3 keys to beating the Lobos
LARAMIE -- Neither team has a quarterback penciled in for Saturday's meeting inside War Memorial Stadium.
Both have offenses that are at or near the bottom in plenty statistical categories in the Mountain West. New Mexico hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in two weeks. Wyoming hasn't scored a point in the last six quarters.
Something has to give, right?
The Cowboys and Lobos will meet on the football field for the 74th time in the history of this series. Wyoming still has title hopes. New Mexico is in full rebuild mode under second-year head coach Danny Gonzales.
Oddsmakers think the home team will run away with this one. UW is a 20-point favorite.
New Mexico could be just what the doctor ordered.
But then again, that was supposed to be the case last year.
Last December inside Sam Boyd Stadium on the outskirts of Las Vegas, New Mexico -- a team that had lost an FBS-worst 14 straight games and 20 consecutive in Mountain West play -- stunned the Cowboys, 17-16.
As they say, that's why they play the game.
Here are a few keys to the Cowboys getting the job done this week, snapping a two-game losing skid and finally getting that elusive first victory in conference play.
Turn the tables
You know how seemingly every Saturday Wyoming's opponents load up the box and don't seem worried one bit about the Cowboys' passing attack?
New Mexico hasn't proven it can consistently throw the ball through its first seven games. It hasn't really mattered who is under center, either. The Lobos are averaging just 155 yards per game through the air in those outings. That's good enough for 120th in the nation out of 130 teams.
Last week against Colorado State, true freshman CJ Montes connected on just 3-of-19 passes for 11 yards. He also tossed a pair of picks and fumbled in his college debut.
Gonzales would love to have his starter, Terry Wilson, back this week in Laramie, but that is far from a certainty. During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Gonzales said if the game was that day, Wilson wouldn't be playing.
That leaves Montes and Isaiah Chavez, the QB who orchestrated that win over UW last winter in Sin City.
No matter who is slinging it for the Lobos, none of these three options should strike fear into a Wyoming secondary that is one of the best in country at defending the pass. Azizi Hearn, CJ Coldon and Co. allow just under 159 yards per game. That's the seventh-best mark in the FBS.
Last Saturday in Laramie, these guys helped hold Jake Haener to just 96 passing yards. Fresno State's quarterback was averaging nearly 400 yards a game through the air coming in. He was the third-leading passer in America.
New Mexico's rushing attack isn't exactly a juggernaut, either.
Aaron Dumas is the Lobos' leading rusher, averaging just 50 yards an outing. As a team, the visitors rack up just 99 yards per game.
If the Cowboys can force New Mexico's trio of inexperienced passers to beat them, they will be in good shape. And if you're looking for a little cherry on top, those three have thrown a combined six interceptions and have been sacked 23 times.
A mulligan, please?
It's no secret that UW's offensive line has struggled mightily in its last two outings.
When the big guys up front can't get going, you're sunk. That was certainly the case last Saturday in Fresno State's 17-0 win inside War Memorial Stadium.
Sean Chambers completed just 8-of-23 passes for 111 yards and added three interceptions. He also fumbled on the second play from scrimmage. He was under duress all afternoon and the Cowboys running game was stuck in neutral because of the Bulldogs commitment to stopping it and the line's inability to open holes.
Fresno State added three sacks and seven tackles for loss, too.
"We have to have all five guys doing their job," UW's first-year offensive line coach Derek Frazier said. "It's not about a super-human effort. It's never something you can turn on and off -- we preach that all the time -- It's got to be an all-the-time deal.
"... That's what we have to do right from the beginning and for 60 minutes of football."
If the Pokes can put those words into action, Craig Bohl and his staff need to feed their talented backfield all afternoon long. Xazavian Valladay and Titus Swen need to eat. Not only will that help take pressure off either Chambers of Levi Williams under center, it will give this veteran front five -- and this stable of electric backs -- a renewed confidence.
New Mexico allows nearly 155 yards per game on the ground.
Wyoming has to take full advantage of that.
This, as you are fully aware, was supposed to once again be the Cowboys strength on offense. It's been alarming how inconsistent this unit has played through six games, especially during this two-game losing streak.
This needs to be a get-well game both mentally and in the conference standings.
In the first three games of the season, Wyoming's defense forced seven takeaways.
That was one of the top marks in the country.
For good measure, Chad Muma --twice -- and Keyon Blankenbaker even returned interceptions for touchdowns.
The good times haven't kept rolling in that regard.
At one time, UW was a plus-5 in this category. Now, after handing the opponent the ball nine times over the last three outings, including five last week in that loss to Fresno State, the Cowboys are a minus-2 in turnover margin.
"Obviously, the big factor that we've got to control and get our arms wrapped around is our turnovers," Bohl said. "It's very difficult to win a game when you turn the ball over five times and we didn't get any. So, those things need to be addressed.
"... That's unacceptable."
Chambers is responsible for six of the Cowboys' seven turnovers in the last two games, both UW loses. Williams threw a pick late in the fourth quarter last Saturday. That's one of the reasons Bohl has re-opened the quarterback battle this week.
On the flipside, New Mexico has lost six fumbles and thrown the same amount of interceptions through seven games. That's good enough for a minus-4.
Wyoming needs to make that number even worse.
Assuming the home team will figure out a way to get in the end zone Saturday -- multiple times would be ideal -- turnovers could start a snowball effect. However, if it's the Pokes dishing out favors, that could likely be the one thing that could make this a game.
In last year's meeting, you might recall, UW turned the ball over three times, including a critical Trey Smith fumble deep in Lobos' territory late in the fourth. As bad as the Cowboys offense was that night in the desert, they finished just five yards away from taking the lead and likely pulling off the win.
Turnovers derailed that.
It can't happen again.