It's do-or-die time in the Mountain division of the Mountain West Conference. Utah State is, despite all odds, fighting for a chance to play in the inaugural MWC Championship game. Wyoming is trying to claw their way back to a .500 record on the season in hopes of making it to a bowl game. Both teams are coming off conference wins last week; USU shut out Colorado State in a low-scoring game with lots of injuries, and Wyoming scraped by Hawaii in a no-defense shootout.
It's not just a conference title game or a bowl game on the line for these two teams, though. There's also a .500 caliber rifle at stake. USU and Wyoming, who have had a rivalry in the past, have reestablished that rivalry with the beginning of the "Bridger's Battle," with the rifle as the trophy.
USU's offense has been hot or cold with replacement quarterback Darrell Garretson. The freshman has thrown six touchdowns in five games, but has also thrown 3 interceptions. He's nearing the 1000 yard mark for the season, averaging a just over 61% completion rate. His biggest problem has been a natural one: inexperience. Youth and nerves have lent a hesitance to get rid of the ball in pressure situations, resulting in ten sacks. As a result of all the injuries on the offensive side of the ball, much of the weight of leadership has passed to backup running back Joey DeMartino, who has carried the offense on his shoulders since Keeton went down in the sixth game of the season.
Both have had rough encounters with the injury bug that seems to be floating around the conference; where USU's main issues have been on the offense, Wyoming has had severe damage done on the defensive side. The lack of depth and talent has shown through in a rather painful way, as the Cowboys have allowed their opponents nearly 500 yards per game, have a negative turnover average, have allowed a shocking, conference worst 70% 4th down completion, and 35 points per game. Most of those marks are at or near the bottom of the conference.
Wyoming Head Coach Dave Christensen is starting to feel a little heat from disappointed fans; a loss to the Aggies could place him in danger of losing his job. For a team who started the year off with a near upset of national powerhouse Nebraska, the season has certainly been a letdown. USU Head Coach Matt Wells, meanwhile, has done an impressive job of navigating his team through not only a new conference, but numerous other setbacks.
After taking into account the loss of Keeton, the stats are painting a pretty stark picture for the Cowboys. Wyoming is averaging five more points per game than the Aggies, but is allowing nineteen more ppg. It's not just the averages though, it's who it was done against. After the strength of the opponents is factored in, the suggested outcome is a 37-11 thrashing in the Aggies' favor. I'm not quite sold on the stats' prognosis, especially with an impressive weapon in quarterback Brett Smith at Wyoming's disposal, but with the best defense in the Mountain West keeping him in check, I think USU comes out with at least a 10 point win.
Fresno St, watch out... the Aggies are going to Fresno.
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