little tradition, and I think it’s good for both schools.”
Polian, whose team is coming off a 34-17 loss at Boise State on Saturday, might be in his first year, but he knows some history about the series, and he asked fans to be on their best behavior.
“Last Saturday was my first experience at Boise State as a visitor, and those fans, their fans in particular and their staff, are some of the classiest people that I have ever been around,” Polian said. “They want to beat your tail, but they treat you in a first-class manner. And that leads me into what we’re about to do this weekend. I implore our fan base … I hope our fan base will treat the UNLV fans with the utmost respect. Rivalry games are fun. It’s part of what makes college, but college football is … not about antagonizing other fans or conflicts in the stands or having so many spirits in the parking lot that you’re stumbling in the stadium.
“I hope it will be loud. I hope you will help us sell those last (350) seats. … I hope this can be a raucous atmosphere on Saturday. And I hope that when the visitors from the South leave, I hope that they leave disappointed, but I also hope that they leave saying, ‘You know what? That Wolf Pack fan base is a classy group of people.’ ”
After Sunday’s practice, Polian walked with the team into the locker room. He had had the Fremont Cannon moved from its spot in the Cashell Field House into the locker room during practice. The cannon will remain in the locker room throughout the week.
“Coach just talked about how much it means to him, kind of letting the freshmen know how big a game it is,” quarterback Cody Fajardo said. “It’s going to be a sold-out crowd, a live atmosphere.”
Next game: vs. UNLV, 4:05 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN3)
Notable: Polian said at his weekly luncheon on Monday that he thought left tackle Joel Bitonio will be a second- or third-round pick in the NFL Draft next May. He said he thought Bitonio would likely be a guard in the NFL. … Senior offensive guard Fred Lavulo was suspended for the Boise State game for what Polian called conduct detrimental to the team. Polian would not say definitively that Lavulo will play this week. … Aside from starting tight end Kolby Arendse (foot) and backup quarterback Devin Combs (knee), both of whom are out for the season, the Wolf Pack should be fully healthy for the UNLV game.
— Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal
SAN DIEGO STATE
San Diego State addressed its biggest bye-week question head-on last week, dropping its two placekicker options into a competition for the job in this week’s Mountain West Conference match-up with Fresno State.
The focus: Kicking in pressure situations.
Senior West Feer had missed three straight field-goal attempts – not to mention a pair of PATs – after starting the year 8-for-8 on field goals. He was replaced in the Aztecs’ last game by sophomore kickoff specialist Seamus McMorrow, who missed his second extra-point attempt in the game.
“We want to make them more accountable for every kick in practice,” special teams coach Kevin McGarry said last week. “ … There are consequences if you don’t make the kick. They take so many of them in practice that we are trying to isolate a certain number of them every day that are going to mean something to everybody if they don’t make it.”
The competition, which was expected to continue into this week, placed a special focus on kicks with consequences on the line for the entire team. Miss a kick and the entire team runs.
Both Feer and McMorrow went 4-for-4 during Tuesday’s practice and they combined to go 7-for-10 Wednesday as the entire team looked on – and then ran three gassers to pay for the misses.
“That’s what happens in a game, right?” McGarry said. “They miss a field goal and we don’t score points and that impacts 105, 110 guys. It changes the outcome of a game, maybe not the outcome, but certainly the course of a game. We want them to understand that … every kick matters. Extra points matter.”
Next game: vs. Fresno State, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2)
Notable: Sophomore running back Chase Price (shoulder) practiced Tuesday and Wednesday without issue. Although he has yet to be cleared for games, Aztecs coach Rocky Long said he doesn’t anticipate not having him available for this week’s game. “He’s catching the ball,” Long said. “He’s raising his shoulder. I think there’s no problem. I think he’ll be cleared for the game.” … After playing three games in 13 days, Long said his team started its bye-week practices last week without a lot of enthusiasm. Not that that was all that unexpected – or concerning. “They are putting in their work time – their hourly work time,” Long said. “There’s no extra energy, no excitement, but that’s normal since there’s no game on Saturday. They are going to the factory and working. … I’ll be concerned if the excitement is not there next Tuesday.”
— Jeff Sanders, U-T San Diego
SAN JOSE STATE
After enduring a difficult early schedule, the Spartans have a chance to get on a run as the schedule appears more manageable for the time being.
San Jose State (3-3, 2-1 Mountain West) has won two in a row, beating Hawaii and Colorado State. Now Wyoming comes to town fresh off a blowout 52-22 loss to the same Colorado State team the Spartans beat on the road the week before.
Coach Ron Caragher’s task is making sure his team isn’t looking at that score.
“A plus B does not equal C in this game,” Caragher said. “You can’t look at previous scoreboards and make a carry-over.”
These are exactly the type of games SJSU needs to win to prove its mettle in the Mountain West Conference. Few outside the program expect the Spartans to be an annual contender, but consistently being a middle of the pack team in position for a bowl game seems reasonable.
If the Spartans can win this week before a homecoming crowd, they’ll suddenly look in good shape toward gaining bowl eligibility. SJSU is a 6-point favorite against Wyoming and also should expect to be favored in its next two games, Nov. 2 at UNLV and Nov. 9 at home against San Diego State.
Six wins may not be enough to actually secure a bowl berth for the Spartans. But if they can get to 6-3, one win over their final three games against Nevada, Navy and Fresno State should be manageable.
Next game: vs. Wyoming, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports/MW Digital Network)
Notable: Junior wide receiver Jabari Carr, who dislocated his shoulder Sept. 27 vs. Utah State, will return this week. He’s second on the team with 23 catches, but has only 150 yards. He started eight games for the Spartans last season and caught 62 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns. … Freshman running back Thomas Tucker, carted off the field against Colorado State with a concussion, is not ready to return yet. Tyler Ervin, who began the season as the starting running back but suffered a high ankle sprain in the opener, also still does not appear ready to return. Ervin has a redshirt available, but Caragher previously said he still would like to see Ervin return this season. The Spartans have found some solid options at running back that have produced nearly 400 yards rushing the past two games, but Ervin still can be a difference-maker as a kick returner.
— Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News
UNLV’s promising season could be facing a real crisis, depending on the health of star running back Tim Cornett, who injured his right knee Saturday at Fresno State.
He is listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game at Nevada.
Cornett became the Rebels’ all-time leading rusher in that game. His 3,158 yards broke the previous mark of 3,149 set by Mike Thomas 39 years ago.
And Cornett, a senior, is in the midst of his best season. He averages 101.3 yards per game and 5.3 per rush, and has run for nine touchdowns.
Behind Cornett is a group of talented but inexperienced backs.
No. 2 Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is capable of producing big plays, averaging 9.7 yards per carry. But take away gains of 64, 79, 33 and 73 yards, and the average drops to 3.3
Northwestern transfer Adonis Smith has received only three carries over the past three games combined, and he averages just 2.9 yards per rush.
Keith Whitely is a freshman with a lot of promise, and in his lone extended action this season, he rushed for 57 yards on nine carries against Western Illinois.
“We feel like we’ve got pretty good depth at running back, so it’s next man up,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “It will probably be a couple of guys getting carries, I suppose.”
Ideally for UNLV, Cornett won’t be out long and will help the Rebels make their first bowl since 2000. UNLV is 4-3, the first time since 2003 the Rebels have had a winning record this deep into a season.
Next game: at Nevada, 4 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN3)
Notable: UNLV will try to break an eight-game losing streak against the Wolf Pack. … The Rebels haven’t won in Reno since 2003. … Both teams will wear their home jerseys.
— Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal