If there is one small advantage Wyoming holds over Boise State, it is that they perhaps know where they stand a little bit more clearly than where the Broncos are at. Boise certainly must feel in limbo due to the loss of Virginia Tech, their much hyped opening rival for this year's season, to a FCS team in rather disturbing fashion. So now Boise is obviously struggling with doubts about the game. Was it in fact a signature win against a strong national opponent? Or was it a lackluster game against a mediocre (at best) ACC team that struggled fruitlessly against a FCS team?
Wyoming on the other hand has a win against a solid FCS team, but did not look impressive in doing so. A lot of weaknesses were exposed, and these things were worked on in practice. Wyoming was still able to take the best shots of this team and pull out an 8 point win. The Texas game was a lot closer than expected. Though the score was lopsided, the actual performance of the team was pretty competitive. A few mistakes in tackling, and going for 4th and short instead of kicking field goals, inflated the score more than the actual play indicated between the two teams.
What the Cowboys have learned in those two games is that their defense can be good, just as long as they tackle. I'm pretty sure the defense has watched a lot of tape of their performances and have been working to improve on the weaknesses that I described in the UW-Texas wrap-up the other day. Tackling, pressure on the QB, and the secondary being able to track down receivers after they have caught the ball (instead of whiffing by them at the catch) are the real important areas to shore up. We also learned that the offense can be fairly efficient, and Austyn Carta-Samuels is a true playmaker. He has shown himself to be an efficient passer, as well as an elusive QB who can use his legs to get out of sticky situations. He also can pass effectively on the run, which is going to give defenses ulcers in the months to come.
The Pokes still have not found a running game. There is a small stable of backs that can run the ball, but so far they have had a rough time finding holes and hitting them. I honestly do not expect UW to run the ball all that effectively against Boise. There will be less than 100 yards, unless one of the backs suddenly has a career night. But what UW can do is exploit what looks to be a somewhat weaker than expected secondary for the Broncos. In watching the VT game, I noticed the corners playing fairly soft coverage, which is odd considering this was a group that played very well with Kyle Wilson in their midst. If BSU plays very similarly in this game, then UW can throw passes for 5 yards at a time pretty effectively. Throw in a run now and then to keep BSU honest, and UW could see consistent and productive drives that are mainly through the air. The receivers have shown that they can catch the ball, and drops have so far not been an outstanding issue for the Cowboys.
The real wrench here for UW is that BSU has tape of two games that UW has played, and two weeks to prepare for the UW game. Chris Petersen is not looking past this game, and I am pretty certain that none of the players are as well. They know that this is not a gimme game, and UW has played them very tough in the past. Dave Christensen is a very well respected coach, and he has worked to make this a competitive team.
I am pretty sure we will see a much tighter game from BSU than what happened against VT. There were a lot of mistakes from BSU, and those things will have been worked on until Petersen is happy enough with the results. Kellen Moore is the anchor for the team, and if he is on his game then it is unlikely that BSU will be beat on the scoreboard. They have several running backs which can exploit the holes made by their veteran offensive line, so the rush will be important for the defense to stop. Unfortunately for UW, BSU has a bunch of receivers that can make plays. Austin Pettis and Titus Young could start for any team in college football. So even turning BSU into a one dimensional offense is not going to slow them down in any kind of dramatic fashion.
The primary defensive key for UW is to bottle up the rush, and get some actual pressure on Moore. Moore is unlikely to be sacked, as he is a calm and relatively mobile QB. But good pressure combined with a seasoned secondary who can sniff out the inevitable misdirects can spell trouble for BSU on offense. On the other side, if BSU's secondary looks like it did in the VT game, then UW can gain a lot of yards through the air.
The odds are that BSU comes away with a victory, and a large margin of victory at that. It is a very good team which has proven itself over the past few years with plenty of marquee wins and undefeated seasons. I also know that UW will come to play, and they will play hard. It will be a sold out game at War Memorial Stadium, and the fans are hungry for an upset. The team is hungry as well. Many of the big wins against AQ teams for Wyoming have been against programs that have had down years. Tennessee, Ole Miss, UCLA, and others have not exactly been season defining wins due the relative weakness of those teams as compared to their long and storied histories. The idea of a top 5 upset is certainly one they can achieve if they work together as they should.
There will be a lot of emotion on the field, as UW will play a tough game to get the upset. But that upset will have to come due to a stingy defense, and an offense that can capitalize on any mistakes made by BSU. BSU makes very few mistakes, and they will be a physical team to match up against. BSU will probably win, but it seems to me that a bunch of factors are in place for a potential upset.