Border War 2019 between the Colorado State Rams and Wyoming Cowboys will take place on Friday night at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. The Bronze Boot trophy will be on the line as Wyoming attempts to finish the season undefeated at home.
Last Saturday, Wyoming (6-4, 3-3 Mountain West) took Utah State to the wire in Logan, Utah, but wound up losing 26-21. Turnovers proved to be costly for the Cowboys as they gave the ball up four times. Tyler Vander Waal threw a crushing interception to Utah State’s Eric Munoz with 58 seconds left at the Aggies 25-yard line that kept Wyoming from having a shot to win. The Cowboys defense battled until the end, but Jordan Love and the Aggie passing attack were too much to overcome. Love threw for 282 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Meanwhile, Colorado State (4-6, 3-3) could not sustain a great start against Air Force last weekend, and they lost 38-21 to the Falcons. Patrick O’Brien completed 28-of-43 passes for 347 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. But the inability to establish a running game proved costly against Air Force, as the Rams rushed for just 39 yards while allowing 227. In addition, the secondary couldn’t do anything to stop Donald Hammond III, who threw three touchdown passes, including a 50-yard strike to Geraud Sanders to give the Falcons a 17-14 lead that they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
Colorado State at Wyoming
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 22 at 9:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Wyoming -7
When Colorado State Has the Ball
Patrick O'Brien will have the game put in his hands, throwing the football early and often. The Rams need to be able to take the crowd out of the game, and striking quickly will help that a lot. O'Brien is completing 61.7 percent of his passes in 2019 and eclipsed the 60 percent mark in all but two games.
Marcus McElroy has had to step up at running back after Marvin Kinsey Jr. was dismissed from the team in late October. McElroy is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, so there is some talent there. Now, the question is if the offensive line can control the line of scrimmage enough on Friday to open up holes for McElroy to keep the chains moving and threaten 100 yards.
Wyoming will have to dominate at the point of attack with its defensive line and force the Rams to get behind the sticks on offense. The Cowboys are limiting teams to 98.3 yards per game on the ground, which is good for ninth in the nation.
Stopping the pass has been another story, as Wyoming is giving up 282.1 yards per game through the air, which ranks 120th in FBS this season. The Cowboys' secondary has a particularly tough matchup against a Rams passing offense that is throwing for 315.7 yards per game. They will need the senior leadership of linebacker Logan Wilson and safety Alijah Halliburton to step up in a big way by creating turnovers in the red zone especially if Wyoming is going to win on Friday night.
When Wyoming Has the Ball
Setting the tone running the football is the foundation of the Cowboys program. Xazavian Valladay rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries against Utah State, which was his fourth consecutive 100-yard performance. The passing game is a bit limited, as Wyoming is averaging 134.4 passing yards per game, which is good for 125th in the nation. Tyler Vander Waal will need to increase his accuracy throwing the football; his 52.0 percent completion rate is not good enough. Execution of a balanced offense — along with avoiding unnecessary penalties and turnovers — will be a great recipe for success this week for Wyoming.
Colorado State does a nice job against the pass by holding opponents to 184.5 yards per game, which is good for 17th in the nation. Run defense has an issue, though, as the Rams are surrendering 206.7 yards per game (115th in the nation). Safety Jamal Hicks is Colorado State's leading tackler with 94 and has to have a monster game on Friday night. Linebacker Dequan Jackson is the second-leading tackler with 73, including 4.5 tackles for a loss, and will need to do a great job against the run since the Rams will see a heavy dose of Valladay carrying the football.
You can throw the records out the window in a rivalry game like this since both teams are going to treat it as their Super Bowl. The Cowboys' four losses have been decided by a total of 15 points, so they are battle-tested and likely better than their record indicates. Colorado State has plenty of motivation with bowl eligibility on the line and will keep this game competitive into the fourth quarter. But in the end, the Cowboys will do enough defensively in the second half to give Wyoming another Border War win and keep the Bronze Boot in Laramie for the fourth consecutive season.
Prediction: Wyoming 31, Colorado State 23
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.
(Top photo courtesy of Wyoming Athletics)