9:30 PM EST, ESPN2 – Line: Wyoming -6.5, Over/Under: 50.5
Division Rivals who have seen their respective seasons derailed due to similar injuries clash tonight, as the reeling Wyoming Cowboys play host to the Colorado State Rams, from War Memorial Field in Laramie, Wyoming. Things were supposed to be trending upward for Colorado State (4-6, 3-3 in MWC), who coming off a dismal 3-9 campaign in which they were clearly rebuilding, were dealt a major blow early in the season, forcing Mike Bobo and his Coaching Staff to completely change their plans. Of course, there is virtually nothing worse for a football team than losing their Starting Quarterback to a season-ending injury, let alone just three games into the season, and that’s precisely what has happened to the ram, who lost Junior Signal-Caller, Colin Hill (67.6%, 840 YDS, 8.2 Y/A, 8 TD, 2 INT), to a torn ACL in a 34-55 mid-September loss at Arkansas. At that point in time, Bobo’s charges were sitting at 1-2 a few weeks before entering Mountain West play, which was far from ideal for a program that is desperate to return to Bowl Eligibility after missing out on the Postseason altogether for the first time in six years. In turn, Bobo had led the school to three straight seven-win seasons following his arrival back in 2015, but after last year’s miserable showing, 2019’s 1-5 start left many around Fort Collins believing that the former Georgia Assistant was firmly entrenched on the proverbial hot seat. Thankfully, the Offense started to turn things around following a 10-24 loss at home to San Diego State, with Hill’s successor, Patrick O’Brien (61.7%, 2,297 YDS, 8.5 Y/A, 10 TD, 4 INT), settling into his role as the Starting Quarterback. The former transfer from Nebraska would go on to ignite a solid turnaround for Colorado State, who went on to win their next three games, with the Offense looking vastly improved, averaging 37.7 Points per Game on 43.0 Total Yards, with O’Brien doing his part in completing 63.1% of his Passes for an average of 325.3 Yards on an impressive 9.5 Yards per Attempt, along with Five Touchdowns to One Interception. Furthermore, his rapport with the Mountain West’s leading Receiver, Warren Jackson (63 REC, 940 YDS, 14.9 Y/R, 6 TD), has flourished in that span, with the Junior reeling in Twenty-four Receptions for 525 Yards and Three Touchdowns. It took a while, but the Offense was finally rolling for the Rams, who were just two wins away from Bowl Eligibility, only to be dealt a crucial blow the following week, a 21-38 defeat at home to Air Force. Bobo’s charges started quickly, racing out to an early 14-0 lead, with O’Brien hitting Sophomore Tight End, Trey McBride (30 REC, 381 YDS, 12.7 Y/R, 3 TD) for a 4-Yard Touchdown in the First Quarter, followed shortly thereafter by a 63-Yard Fumble Return for a score courtesy of Freshman Linebacker, Mohammed Kamara (16 TKL, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR, 1 TD). And then that’s where everything changed, for the Falcons would run off twenty-four unanswered points to take a 24-14 lead midway through the Fourth Quarter. The hosts would respond with another O’Brien Touchdown, this time to Freshman Receiver, Dante Wright (52 REC, 731 YDS, 14.1 Y/R, 4 TD), to pull within three, only to see their Defense get torched yet again, with the visiting side finding the End Zone with just over two minutes left to play. O’Brien would drive his side down the field with frightening ease, only to see his final pass, this one at the Goal Line, intercepted and returned ninety-nine yards to pay-dirt. In the end, the Junior Quarterback was once again solid, completing 28-of-43 Attempts for 347 Yards, Two Touchdowns and an Interception, while the aforementioned Jackson hauled in Eight Catches for Eighty-Eight Yards. After appearing to be resurgent following their dreadful start, there is no other way to view this defeat as crushing or deflating, for now they will be forced to win out if they are to qualify for a Bowl. Colorado State carries three consecutive losses to Wyoming into tonight’s encounter, and the Regular Season Finale against No. 20 Boise State will mark their first meeting with a ranked opponent this season. Needless to say, Bowl Eligibility looks more and more like a pipe dream at this point, which could lead to some significant changes in the Offseason.
Meanwhile, they’ll certainly be sympathetic to the plight of their opponent tonight, for Wyoming (6-4, 3-3 in MWC) has lost their Starting Quarterback far more recently, which quite frankly has derailed what looked to be a promising start. Indeed, the Cowboys were already Bowl Eligible heading into a mid-November clash with Nevada, which turned into an easy 31-3 rout for the hosts, though it would come at a terrible price: Redshirt Freshman Quarterback, Sean Chambers (43.0%, 915 YDS, 7.6 Y/A, 7 TD, 3 INT), would leave the field of play prematurely with a Torn ACL, ending his season altogether. Chambers, who made four starts in 2018, was a major component of Craig Bohl’s grounded Offense this term, rushing for 567 Yards and a team-high Ten Touchdowns. In the eight games prior to injury, the Rushing Attack accounted for a stellar 239.4 Yards per Game on the ground, but in their last two outings have managed just 141.5 Yards per Contest. Furthermore, the Offense in general has really looked lost of late without his presence, first in a narrow 17-20 Overtime Loss at Boise State, in which the visiting side could muster just 283 Total Yards in what was a veritable defensive struggle. Chambers’ successor, Tyler Vander Waal (52.0%, 429 YDS, 5.7 Y/A, 1 TD, 3 INT), offered very little apart form simply managing the game, completing 15-of-23 Passes for 160 Yards, while rushing for a score to draw even late in the First Half. The Sophomore Quarterback was actually Chambers’ predecessor last season, making ten starts for the Cowboys, and has contributed to the ground game since his return to the Starting Lineup, but has yet to make much progress in the passing game, completing just 52.0% of his Attempts for an average of 107.3 Yards per Game on 5.7 Yards per Attempt with One Touchdown in comparison to Three Interceptions, all of which came in last weekend’s 21-26 defeat at Utah State. While he did barrel into the End Zone on two occasions, his lack of production as a passer ultimately negated what was an otherwise excellent defensive performance from Bohl’s troops. Vander Waal completed 20-of-36 Passes for a meager 185 Yards and that aforementioned trifecta of Interceptions, dooming any hope of engineering a legitimate comeback. The visiting side kicked things off quickly, with Senior Safety/Linebacker, Logan Wilson (80 TKL, 7.5 TFL, 1.0 SK, 1 FF, 3 INT, 1 TD, 7 PD), intercepting Utah State’s Jordan Love’s first pass of the game, returning it ten yards for a Touchdown. After the two teams traded blows for the rest of the First Half, the Cowboys’ Defense would go on to limit the Aggies to four consecutive Field Goals, keeping the deficit manageable. Following his 5-Yards Touchdown Run to bring the visitors within five points of the hosts, Vander Waal drove his team to his opponent’s 39-Yard Line, only to be intercepted for the third and final time with fifty-eight seconds remaining, effectively ending the affair. Credit the Defense for keeping them in it, for Wilson continued to impress with Eight Tackles and a Defended Pass, while Sophomore Cornerback, Keyon Blakenbaker (49 TKL, 1 FF, 9 PD) led the team with Nine Tackles and a Forced Fumble, with Freshman Safety, Rome Weber (32 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 INT, 3 PD), and Junior Nose Tackle, Javaree Jackson (26 TKL, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT), logging a Sack apiece, with the latter also snaring an Interception of the aforementioned Love. With two games left on their schedule, Bohl can only hope that this unit, which ranks Sixteenth Overall in the country in Points Allowed (18.7), can continue to play at a high level, while their cohorts on the opposite side of the football get better acclimated to their new Quarterback. Perhaps a meeting with Colorado State will be just what the doctor ordered, for Wyoming has bested their division rival on three straight occasions, including last year’s 34-21 victory in Fort Collins, in which the visitors raced out to an early 24-0 advantage, primarily on the strength of their Rushing Attack which accumulated a whopping 297 Yards, though 101 of that total came courtesy of Chambers.