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Wyoming Cowboys vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles Preview and Prediction

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Historically, contests against Mid-American opponents have been fruitful for Wyoming as the Cowboys are 7-4 all-time against the MAC. Wyoming added its seventh win against a MAC school Sept. 3 with a 40-34 overtime victory over Northern Illinois. It’ll look to notch another win Friday night when the Cowboys travel to Eastern Michigan.

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Eastern Michigan opened its 2016 campaign with a 61-14 win over Mississippi Valley State before dropping a Week 2 contest at Missouri. The Eagles added their second win of the season last week by defeating Charlotte 37-19.

The Eagles and Cowboys enter Friday’s matchup with similar scoring offenses, as Eastern Michigan is scoring 39.7 points per game while Wyoming averages 34 points per game. In total offense, Wyoming averages 426.7 yards and Eastern Michigan 421.3 per content. Defensively, Eastern Michigan allows 31.3 points per game and Wyoming yields 36 points per contest.

The two schools met for the first time in history last season with EMU topping Wyoming on the road 49-28. The Cowboys haven’t snagged a road win in almost two years with the last one coming on Nov. 1, 2014 at Fresno State.

Wyoming at Eastern Michigan

Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS Sports Network

Spread: Eastern Michigan +3

Three Things to Watch

1. Brian Hill
When it comes to the nation’s elite running backs, Wyoming’s Brian Hill has rightfully earned a spot among them. Hill currently ranks No. 9 nationally in yards per game with 127 and has accumulated 381 yards on the young season. He tallied 125 yards and a touchdown in his team’s season-opening win against Northern Illinois but was held to 49 yards and a score in the Cowboys’ loss to Nebraska. He followed his lackluster Nebraska performance by shredding UC Davis’ defense for 207 yards and two touchdowns.

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In last year’s meeting against Eastern Michigan, Hill ran for 242 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard scamper, in a losing effort. The senior has 2,808 career rushing yards. This season, the Eagles are giving up 116 yards per game on the ground.

2. Eastern Michigan’s stout defense
In three games this year the Eagles’ defense has caused six fumbles, recovering five of them. Eastern Michigan’s five fumble recoveries pace the MAC and rank fifth overall in the nation. Also notable is that Eastern Michigan is holding opponents to just 3.2 yards per carry. Last week, FCS member Mississippi Valley State managed a grand total of 23 yards rushing on 32 carries (0.7 ypc).

Stopping the run was a problem for Eastern Michigan in last season’s game against Wyoming, as the Cowboys ran for 430 yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. The Eagles will once again have to contend with Hill and backfield mate Shaun Wick, a senior, who has a 2,239 career rushing yards.

3. Andrew Wingard
Wingard, an Athlon preseason first team All-Mountain West Conference selection, has been a bright spot on the Cowboys’ defense. The sophomore, who has 11 career starts, posted a team-best 122 tackles last season during his true freshman campaign and landed on the Football Writers Association of America’s 2015 All-Freshman team. Wingard’s 122 tackles last year ranked 10th in the nation.

The Arvada, Colo., native is already off to a strong start in 2016 as he leads the Wyoming defense with 31 total tackles, which is good enough to rank 20th in the FBS and sixth in the Mountain West. He accumulated 12 tackles in the Cowboys’ season opener against Northern Illinois, posted 13 stops and forced a fumble in the loss to Nebraska loss and finished with six tackles in last week’s win over UC Davis.

Final Analysis

Statistically, these two teams match up pretty well on paper. But as last year’s game showed, success in all three phases of the game net positive results. Wyoming rushed for more than 400 yards as opposed to Eastern Michigan’s 176, but allowed 330 yards passing, and would up losing at home.

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Eastern Michigan quarterback Todd Porter will be the difference-maker as the Wyoming secondary has been susceptible to the long ball this year, allowing 930 yards passing through three games.

The Eagles should improve their record to 3-1 with a second straight win over the Cowboys.

Prediction: Eastern Michigan 35, Wyoming 31

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

(Andrew Wingard photo courtesy of Wyoming Athletics)