The Wyoming Cowboys have moseyed off with a couple of sets of Bronze Boots in the last four years of the Border War. They'll start working on another set in mere hours when they gun for their fifth straight win in the annual showdown versus the Colorado State Rams.
The 112th meeting of the Border War is set for Thursday at Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins, Colorado, when the host Rams hope to put to rest a four-game slide in the Mountain West meet-up.
"You can't just step into a rivalry game and turn it on gameday," Colorado State defensive tackle Toby McBride told reporters. "It has to be all week. It's been all season. We have a clock in our weight-room counting down the days to kickoff versus Wyoming.
"This isn't even a one-week thing. It's been all offseason."
The Rams' frustrations have been heightened by a rocky start to the season. Their first game with New Mexico was canceled by COVID-19 concerns in the southern state, and then they were dominated last week by host Fresno State in a 38-17 drop.
"We've just got to get rid of the massive amount of mistakes that we had on both sides of the ball," first-year Colorado State head coach Steve Addazio told reporters. "Blown coverages, misaligned on defense ... Then (on offense), we had a couple of ridiculous mistakes that were drive-killers.
"We just need to be way, way more consistent."
Making similar mistakes against Wyoming would likely lead to another loss. It would be just the second 0-2 start for the Rams since 2014.
After a road loss to Nevada in the first week of Mountain West action, the Cowboys found their footing last Friday in a 31-7 blowout of visiting Hawaii. It was the ninth straight home victory for Wyoming.
"I feel like the first game was more of a fluke," Wyoming linebacker Charles Hicks told reporters. "We had a lot of improvement over the week in practice, which made us come out and play how we did ... That’s how it should be."
Wyoming at Colorado State
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 5 at 9 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Wyoming -3.5
When Wyoming Has the Ball
'X' marks the spot and the drive behind Wyoming's potent run-heavy offense. Against Hawaii, running back Xazavian Valladay hauled the ball 32 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns. The junior's ninth career 100-yard game on the ground was a big part of the 281 rushing yards the Cowboys put up in a game they only accumulated 393 total yards. He also got huge help from senior backfield mate Trey Smith, who ran the ball 20 times for 89 yards and two scores.
"Trey really ran hard and made some excellent runs," Bohl told reporters. "X has a unique ability to put his foot in the ground (and) be allusive, and he has great balance. To have a one-two punch like that really makes a big, big difference. This is one of our trademarks."
Last year against the Rams, Valladay dashed for 154 yards. So, the CSU defense will likely focus on dashing the run and trying to force Wyoming to find success through the air with redshirt freshman quarterback Levi Williams in control. Williams was a pedestrian 9-of-18 for 112 yards to go along with seven carries for 29 yards and two touchdowns last week.
"The (defensive) line, myself mainly, I think we can do a better job in that regard to rush the passer and giving those guys an easier job in the back end," Colorado State senior D-lineman Scott Patchan told reporters when flashing back to last week's loss that included Fresno State converting 10-of-18 third-down attempts. "It's extremely frustrating. When you look at it, it's not so much of a blame on the (secondary)."
Against Fresno State, Patchan and junior lineman Brandon Hickerson-Rooks had each had 1.5 sacks as part of four on the night for CSU. Junior linebacker Dequan Jackson had 10 tackles, including seven solo, to pace the Rams defense, which also posted nine tackles for losses.
When Colorado State Has the Ball
Just who gets the ball in CSU's attack is the biggest question heading into the Border War. Will it be running quarterback Todd Centeio? Or passing pivot Patrick O’Brien?
In that loss a week ago, the junior, Centeio, ran for 89 yards and completed just 10-of-23 passes for 141 yards. O'Brien then came on late to go 7-of-10 for 82 passing yards and tossed a touchdown to junior tight end Trey McBride, the Rams' top receiver on the game with eight catches and 130 yards.
"I think they both did some really great things, played to their strengths," Addazio told reporters of the QB conundrum. "We had a fair amount of productivity. It wasn't perfect, but I thought both guys played well and will continue to play well.
"They're both talented," Addazio continued. "Very likely, you could see them both. But we have a plan."
It should help Centeio and O'Brien to get decorated Dante Wright back after COVID contact-tracing protocols sidelined both him and fellow sophomore receiver Ty McCullouch last week. Last year, Wright was named an All-American freshman by ESPN and the Football Writers Association of America, as he recorded 57 receptions for 805 yards and four touchdowns plus 214 rushing yards and two scores.
"I didn't like (last week) — I thought I should be there," Wright told reporters. "I'm just happy to be back this week, and it's time to come out and play."
Easier said than done after Wyoming's defense lassoed Hawaii's attack last week, allowing just 233 total yards — albeit in cold-weather conditions. The stinginess was highlighted by five sacks and two key turnovers — an interception by sophomore linebacker Charles Hicks and a fumble recovery by junior linebacker Chad Muma.
"I think we challenged the receivers more (last week)," Bohl told reporters. "We were also able to eliminate a lot of (Hawaii’s) primary runs, and that allowed us to get into some different looks and pressure the quarterback. It was a combination of our coverage and our four-man rush."
Nobody can say yet what Colorado State really brings to the season. One game — an ugly loss — isn't likely to define the Rams campaign.
"I promise you this... we'll clean that up, we'll get ready to have a great game, too," Addazio told reporters. "Nothing's as good as it seems. Nothing is as bad as it seems. Somewhere in the middle reality falls ... We'll learn from this first game — it will help us."
Meanwhile, Wyoming's bounce-back effort proves it can live up to pre-season hype of being a Mountain West favorite. For that to continue for the Cowboys means getting it done on the road and when weather doesn't favor just them.
"If we can handle the line of scrimmage, run the football and play good defense, that is a winning formula," Bohl told reporters.
It's also one they're good at.
Prediction: Wyoming 28, Colorado State 20
Podcast: Week 10 Preview and Predictions
(Xazavian Valladay photo courtesy of Wyoming Athletics)