It feels like it has been an entire off season since the Cowboys last took the field and I am getting anxious for this Saturday night. It has been a long time since I was this excited for the Cowboys’ 7th game of the season and I will admit, it is a strange feeling.. but I could get used to it. The Pokes (4-2, 2-0) are coming off their only bye week of 2016 and currently sit at the top of the Mountain West’s Mountain division in a tie with Boise State. Nobody, not even the biggest optimists could have seen that coming.
This week the Cowboys will travel to Reno, NV for a conference game to take on the Nevada Wolfpack (3-4, 1-2). Nevada is coming off a loss @ San Jose State and all 3 of their wins have come at home. This is a big game for both teams, Wyoming is currently riding a lot of momentum that they hope to keep and Nevada needs to win to keep any realistic chance of a bowl game alive.
Here are the 5 things I think headed into Saturday night’s matchup:
1. Brian Hill is going to explode for a big game Saturday night.
Brian Hill has been very good all season, 145 carries 721 yards and 8 scores on the ground but he is yet to really explode on the ground outside of the UC-Davis game. Something that surprises me is that Hill only has 2 catches for 10 yards. It is time for Hill to get involved in the passing game; it could open up a lot for the offense. Nevada’s defense has been suspect against the run this season. Through 7 games they have allowed 300+ yards on the ground twice, 230+ 5 times, and 135+ in all 7 games.
I have a feeling Hill will run for 150+ and two scores and also catch a touchdown Saturday night.
2. The defense will cause multiple turnovers, but their touchdown streak ends.
The Wyoming defense, in my opinion, has been the surprise of the season. They bring some impressive stats with them to Reno. Through 6 games they have 36 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 10 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries, and 4 touchdowns. I think the defense plays a solid game again this weekend, they should be well rested and have a complete game plan.
The defense is on a roll and although they lost Carl Granderson, I don’t see them slowing down too much. In their last 2 games on the road they have 5 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery and 3 touchdowns. Add in their 3 interceptions, fumble recovery and TD against Air Force and Wyoming has 8 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries and all 4 of their touchdowns in the last 3 games. This Saturday they will come away with multiple turnovers, but no scores. 4 games in a row is just too good to be true.
3. Austin Conway is going to provide his first touchdown of the season this weekend.
The former basketball recruit, turned football player has been exciting to watch through the first half of the season. He has shown the ability to be explosive in the run, pass, and return game. Vigen has been creative in finding ways to get the ball in Conway’s hands and against AFA he had his first 4 catches and another long punt return. Conway has been very close to breaking a big touchdown several times. I think this week is the week he breaks through, even if the former high school QB has to throw it.
4. Special teams will be a difference maker Saturday Night.
The Cowboys’ kicking game has been strong and seems to be getting stronger each game. Punter Ethan Wood has been himself all season, besides his punt late in the first half against AFA. Freshman kicker Cooper Rothe is 6/8 inside 40 yards and 25/25 PATs, solid numbers for a freshman kicker. On the flipside, Nevada’s punter, Alex Boy appears to have a good leg. He has 8 punts of over 50 yards and a long of 71. Their kickers on the other hand, have not been as good. Senior Brent Zuzu is 4/8 and just 3/5 inside 30 yards and 16/17 on PATs and freshman Spencer Pettit is 1/1 on FGs and 1/1 on PATs.
Field position is always a key factor in football and these two punters are good at flipping the field, they will battle one another in that category. As for kicking, I think that this game could very easily be decided by a missed and/or made kick, whether it is a field goal or PAT. Wyoming has a clear advantage in this category and Rothe may end up playing hero.
5. The Cowboys beat Nevada and move to 5-2 (3-0) setting up a very big game when Boise State visits Laramie.
In years past, I don’t think Wyoming teams would win this one This game has “trap” written all over it, with the Boise game looming. This year, this team, and most importantly this coaching staff are different. The Cowboys had a lot of momentum headed into their bye week, coming off two big wins over the Colorado schools and some may think it was bad timing for a bye. However, I think the bye came at a good time. I think it gave the team and staff a chance to regroup and refocus for the second half of the season. They should have game plan ready to go on both sides and should be well rested. The Pokes are a very healthy group and outside Granderson, have been very fortunate.
I think the Cowboy offense starts off hot and the defense feeds off that momentum giving the Cowboys enough to get their 5th win, setting up a first place showdown with Mountain West power, Boise State.