Missouri will face another first-time opponent when the Tigers take on Wyoming from the Mountain West on Saturday. Just as Missouri played Tennessee-Martin for the time ever to open the season, this will be the first time the Cowboys and Tigers will have ever met on the girdiron.
Both Wyoming and Missouri are coming off winning seasons in 2017, with Barry Odom's Tigers (7-6) posting their first winning campaign since an 11-3 mark in 2014. Wyoming, meanwhile, went 8-5 (.615) under Craig Bohl to finish with its best winning percentage in a season since 1999, when the Cowboys went 7-4 (.636).
Missouri fired on all cylinders in its opener against the FCS' Skyhawks on Saturday, handling UT Martin 51-14. The running game was far from perfect, with top two rushers Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett combining for exactly 100 yards on 26 carries. But Drew Lock was extremely efficient, with almost as many touchdown passes (four) as incompletions (six).
Wyoming was one of the few teams to open the season before the calendar flipped to September, beating New Mexico State 29-7 on Aug. 25. Week 2 did not provide not as good of a result, as Wyoming fell 41-19 to Washington State in its home opener this past Saturday. Nico Evans led the ground game with 89 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. But the loss of first-round draft pick Josh Allen was really felt, as redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Vander Waal was just 8-for-20 for 67 yards and an interception.
Wyoming at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Missouri -18
Three Things to Watch
1. Vander Waal's rebound effort
Taking the reins of an offense as a redshirt freshman is difficult. Doing so as the successor to a first-round NFL draft pick is even harder. Tyler Vander Waal has yet to throw for a touchdown in 2018, going 21-for-41 for 204 yards in two games thus far. His stat line didn’t impress in the Cowboys’ opener, but he did enough to lead Wyoming to a win over New Mexico State. After failing to do that last week, he’ll look to get Wyoming back in the win column on Saturday.
2. Evans all alone as featured back
Nico Evans was among a talented trio of Wyoming running backs that returned from the 2017 team, joining Kellen Overstreet and Trey Woods. The senior now finds himself as the last man standing, as Woods was moved to defensive end during fall camp, and Overstreet announced his retirement on Aug. 27. Evans certainly brings a lot of talent to the position as a runner, receiver and a blocker, but he will need some help from freshmen Xazavian Valladay and Jevon Bigelow to keep him fresh for the long haul.
3. Encore for Hall?
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock and wide receiver Emanuel Hall didn’t connect often on Saturday — tallying only four receptions — but the results were still staggering as Hall totaled 171 yards and two touchdowns. Lock even went so far as to question UT Martin’s defensive strategy on Saturday against his favorite target, saying, “I’m not a defensive coordinator by any means but I’m definitely not going one (safety) high and pressing Emanuel if I’m UT Martin. But that’s what they did.” Wyoming limited New Mexico State and Washington State to 288 yards passing combined, so Hall will be tested against what so far has proven to be a formidable pass defense for the Cowboys.
Last year, the story of this game would have been entirely different. Josh Allen piloted the Cowboys' offense in 2017 and parlayed that into becoming the seventh overall pick by the Buffalo Bills in April's draft. Good for Allen, not for Wyoming. Without its first-round talent at quarterback, Wyoming is a different team, one which Missouri should handle quite easily.
Prediction: Missouri 38, Wyoming 17
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.