Cowboys vs. Rams: How we see this shaking out
FORT COLLINS, Colo., -- Today we break down the 112th Border War between Wyoming and Colorado State. Kickoff is scheduled for at 7 p.m. MST at Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins.
When the Pokes have the pigskin: "X gonna give it to you." I hear that's a rap song, but it couldn't be more true of a statement about what the Cowboys' plans are Friday night against hated rival CSU. Craig Bohl and Co. are going to feed Xazavian Valladay -- a lot. Last Friday, the junior running back carried the ball 32 times for a game-high 163 yards and two touchdowns. He is the bell cow. Tonight, expect Wyoming's game plan to look awfully similar to the one they used to knock off the Rams the last time these two met in Fort Collins. You remember, that was Sean Chambers first career start in 2018. The visitors ran the ball 56 times while Chambers completed 7-of-10 passes for 116 yards and a pair of scores. Maybe Levi Williams puts it in the air more times than that, but the scheme will likely remain the same. Valladay and Trey Smith will get behind that big veteran line and pound away. Eventually, that should open some throwing lanes. CSU gave up 348 passing yards in an opening-night loss to Fresno State. The Bulldogs also eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark. There should be plenty of options available to the Pokes offense, which put up nearly 400 yards -- 281 rushing -- in a dominating 31-7 victory over Hawaii. The Rams' defense still has plenty of talent across the board, starting with Manny Jones, who registered three sacks and four tackles for loss last fall in Laramie. Dequan Jackson is another guy the Pokes will have to focus on. The junior linebacker racked up a team-high 10 tackles in Fresno.
When CSU is on offense: Rams' head coach Steve Addazio refused to name a starting quarterback during his Monday press conference. Here's what we do know. If Todd Centeio gets the nod like he did in the opener, expect him to run with the ball. He finished with 13 carries for a team-leading 80 yards against the Bulldogs. The Temple transfer did not have his best night throwing the football, completing just 10-of-23 passes for 141 yards, but he was also missing key wide outs Dante Wright and Ty McCullouch. Wright was the Rams' second leading receiver in 2019, hauling in 56 catches for 802 yards and four touchdowns. He'll play against the Cowboys. Prepare to see plenty of No. 22. Patrick O'Brien, who started the final nine games of the season last fall in Fort Collins, saw some mop-up duty in Fresno, completing 7-of-10 passes for 82 yards and a score. Addazio wouldn't commit to either QB -- publicly -- but did say UW can expect to see both guys under center. Another number to watch for -- No. 85. That belongs to tight end Trey McBride, arguably the best tight end in the Mountain West. He's 6-foot, 4-inches and 260 pounds. Containing him won't be a walk in the park. We know Addazio, a lot like Bohl, will try any and everything to get the running game going. Last week, the Rams ran the ball 40 times compared to just 33 passes. CSU will give the ball to big running back Marcus McElroy. For the Pokes' defense, stopping the run will be top priority. Enter Cole Godbout, Jordan Bertagnole and Victor Jones. The Pokes' rush defense held Hawaii's elusive quarterback Chevan Cordeiro to just one yard rushing a week after he gashed Fresno State for 116. The linebackers, Chad Muma, Charles Hicks, and others, will play a big role in this one, too. First off, they have to contain McBride. Secondly, they will be key in plugging up running lanes. Look for Esaias Gandy to have a big one in Fort Collins. He's drawn a tough assignment, too. He will be tasked with limiting McBride while also crashing the Rams' running game. Think ... a bigger Alijah Halliburton.
Special teams edge: It feels like Dontae Crow is due, right? Wyoming's returner had a rough opener in Reno, but that changed last Friday night in Laramie. The senior from Sheridan had a big 32-yard return in the kicking game and caught every punt in the air. Crow's teammates say he's the quickest, shifty runner they have on the roster. John Hoyland came back down to earth against Hawaii, finishing 1-for-2 on his field-goal attempts. In Week 1, the freshman walk-on went 4-for-4 and was named the league's Special Teams Player of the Week. CSU possesses, without question, the best punter in the country in Ryan Stonehouse. He averaged 42.6 yards per punt in Fresno with a long of 58. Just another day at the office for the senior. Robert Liss, a true freshman placekicker for the Rams, went 1-for-1 on field-goal attempts, nailing a 24 yarder. Last season, CSU struggled in this department, connecting on just 14-of-24.
Historically speaking: This is the longest running rivalry went of the Mississippi. These two teams -- and the fanbases -- do not like each other. The hatred has been flowing for 112 years. Not much has changed in that department. What has shifted is momentum. The Cowboys have hoisted the Bronze Boot four straight times and won eight of the last 11. The all-time series lead has CSU out front 58-48-5. Since these two have played for that coveted trophy, all the way back in 1968, UW holds a 28-24 advantage. Bohl is 4-2 against the Rams since arriving in Laramie in 2014. Addazio will get his first taste of the Border War in this one.
The score. Oh, the score: The scoreboard in Fresno didn't look pretty: Bulldogs 38, Rams 17. But that score isn't really indicative of what transpired in northern California. CSU was dreadful on third down. On offense and defense. Centeio and Co. converted on just two of 15 attempts. O'Brien picked up the squad's two other first downs in the game. Yikes. On defense, the Rams allowed back-breaking third-down conversions all night long. FSU was 10-of-18 in that category. They also converted both fourth-down tries. Not much went right for CSU in Week 1, but there were shades of what they are capable of. McBride reeled in a career-high 130 yards on eight catches. He also scored a touchdown. Centeio busted a couple of long runs, and the Rams' defense finished with four sacks and nine tackles for loss. No one made more improvements from the opener to Week 2 than the Cowboys. UW ran all over the Rainbow Warriors and played a suffocating brand of defense, that allowed just 233 yards of total offense. Who can run the ball -- and the clock -- Friday night? Who can convert those big third-down attempts? Which team won't shoot themselves in the foot? My money is on the visitors. Wyoming is on a different level right now. And the hatred that comes across in this game isn't manufactured by the Pokes. It's real. Can't say that for the other team -- yet.