MWC Game Preview: Wyoming vs. Nebraska

Head coach Dave Christensen's undefeated Wyoming Cowboys are 3-0 going into this weekends game, and they are tied with San Diego State at the top of the Mountain West Conference leaders board with the most wins. What is noteworthy is that the Pokes have been averaging 492 yards per game. Their 1,477 yards of total offense have come from wins over Weber State (35-32), Texas State (45-10), and a squeeker last week over Bowling Green (28-27) out in Ohio. Those numbers will change after Saturday's game with the #9 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers (also 3-0)of the Big 10 Conference. The Huskers will be traveling to War Memorial Stadium, in Laramie to see if the air up there is really as thin as they say it is. (It is). But the odds makers don't think it will be much of an edge for Cowboys and are giving the contest to Nebraska by 23 1/2 points. But if the Pokes are worried about that, you would never know it. The team and their fans are as upbeat as ever. Laramie is going "crazy" with anticipation. "When they step out and see the atmosphere, that will do a lot," Christensen said in summing up the excitement. "It's going to be an electrifying atmosphere." And luckily for Cowboy and MWC fans, we can all watch it Saturday night at 9:30 PM MT on Versus. This will be Wyomings third home game this season and destined to be the most memorable no matter how it plays out. The Cowboys are determined to put up a good fight and would like nothing better than to chalk up another win for the conference and move to 4-0. But the Cornhuskers are on a roll, also, and no one in the media is giving the Cowboys a win. Last week the Nebraska team slapped the Washington Huskies (2-1) all over Memorial Stadium at Lincoln, Nebraska on their way to posting a 51-38 win. That's a huge improvement over last December when the Cornhuskers lost to the Huskies in the Holiday Bowl. What's impressive about the Nebraska team this year is that it has scored at least 40 points in each of its first three games for the first time since the 1995 national championship season. Ouch. And unfortunately for the Pokes, they will be looking to keep that record rolling. That should be easy for the Husker offense who have a playmaker in QB Taylor Martinez, 6-1 200 lbs. This sohpomore out of California completed 10 of 21 passes for 155 yards and 2 TD's last week. And he ran for 83 yards on 17 carries. This guy does it all and can easily catch a defender offguard. All total, the Cornhuskers have racked up 1266 total yards on the season so far, and 757 of those have been rushing. That's with an impressive 5.7 yards a carry. You can look for more of the same Saturday night because Nebraska has a number of good running backs in their backfield. One standout is RB Rex Burkhead, 5-11 210 lbs. Last week he had 22 carries for 120 yards. He will be wanting to go over a 1,000 yards this year after almost getting there last year with 951. But Nebraska comes into the Cowboy's home pasture full of confidence and bravado. They have been looking past the Wyoming game like it is a greasy spot in the road on their way to the Big 10 championship. This is the first year in the Big 10 for the Nebraska team and they figure to finish the year at the top. But with that kind of a chip on their shoulder, it could just be the one area Christensen's Cowboys could take advantage of. Cowboy QB Brett Smith, 6-3 195 lbs, has been doing his best to head up a team that started fall practice without an experinced quarterback. In fact, Smith didn't even get the startng nod until the last week of August. Since then he has made great strides. He has passed for 797 yards and completed 61.8 percent of his passes. You can throw in 5 TD's with that. He's also not afraid to run with the ball, and has scrambled 30 times for 154 yards. Not bad. Even if those stats are tempered somewhat with 3 INTs and a couple of sacks. Smith heads up a Wyoming offense that has used a well-balanced attack in their game plans. That is a credit to new offensive coordinator, Gregg Brandon. And for this game you can bet that he has noticed that the Nebraska defense has given up 67 points in the past two games. Two weeks ago Fresno State hung 444 total yards on the Huskers, and actually had more first downs (24-16). Last week the Nebraska defense let the Huskies put up 420 yards. Most of the yards in both games came on the heels of a passing attack. Of course, OC Brandon's spread offense will be front and center. It has drawn a lot of attention from the fans and media. But I still expect to see Brett Smith's arm get a good workout. He has good set of Wyoming reveivers to work with: Robert Herron, 5-10 180 lbs; Chris McNeill, 6-1 180 lbs; Mazi Ogbonna, 6-1 194 lbs; and Dominic Rufran, 6-1 185 lbs, just to name a few. RB Alvester Alexaner, 5-11 208 lbs, has also been kept busy catching the ball when he's not carrying the pigskin out of the backfield. He's not alone as a Wyoming carrier: RB's Brandon Miller, 6-1 187 lbs, and Ghaali Muhammadm 6-1 225 lbs. have both been grinding it out for good yardage. If they can run against the Cornhuskers and take pressure off the receivers, they could give the Pokes a chance at an upset. The Wyoming defense will have to show some big improvement, however, to keep the Cowboys in the game. So far, outside of the D-line, the defense has been non-existent, and Wyoming has coughed up 1244 total yards. Go figure: that's the length of 12 1/2 football fields in three games. Bowling Green alone burned the Cowboys for 514 yards last week. The coverage downfield was terrible---437 of the Falcons yards were passing yards. And now this week the Pokes will be standing up against one of the toughest offenses in the country who can both run and pass. All we can do now is see if the Cowboys will be up for the challenge.
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