3 keys to beating the Aggies
LARAMIE -- These two programs are in very different places right now.
Utah State enters the 71st meeting of this rivalry winless, dropping the first four games of the season in unflattering fashion.
The on-field results haven't been great for the Aggies. The off-the-field realities have been even worse.
Head coach Gary Andersen and the school abruptly parted ways after Week 3. Sunday, the school announced that starting quarterback Jason Shelley has been kicked off the team.
Thursday night, Utah State will start redshirt freshman Cooper Legas under center. He's never played in a college football game. That can't be good for an offense that has scored just five touchdowns and averaged 11.3 points per game.
Or can it?
Here is what the Cowboys need to do to make sure they sent the Aggies home 0-5 and hoist Jim Bridger's rifle postgame:
Don't kick it to that guy
Not much has gone right for the Aggies on offense or defense in 2020, but the same can't be said for Utah State's special teams.
To be more specific, the visitors have a dangerous kick returner.
Savon Scarver torched Fresno State for a 94-yard touchdown late in the first quarter last Saturday in Logan. The speedster blew right through the Bulldogs. They maybe got a fingertip on him. That's it.
Watch for yourself:
Scarver isn't a one-hit wonder, either.
That was his sixth kick return for a score. That is a school record. It's also one touchdown shy of the Mountain West record, which is held by San Diego State's Rashaad Penny.
I'm sure you don't need reminded, but Scarver has already toasted the Cowboys once. That came back in 2018 in Laramie. That was a 99-yarder. Penny was known to do a number on the Pokes, too.
Wyoming cannot allow the senior from Las Vegas to get points on the board for the visitors. Scarver is averaging nearly 28 yards per return this season in 14 attempts.
The Cowboys' kick-coverage team is allowing 22 yards per return through three games.
"He can turn the field over," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said, adding that he has had a front-row seat for Scarver for a long time. "He's a dynamic player."
Halt the home-run hitters
Statistically, Utah State boasts the second-worst offense in the country. The Aggies average just 243 yards per game. They've scored a grand total of five touchdowns. They are one of a handful of teams that hasn't even eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark yet. They average 11 points per outing.
We could go on.
The numbers are ugly.
They could get even worse Thursday night when Utah State is forced to start a rookie quarterback.
Check out these abysmal offensive stats:
- Passing: 112.3 yards per game (121st)
- Rushing: 130.5 yards per game (96th)
- Red zone: 5 attempts (3 touchdowns, field goal) (84th)
- Third-down conversions: 20 of 66 (113th)
- Turnover margin: 3 interceptions, 3 fumbles, minus-4 (111th)
What does it all mean?
Nothing if you ask Wyoming quarterback Levi Williams.
"Teams with nothing to lose are the most dangerous, in my opinion," he said. "They can cause real problems."
Wyoming needs to keep the Aggies few home-run hitters at bay and the rest should take care of itself.
Yes, Utah State is bad on that side of the ball, but they do have a running back and a wide out who can still make plays.
Let's start with Jaylen Warren, USU's senior tailback, who is averaging 6.5 yards per rush. Last week, Warren took an inside handoff the distance against Fresno State:
The guy can flat out fly. That was an 86-yarder above.
Warren has 252 yards rushing on 39 attempts and has scored three times already this season. You think the Aggies are going to feed Warren Thursday night and take some pressure off Legas?
"They definitely have some good backs, but I feel like we have some good defenders to go tackle him," Cowboys' defensive end Victor Jones said.
Deven Thompkins is another deep threat for the Aggies.
Despite the Aggies pour play so far under center, Thompkins has still managed to snag 20 balls for 214 yards and a score. Last November against the Cowboys, the then-sophomore caught four passes for 51 yards. Thompkins will also take an handoff and return kicks.
"He's speedy. He's very quick," UW cornerback CJ Coldon said. "He can play the ball well and they try to get him the ball a lot. We're going to try to do whatever we can to stop him. That's the plan."
These two are dangerous.
If Wyoming can shut those two down -- and Scarver -- it could be a long, cold night in Laramie for the Aggies, who have won two straight in the series.
Let it fly, Levi
That title pretty much says it all, huh?
Levi Williams, the Cowboys' redshirt freshman quarterback, is coming off the best passing performance of his young career in a 34-24 loss to Border War rival Colorado State back on Nov. 5.
Williams carved up the Rams' secondary to the tune of 321 yards through the air.
Guess what? That's exactly how many yards per game the Aggies are giving up. That ranks Utah State 118th in the country out of 124 FBS programs who are actually playing this fall.
"... We're going to do some things to expose those guys, so we are excited to play," Williams said.
It gets worse for the visitors.
USU's defense also gives up 205 yards per contest on the ground. Last Saturday, Fresno State's Ronnie Rivers gashed the Aggies in Logan for 132 yards. Toa Taua of Nevada also eclipsed the 100-yard mark. So did SDSU's Greg Bell (157) and Boise State's George Holani (100).
Wyoming's offensive line has been under the microscope early on this season. That unit came in with plenty of veterans and big expectations. Against CSU, they allowed six sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
In other words, those big boys should be in a bad mood.
Did we mention that this team has also been forced to stew on a loss to their biggest rivals for two weeks?
"We have a chip on our shoulder coming back into this week," UW left guard Eric Abojei said.
Xazavian Valladay is the league's second-leading rusher through three games with 397 yards on 82 carries. You think Wyoming's junior running back is licking his chops?
Let's face it, there's blood in the water in Logan. Utah State is a mess. The Cowboys need to take advantage.
If Wyoming does what it's capable of, and the Aggies stay the course they've been on through four weeks, Bohl and Co. should be adding a rifle to the trophy case Thursday night.