On a Friday night along the dusty plains of Laramie come the Utah State Aggies, looking to become bowl-eligible with a win over the upstart Wyoming Cowboys. Upstart, because a freshman running back named Brian Hill ran for 281 yards last week--a school record. Upstart, because a new head coach (Craig Bohl) has taken all that he learned from winning FCS titles at North Dakota State--and at Nebraska as an assistant--implementing a similar hard-nosed philosophy at Wyoming.
It's a tough challenge for Utah State to come into what is expected to be a frigid, dusty atmosphere and do the right things in order to win on Fri. Nov. 7. But win it must, in front of what is expected to be a sellout at War Memorial Stadium and a national ESPN TV audience. This is a big game for Wyoming too, because at 4-5 overall it can inch closer to becoming bowl eligible.
Last year, in the last game of the season, Utah State whacked Wyoming 35-7 in Logan. But, that was a different Wyoming team than the one taking the field this year. The Cowboys haven't played any slouches, either. They lost in convincing fashion at Top 10 teams Michigan State and Oregon, yet they beat a good Air Force squad and last week they walloped defending Mountain West Conference champion Fresno State 45-17.
The consensus on the plains is that Wyoming must win Friday against Utah State in order to have any chance of going bowling--because Boise State is next on the schedule. As for Utah State, well, the Aggies know what they have to do to go bowling. They have to win one more game, so why not do it in Laramie and capture the Bridger's Battle rivalry trophy? Here are three things it must do to win at Wyoming.
Stop Brian Hill
It seems pretty obvious to anyone watching last week's Wyoming-Fresno State game that Utah State must slow down Hill. He ran for 281 yards on 23 carries last week, averaging a whopping 12.3 yards per carry. If that weren't enough trouble for Utah State's stout defense to handle, Hill also caught three passes for 106 yards, bringing his grand total in one game last week to 387 all-purpose yards--good enough to win the Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week award.
Get the running game going
Teams that have had success against Wyoming this year have been able to run the football. The Cowboys give up 186 yards per game, on the ground. And so, that means Utah State--even with its freshman running back LaJuan Hunt--should be able to forage for some yardage against Wyoming. Hunt had 150 yards rushing at Hawaii, who defeated Wyoming handily earlier in the season. If the freshman Hunt can get going, it's good night for Wyoming, pure and simple.
Annoy Wyoming's QB
Redshirt senior Colby Kirkegaard has done some nice things this season for Wyoming. He's thrown for 2,000 yards. He's thrown six touchdown passes. But, he's also thrown 11 interceptions and been sacked more times than he cares to remember. This is all good news for Utah State's top-ranked defense, whom you can expect will bring pressure just about every time it lines up against Wyoming's West Coast offense. In other words, a jittery quarterback like Kirkegaard is tailor made for an aggressive, ball-hawking defense like the Aggies have. Can they get to the redshirt senior though?
In all ways, it appears that this pivotal rivalry game on the plains of Laramie begins and ends with which team is able to run the football and manage the game effectively. Wyoming is still learning under its new head coach, and so Utah State should be able to take advantage of the Cowboys' inexperience and roll to its seventh win of the season, making it bowl eligible for yet another year.