Cowboys vs. Rainbow Warriors: How we see this shaking out
LARAMIE -- Today we break down the home opener between Wyoming and Hawaii. Kickoff is scheduled for Friday at 7:45 p.m. MST at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.
When the Pokes have the pigskin: This week, the reins of the Cowboys' offense belong to redshirt freshman quarterback Levi Williams. Remember the last time that was the case? Williams tossed three first-half touchdowns and he ran for another in a dominating 38-17 Arizona Bowl victory over Georgia State. That was his first-career start. What was successful that afternoon? Well, first thing, Wyoming got the run game going. Xazavian Valladay, who was later named the bowl game's offensive MVP, rushed for 204 yards on 26 carries. That opened up plenty of throwing lanes, even though Williams connected on just 11-of- 26 passes for 234 yards. Expect to see a similar game plan Friday night when the Rainbow Warriors pay a visit to Laramie. This time, you have to believe Williams has better weapons, too, mainly 6-foot, 3-inch wide receiver Isaiah Neyor. He can go up and get it. For Hawaii, it will rely on an active defensive back group that racked up 21 tackles, a sack and two interceptions by Eugene Ford. The 'Bows allowed just 79 yards on 18 carries by Fresno State tailback Ronnie Rivers. They also compiled three sacks and six tackles for loss. Hawaii is active and wants to go toe-to-toe at the line of scrimmage. That should be advantage Cowboys. And you have to imagine Bart Millers' offensive line is not thrilled with their Week-1 performance. Look for them to be mean.
When Hawaii is on offense: Chevan Cordeiro is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks the Cowboys will face this season. Last week, Nevada's Carson Strong sat back in a comfortable pocket for most of the night and picked apart Wyoming's young secondary. Corderio won't do that. Any hint of pressure and he will be on the run. And he's lightning fast. Just ask Fresno State. In Hawaii's 34-19 win Saturday in California, Cordeiro rushed for a team-high 116 yards and two scores. He gashed the Bulldogs on an easy 54-yard jaunt to the end zone. He can throw, too. The sophomore hit 20-of-31 passes for 229 yards. He had two receivers tally more than 80 yards through the air in Jared Smart and Rico Bussey Jr. Where the 'Bows made their most hay in Fresno, however, was on the ground. Miles Reed rushed for 109 yards and Calvin Turner added a pair of touchdowns to go along with 60 yards on just eight carries. Hawaii likes to go fast. Will the altitude help corral that? How about the Cowboys' defense? Cole Godbout, Ravontae Holt, Victor Jones, Chad Muma and others, held Nevada to just 76 yards on the ground. The passing game is what hurt the Pokes' the most in northern Nevada. Strong threw for 420 yards and four touchdowns on an inexperienced Cowboy secondary. That can't happen Friday if UW hopes to get in the win column for the first time this season.
Special teams edge: Who saw this coming -- Wyoming is home to the Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week. Freshman walk-on John Hoyland was 4-for-4 on field goals, including booting a 42-yarder to send the game to overtime and a 38-yarder in the extra frame. Other than Hoyland's performance, the Cowboys' didn't exactly have the best night in Nevada on special teams. Romeo Doubs returned a punt for a score, but it was called back on an offsides penalty. Wyoming punt returner Dontae Crow decided not to catch a pair of punts late. The ball rolled deep inside UW territory both times. Hawaii had six different players return kicks in its opener. They all had nice returns, too. They averaged 18.4 yards per return. Hawaii placekicker Matthew Shipley was 2-for-4 on his field-goal attempts. Both misses were from 40-plus yards.
Historically speaking: This will be the 25th meeting between these old Western Athletic Conference rivals with the Cowboys holding a slight 14-10 lead in the series. Hawaii won the last meeting on the islands, 17-13. The last time the Rainbow Warriors paid a visit to 7220 the game went into overtime. Josh Allen tossed a 25-yard scoring strike to James Price on the fourth play of the extra frame. Wyoming hasn't lost at home to Hawaii since 1991. By the way, these teams play for some hardware. The Paniolo Trophy is on the line Friday night. It's a bronze with a cowboy on a horse attempting to rope a calf. Did you know there was cowboy culture in the tropics? Now you do.
The score. Oh, the score: Hawaii is going to find ways to score. They have too much talent on that side of the ball not to. The score -- 34-19 -- looked lopsided in Fresno, but that's what happens when you reel in four turnovers like the Rainbow Warriors did last Saturday. Imagine if the Cowboys didn't have a pair of takeaways in the first half in Reno? That game could've been out of reach by halftime. With Williams behind the wheel, expect the Pokes to get in rhythm early. Valladay could be the difference maker in this one. I expect the Cowboys' veteran offensive line to set the tone right off the bat. Wyoming isn't losing this one. Not at home. Not in late October. At night, no less. The Pokes outlast the 'Bows and set their sites on the next trophy for the case -- the Bronze Boot.