Two contrasting styles of college football will be on display on Friday night at Albertsons Stadium when Mountain West divisional foes Wyoming and Boise State square off. Wyoming (5-4, 1-4 MW) will bring its physical running game on the road to battle a more balanced Boise State (5-4, 3-2) team that will try to beat you in multiple ways. Three of the last five games between these teams have been decided by one possession, so this is turning into a more competitive matchup on a regular basis.
The Cowboys picked up a crucial victory for their bowl hopes last Saturday. Wyoming reclaimed the Bronze Boot with a 31-17 home win over Colorado State. The win also snapped a four-game losing streak, as Wyoming posted a season-best 477 yards of total offense, including 385 on the ground. Titus Swen led the way with 166 yards on 21 carries. Defensively, the Cowboys forced two turnovers and collected a couple of sacks. Chad Muma earned Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors after registering 11 tackles in the win over the Rams.
Boise State also put together its most complete performance of the season, thoroughly dominating Fresno State 40-14 on the road to claim the "Milk Can Trophy." Hank Bachmeier completed 15 of 27 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown. The running game finally made its presence felt as George Holani rushed for 117 yards on 21 carries. The defense harassed Jake Haener all game long, collecting five sacks and intercepting him three times. He had entered the game with just six picks this season. The combination of a solid running game and playmaking defense was something that hadn't been seen much up until last Saturday. But the Broncos may be picking the right time to play their best football. The win not only has them just one win from bowl eligibility, but they also are just a game behind Utah State for first place in the Mountain Division, and Boise State owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Aggies.
Wyoming at Boise State
Kickoff: Fri., Nov. 12 at 9 p.m. ET
Spread: Boise State -14.5
When Wyoming Has the Ball
The offensive line will set the tone for the Cowboys this week. If they are going to win this game, they must eat up the clock and run the ball effectively to limit possessions. Xazavian Valladay is the workhorse back that can get this done on Friday night. He is third in the Moutain West with 760 rushing yards, including a season-high 172 against San Jose State a couple of weeks ago. Isaiah Neyor is the team's leading receiver with 26 receptions, 462 yards, and eight touchdowns. He will be needed to help loosen up a Boise State defense that has more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes allowed (10) this season.
With Wyoming determined to run the ball, the Broncos' defensive line must win the battle up front. Sacks may be hard to come by since the Cowboys average only 25 pass attempts per game. But getting stops behind the line of scrimmage and getting off the field will be crucial for Boise State. In last year's win in Laramie, the Broncos limited Wyoming to just 2 of 17 conversions on third down. Last week, Fresno State was just 4-for-13.
When Boise State Has the Ball
Patience will be a virtue, as the Broncos are going up against a Wyoming defense that allows just 325 yards per game. Boise State will try to continue the success found last week when the Broncos rushed for a season-high 187 yards. The Cowboys are giving up 169.1 yards per game on the ground, so look for Holani to get plenty of carries early as Boise State will try and establish its own ground game. That will then make things easier on Bachmeier, who has nine touchdown passes and just three interceptions over his last five games.
Wyoming has the Mountain West's No. 1 passing defense, giving up just 156 yards per game. So forcing Bachmeier to throw isn't necessarily the worst strategy for the Cowboys. However, if the Broncos are able to run the ball effectively early, it could put this defense on its heels a little, so Wyoming also needs to stay patient and not overreact. The Cowboys have several playmakers on this side of the ball, led by Muma (89 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 3 INTs), fellow linebacker Easton Gibbs (60 tackles), and defensive back C.J. Coldon (47 tackles, eight pass breakups). Wyoming also will have to make the Boise State earn its yards. Last season, the Broncos were 7-for-15 on third down in their win in Laramie.
Just as soon as some were ready to ignore Boise State, the Broncos went to Fresno State and dominated what was the Mountain West's highest-ranked team (No. 23 in initial College Football Playoff Rankings). As a result, Boise State is very much alive in the Mountain Division title chase. But the Broncos know they have to win out to have any shot and that starts on Friday night against a Wyoming team that has pulled off its own surprises (good and bad) this season.
That said, Boise State has never lost at home to the Cowboys and leads the all-time series 14-1. The games have been more competitive in recent years ever since Craig Bohl took over at Wyoming. Both teams prefer to run the ball and win with defense, so this has the makings of a hard-fought, grind-it-out type of affair. But the Broncos enter with more momentum and some renewed confidence when it comes to their ground game. Boise State's offensive balance will be enough to help the home team pull away late, become bowl eligible, and add even more intrigue to the divisional race as the regular season winds down.
Prediction: Boise State 27, Wyoming 17
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