Lucas Wacha figures to be a key piece to the Wyoming defense in 2015 (Photo via Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Lucas Wacha figures to be a key piece to the Wyoming defense in 2015 (Photo via Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Good news Cowboy fans, the season is just 2 days away! Wyoming, will host the University of North Dakota on Saturday afternoon in the friendly confines of War Memorial Stadium. Wyoming will look to improve on their 4-8 (2-6) record in Craig Bohl’s second season in Laramie. They bring back a lot of experience on offense, including Indiana transfer Cameron Coffman. On defense they will rely on an experienced DL to carry a new LB corps and young secondary. UND, who plays in the FCS’ Big Sky Conference is coming off of a 5-7 (3-5) in coach Bubba Schweigert’s first season in Grand Forks. They are a young team that lacks in experience. Wyoming is a heavy favorite heading into Saturday’s match up and on paper shouldn’t have any trouble with UND.

Here are a few players that will play key roles in the game:

Wyoming:

Offense: Cameron Coffman, QB

It is no secret to Wyoming football fans that the QB play in Craig Bohl’s first season was below average. This season should be a different story with Indiana transfer, Cam Coffman taking the helm for the 2015 season. Coffman came to Wyoming after losing his starting spot before his junior year at Indiana after starting all of his sophomore year. He brings a wealth of experience and a pretty impressive resume, which includes ranking in the top 3 in the BIG in passing yards per game, attempts, completions, TD’s, and ranked 4th in the total offense in 2012. To go along with some impressive numbers at IU, Coffman threw for 21 TD’s and only 6 INT’s in his one season at Arizona Western Community College. AWCC finished that season with a school record 11 wins and lost in the National Junior College Athletic Association national championship, a game where Coffman tossed 4 TD’s. According to the Wyoming staff Coffman “significantly ahead” of where Wyoming’s QB’s were a year ago. This should give WYO fans some hope for the upcoming season. Coffman should be able to have a good day on Saturday as UND will likely focus on stopping the WYO running attack, this should open up some play action and plays down field for Coffman. Coffman’s main targets will be three juniors, WR’s Tanner Gentry, Jake Maulhardt, and TE Jacob Hollister, all of which are big targets. If Coffman is what most Wyoming fans and the coaching staff expects, they Pokes should have a formidable offense and could be tough to stop.

Defense: Lucas Wacha, LB

There is no question Eddie Yarbrough is the heart and soul of the Wyoming defense, he is after all a 2 time All-MWC 1st teamer and was selected to the 2015 preseason All-MWC team. Yarbrough and his DL will undoubtedly be the strength of the Pokes D. With that being said, Wyoming doesn’t have a whole lot of experience after that DL. Of the 7 guys at DB on the 2 deep depth chart, only 2 have any game experience and the starting line backing corps includes a converted TE in Eric Nzeocha and a converted RB in D.J. May. The other LB, Lucas Wacha, has a whole lot of experience. While maybe undersized, Wacha has shown over the last two years that he has a nose for the football and uses his exceptional speed and athleticism to make up for what he may lack in size and strength. In those 2 seasons Wacha has racked up 140 total tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF, and 2 fumbles recoveries. Wacha, who plays with as much passion as anyone on the defense, was recently named a captain and will be asked to take on more of a leadership role this season, including making all the defensive checks and calls. The junior will look to have a big season in his expanded role and that should show on Saturday, look for his name to be called several times.

X-Factor: Shaun Wick/Brian Hill, RB

Wyoming has arguably the most talented RB duo in the entire conference, if not the most talented. Last season senior Shaun Wick and sophomore Brian Hill combined for 1,549 rushing yards, 13 rushing TD’s, and 23 receptions for 266 yards. Wick will get the start, but expect both of these two to get a significant amount of touches on Saturday and this season. Wick enters the 2015 season just outside the top 10 in career rushing yards and needs 881 yards to claim the top spot. He was off to a fantastic start in his first season in Bohl’s offense until a broken hand sidelined him for 3 games. Hill burst onto the scene after Wick went down. In his first career start at Fresno State he rushed for 2 TD’s and broke the MW record for all-purpose yards in a game with 387 yards. Wick and Hill will look to set the tone on Saturday and should be a handful for the North Dakota defense. If those two get rolling it will make life easier for Coffman in his first career start and should open up the passing game. With a backfield that includes veterans like Coffman, Wick, and Hill Wyoming’s offense should see a major improvement in their second year in coach Craig Bohl’s west coast offense.

 

University of North Dakota:

Offense: Keeton Studsrud, QB:

Getting the nod at quarterback for UND will be sophomore Keeton Studsrud. As a freshman Studsrud started UND’s final four games going 2-2 in that span. However, despite his moderate success in the win loss column, his stats leave a lot to be desired. Studsrud went 26-75 (34.7%) for 276 yards, 6 interceptions and threw only 2 touchdowns. It doesn’t appear he is much of a dual threat, last season he rushed for 30 yards on 34 attempts and one touchdown, of course QB rushing stats are skewed due to being penalized for taking sacks. The Minnesota native isn’t especially big, 6’1” 195 and could possibly surprise with some running ability. Studsrud will definitely have a lot to do with how successful UND will be on Saturday. It is no secret that Wyoming is lacking depth and experience in their defensive backfield and out of the four DB positions only 2 guys on the 2 deep have experience at the division one level. If Studsrud finds his rhythm early and has time to throw he will be able to test the young Wyoming secondary and if they aren’t ready to play, Studsrud and UND will have plenty of scoring opportunities.

Defense: Will Ratelle, LB

Wyoming is going to want to establish themselves on the ground, we know that. The guy leading the charge on the other side of the ball to try and prevent that will be UND senior Will Ratelle. The honorable mention All-Big Sky performer lead UND with 106 total tackles, 61 of which were unassisted. To go along with his impressive tackles total he racked up 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 pass break ups, and 2 fumble recoveries. Ratelle and the rest of the front seven are going to have their hands full with one of the Mountain West’s most talented backfields. If they can’t get penetration early and often Wick and Hill could have a hay day, and if that happens UND’s chances of an upset are considerably worse. That penetration will start with their leader, Ratelle.

X-Factor: UND Offensive Line:

Saturday’s contest is likely to be decided in the trenches, Wyoming’s defensive backbone is certainly going to be their talented and experienced defensive line, lead by 2-time 1st team All-MWC performer Eddie Yarbrough. Yarbrough isn’t the only talented player up front for UW. His counter part is Siaosi Hala’api’api’, who last season appeared in all 12 games, starting 5. On the interior Wyoming will start Uso Olive, who started UW’s final 11 games and Chase Appleby who appeared in all 12 games a year ago. UND will counter with 3 seniors and 2 sophomores up front. The three seniors, LG Brandon Anderson, C Colton Boas, and RT Sean Meehan combined for 35 starts last season and sophomore LT Brandon Miller and RG AJ Stockwell got a considerable amount of playing time. That experience up front should help against Wyoming’s talented defensive front. If they can contain them and open up running lanes and give Studsrud time to throw they should be able to stay in the ball game late, but if they struggle to contain UW’s DL early, it could make for a long day. UND’s OL will be tested for four quarters on Saturday and how they answer will go a long way in determining the outcome.

Who will you be watching for in Saturday’s matchup?

 

 

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