Happy post-Thanksgiving all. Hope you are having a wonderful holiday weekend.
Here is some pregame reading prior to Wyoming’s regular-season finale at New Mexico Saturday. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. MT, and the game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet.
First, my No. 1 key for the Cowboys:
Good start: Wyoming needs to play well from start to finish, but a good start for the team, and in particular redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Vander Waal, is important. Especially for Vander Waal to get his confidence going and into the flow of the game. We’ve seen this season (last week against Air Force and in the opener at New Mexico State) that when Vander Waal starts well, he plays well through the course of games.
— “The sense in our program is the players expect to win. We put in a lot of work this season, and some of our losses we were not as disciplined as we should have been. We got back on track late in the season. At the end of the day, we have a lot on the line. I know in the past there were a lot of times that wasn’t the case this time of year and not a lot to talk about.” — fifth-year UW coach Craig Bohl
— Wyoming’s bowl chances, obviously, hinge on winning today to get bowl eligible at 6-6. But even if UW gets there, there is no guarantee that it will get an invite. Here is my story from earlier this week and my attempt to describe the current bowl landscape. We will know a lot more after this week’s games.
— “I’m just as confident as I’ve ever been with him back there. When he stepped into that huddle last week he was pissed off and ready to go. He showed it.” — UW senior tight end Tyree Mayfield on the play of Vander Waal last week after true freshman Sean Chambers left the game on the first series with a broken right leg.
— A side note on Mayfield: Among all Football Bowl subdivision tight ends, he is fifth with 16.7 yards per catch.
— Wyoming and New Mexico meet on the football field for the 71st time Saturday. That is the fourth-longest series in UW history, behind only Colorado State (110 games), Utah (83) and Brigham Young (78).
— “Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time situations. He’s a guy that doesn’t always get a lot of credit, but he’s a big-time player and is ready to step up. He’s kind of quiet in practice, but when his number is called he answers the bell.” — Vander Waal on redshirt freshman running back Xazavian Valladay, who likely will start and be the No. 1 running back at New Mexico due to injuries to senior Nico Evans (ankle) and true freshman Jevon Bigelow (ribs). Evans is expected to make the trip to New Mexico, but it is uncertain if he will play, and if he does, how effective he will be.
— An interesting aspect of Saturday’s game will be UW’s punt coverage team and New Mexico’s punt return squad. The Cowboys are third in the Mountain West and 22nd among all FBS schools in punt return coverage at 4.85 yards per return. New Mexico has the nation’s leading punter returner in redshirt freshman Marcus Hayes at 19.9 per return.
— “They have their identity, and it starts with their defense and that aggressive four-man front. It has been fun to watch their development. They are really good and well coached. Offensively, they’ve changed a little bit. They still have the two-back and I-back formations, but now they run more spread run concepts with jet sweeps and quarterback power stuff. The fact they have a chance to get bowl eligible adds to the game.” — seventh-year New Mexico coach Bob Davie
See Saturday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang, or log on to wyosports.net, for my feature on senior safety Andrew Wingard as he approaches both the UW and MW record for career tackles. I also have a story on the transition New Mexico has made on offense from the triple-option to a spread scheme. There will be lots of other content so be sure to check it out.