Game Preview: Wyoming Cowboys at Air Force Falcons

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Can Air Force avoid starting off the season 0-3 in the Mountain West Conference?

Teams: Wyoming Cowboys at Air Force Falcons

WHEN: Saturday, September 14, 10:15 p.m. ET

WHERE: Falcon Stadium, Colorado Springs, CO (46,692)

CONFERENCES: MWC vs. MWC

2013 SEASON: Wyoming (2-1) (0-0); Air Force (1-2) (0-2)

HEAD COACHES: Dave Christensen, Wyoming (24-29); Troy Calhoun, Air Force (48-33)

TV COVERAGE: ESPNU

WEB STREAMING: Watch ESPN

SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads 27-21-3

LAST MEETING: Air Force 28, Wyoming 27 (10/13/2012)

WEB SITES: GoWyo.com | GoAirForceFalcons.com

***

OVERVIEW

Cowboy Nation had their hearts in their chest last weekend when QB Brett Smith went down with an ankle injury. But a quick tape job alleviated the immediate concern, and by Monday, the Wyoming coaching staff couldn't even tell he was hurt. Behind Smith's big arm, Wyoming is off to a great start, with two wins and a very close loss to Nebraska. Air Force, on the other hand, has had it pretty rough. Since losing Kale Pearson for the season, they've had to insert Jaleel Awini at quarterback with varying results. The sophomore has had to go up against both Boise State and Utah State, respectively, in his first two starts, which certainly won't help any young player jump right in and succeed. He's hoping things are different this week, however.

KEY PLAYERS

Brett Smith, QB/Wyoming: Smith's one of the country's best-kept secrets at quarterback, but he won't be a stranger to Air Force. Unfortunately for the Falcons, there's not a whole lot they'll be able to do to stop him. Air Force has recorded just one sack all season (more on that later) and is painfully small up front. Without anyone to pressure Smith, he should have a field day hitting favorite target Dominic Rufran, among others in the Cowboy's wide-open attack. The ankle injury from the previous game seems to be a non-factor, but it's worth keeping an eye out on how he reacts to contact as the game wears on.

Eddie Yarbrough, DE/Wyoming: Air Force is not going to throw the ball much at all, but if they do, they'll be looking out for Yarbrough. The sophomore is the Cowboys' best pass-rusher (four sacks already this year) and also has another two tackles for loss -- so the Falcons will have to look out for him when running around the edge. That size disadvantage up front could play a factor here, as Yarbrough has the potential to wreak havoc all by himself.

Jon Lee, RB/Air Force: Lee's the "homerun hitter" of the backfield, averaged 7.7 yards per carry on 21 attempts thus far this season. The only way Air Force will be able to keep up with Wyoming on offense is with big plays, so that's where Lee is set to have the most impact. Obviously, he'll be set up well by backfield-mate Broam Hart, but Lee is going to be the key to Air Force moving the ball. If he's stopped, their odds of winning this ball game go down quite a bit.

Dexter Walker, SS/Air Force: You know your defense isn't doing all that well when a reserve defensive back is the best player you've got, statistically, and your current sack leader (with a grand total of one). Walker should see time more playing time on Saturday in blitz packages, helping to apply pressure where the defensive line simply can't. He's not a game-changer necessarily, but he could still be the most important piece of this unit. Unsure if that's a positive.

OUTLOOK

Obviously the outlook doesn't sound too positive for Air Force based on the notes above, and unfortunately it's tough to see how they pull off a victory here. Despite the home-field advantage, the Falcons have a lackluster defensive front and an inexperienced sophomore at quarterback. Smith's a seasoned vet for Wyoming, and is likely to continue his high level of play in this contest. Believe it or not, the Cowboys could find themselves on the outskirts of the BCS rankings with another win or two -- something they're already keenly aware of. Air Force won't be getting in the way of their ultimate goal to try and win the Mountain Division this season.

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