Falcon fans have seen this act before.
The year was 2016, and the Falcons had started the season by winning their first four games and expectations were soaring. The roster was filled with players who were destined to write their names in the team record list. Weston Steelhammer was roaming the defensive backfield on his way to All-American status and the Falcon all-time leader in interceptions. Tailback/fullback Jacobi Owens was on his way to over 3000 career rushing yards. Jalen Robinette was in the process of breaking Ernie Jennings all-time Falcon record for receiving yards.
It was a confident Falcon team that took the 200 mile drive up to Laramie. But, as has been the case with many Craig Bohl coached teams, the Cowboys were able to contain the dangerous Falcon rushing attack and came away with a 35-26 victory over the Falcons. The loss threw the Falcons into a brief tailspin, losing the next two games after that. They finally recovered from that and went on to win their final six games, finishing with a record of 10-3.
Only two years before, the Falcons had made the journey to Laramie to open the conference schedule, and had come away with a 17-13 loss. The Cowboys had held the rushing attack to only 151 yards in that game and won the game on a three yard pass with less than a minute to go. Again, the Falcons had finished the season with a 10-3 record.
I’m sure there’s a lesson in there that Coach Calhoun will be emphasizing to his team this week.
Scouting the Cowboys
It was an offseason of turmoil for the Cowboys, who lost their star running back, star wide receiver, and both of their primary quarterbacks to the transfer portal.
The Cowboys were able to pick up QB Andrew Peasley in the portal from Utah State, and he has had an inconsistent beginning to his year. He had a poor game to start the year against Illinois, completing only 5 passes for 30 yards and one interception. He rebounded against Tulsa, completing 20 of 30 for 256 yards and 2 TDs. He had a mediocre game against UNC last week, going 19 of 30 for 144 yards.
Those results correspond to his performance against the Falcons over the last two years while at Utah State. He had a poor performance in 2020, going 17 of 32 for only 123 yards and two interceptions. Last year, he came in for Logan Bonner while he was injured and went 10 of 15 for 195 yards and 3 TDs. We’ll have to see which Andrew Peasley shows up for this game. His area of consistency is his running and scrambling ability. Against the Falcons he has 13 carries for 82 yards (6.3 ypc). This year for Wyoming he has 21 carries for 109 yards (5.2 ypc).
RB Titus Swen has ably taken the mantle from Xazavian Vallady, rushing for 71 yards per game with 3 TDs.
WR Josh Cobbs and TE Parker Christensen are the primary targets for Peasley, with 12 receptions for 135 yards, and 9 receptions for 76 yards respectively.
As usual on defense, the Cowboys have a strong linebacker group. Easton Gibbs and Shae Suiaunoa headline the group with 26 and 21 tackles respectively.
The defensive backfield has been the weak link on the defense, allowing an average of 270 yards per game.
Obviously, the Falcon running game is working at an elite level thus far. Brad Roberts and his Diesel brothers up front have consistently put pressure on the defense to crowd in and stop the dives and traps. That has freed the edge runners (Eldridge, Hughes, Larrier, Kinnamon, Jefferson) to run free on the outside. Those five are averaging 10 yards per carry, just ahead of Roberts’ 9 yards per carry.
The big question for future games is “How bad were Colorado’s and Northern Iowa’s run defense?” Neither of them were effective in their other games this year and neither sees an option based offense in a normal year.
Wyoming’s Craig Bohl teams face Air Force every year and are some of the most successful at containing the Falcon run game. Last year the Falcons were held to 3.3 yards per rush and turned to the passing game in the second half to push ahead to a 24-14 win.
Haaziq Daniels may not always be the most accurate passer, but he does seem able to dial it up when necessary, as he did against the Pokes, Army, and Louisville last year. He may need to do that this year if the Pokes defense lives up to previous years’ standards. The good news is that Kyle Patterson has returned, looks healthy, and can provide a big reliable target for Daniels.
On defense, it looks like we will see the small, quick version again, featuring Chris Herrera, Peyton Zdroik, and Bo Richter. Together with linebacker Vince Sanford, they could provide the quickness need to contain Peasley on scrambles and designed runs. The jury will be out on whether they can contain Wyoming’s power run game.
The line at Draft Kings on this game started the week at Falcons -17, but in the last couple days has moved to Falcons -15. The over/under has moved from 49.5 to 46.5, implying that bettors see the Pokes being able to contain the Falcon offense more than Vegas originally did.
The stat analysts all see the Falcons as anywhere from 17 to 21 point favorites. ESPN’s FPI gives the Falcons an 84% chance of victory.
The way I interpret these facts is that the Falcons’ and the Pokes’ performance thus far point to almost a three touchdown advantage for the Falcons, but using some judgement that includes results of past meetings between these two teams, brings the margin down to around two touchdowns. That seems pretty reasonable to me, and I’m even a little more conservative than that. I think the Falcons will win comfortably largely because they are so good at converting 3rd and 4th down chances and at preventing 3rd and 4th down conversions.
Falcons win 31-17. I’ll take Wyoming +15 and over 46.5.
The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network at 6 PM MT Friday night.