The final home game for Wyoming is at noon Saturday at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium against Fresno State. The game will be televised by AT&T SportsNet (used to be ROOT Sports).
Here is my No. 1 key to the game for the Cowboys:
Be diverse offensively: On paper, Wyoming is going up against one of the best defenses in the country in Fresno State. The Cowboys need to be creative in what they do offensively. That doesn’t mean come out with a lot of trick plays, or get away from its identity offensively. But depending on the health status of junior quarterback Josh Allen, offensive coordinator Brent Vigen needs to come up with a plan that keeps Fresno State’s defense on its heels. Establishing the run would be a good start, which is key for any game UW plays. Even if Allen plays, limiting the hits he takes is crucial. If junior backup Nick Smith starts or plays, he must be put in situations where he can be successful. Ultimately, UW’s other play-makers, whether that be receivers, running backs or tight ends, must make more plays. Would a trick play or two, or even some different looks or formations work? Perhaps, but the Cowboys also can’t completely reinvent the wheel. There needs to be a balance between the two.
Some notes and quotes about this game:
— “It is hard to put into words, but I feel more confident in myself more than antying. I have improved each week and taken steps forward. That has been my goal this whole time was to take a step foward each week. Over a couple of years that volume starts to buld up a little bit.” — UW junior backup quarterback Nick Smith
— According to the statistics, this should be a low-scoring game as UW and Fresno State boast two of the better defenses in the Mountain West and the country. The Cowboys lead the league and are 14th nationally in scoring defense (18.1 points per game), the Bulldogs are second/15th (18.3 ppg). UW is second in the MW and fourth in the country in passing defense (156.8 yards per game), Fresno State is fourth/22nd (185.1 ypg). Fresno State is second on the conference and 12th nationally in total defense (309.7 ypg), UW is third/27th (334.1 ypg).
— “This team has a great resolve, focus, poise and confidence in one another. It has a can-do attitude. There is a belief and confidence, no matter what situation is, that this team will band together and win football games. That has not happened by chance. A great foundation has been laid, and there is good leadership within this team.” — UW coach Craig Bohl
–The series between UW and Fresno State is tied 5-5. Three of the Cowboys’ wins have been at home, and they won their first-ever game in Fresno in 2014 — a 45-17 win that was the coming out party for then UW true freshman running back Brian Hill. UW’s other win against Fresno State was a 35-28 double-overtime triumph in the 2009 New Mexico Bowl.
— Sophomore cornerback Tyler Hall has averaged 34.6 yards per kickoff return, which is among the best averages in the country. But to be considered in the NCAA’s stats, players must average 1.2 kickoff returns per game. Hall averages 1.1, and has had only five over the last five games. “It is not a big deal, but it has been a little frustrating because I can’t make a play for my team. It is nothing I can control,” Hall said.
— Fresno State clinches the West Division title with a win Saturday, which would be its third divisional title since it joined the MW in 2013. The Bulldogs won the West Division in 2013 and 2014.
— If Fresno State wins the West Division, it will play either Boise State or UW in the MW Championship Game Dec. 2. Fresno State ends the regular season next week with a home game against Boise State. When asked about the possibility of playing either of those two teams, first-year Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said: “We will deal with that if that were to happen. All we are worried about is (this game).”
— Tedford was asked about the weather and altitude for this game. The forecast is for it to be in the 30s and windy, but little to no chance for moisture. “We have to be ready for whatever we can prepare for. We can’t control the weather. We will have the proper equipment. We have to worry about football. We can’t let (the altitude) get into our heads. Guys my get short of breath, but they will recover quickly. They need to know that.”
See Saturday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang for my feature on senior fullback Drew Van Maanen, and the many layers that have made him a special player and person at UW the last five years. There also will be more on Fresno State, more keys to the game and other coverage.