The Cowboy and Bronco defenses are among the best in the Mountain West this season. Wyoming ranks No. 3 in the MW and No. 43 nationally in scoring defense, allowing 21.2 points per game. Boise State ranks No. 4 in the conference and No. 48 nationally, giving up 22.8 points per game. Boise State ranks No. 3 in the MW and No. 27 nationally in total defense (324.7 yards per game). Wyoming ranks No. 4 in the MW and No. 36 in the nation in total defense (348.5 yards per game).
Cowboy junior defensive end Carl Granderson was named the MW Defensive Player of the Week for his play against Utah State. There were so many outstanding individual defensive performances by the Cowboys last week that it was hard to single out one. Granderson made his first career interception last Saturday and sealed the Wyoming victory by sacking USU’s quarterback for a safety on the Aggies’ final possession of the game. Granderson’s junior running mate at defensive end, Kevin Prosser, also intercepted the first pass of his career and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Cassh Maluia recorded 11 tackles, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. Junior strong safety Andrew Wingard led the Cowboys with 15 tackles and also recovered one fumble. Senior cornerback Rico Gafford intercepted his fourth pass this season and junior nose tackle Conner Cain forced the fumble recovered by Maluia. All total, the Cowboy defense forced five turnovers by Utah State.
The Pokes lead the Mountain West and rank No. 3 in the nation in total turnovers forced, with 17 this season. The Cowboys have committed only six total turnovers themselves to tie for No. 2 in the league and No. 19 in the NCAA. In turnover margin (turnovers forced minus turnovers committed), Wyoming ranks No. 1 in the conference and No. 3 in the country, with a +11 turnover margin.
Wyoming’s 28-23 road victory at Utah State was also due in large part to explosive plays by the Wyoming offense. UW’s offense generated 11 explosive plays (six passing plays of 15 yards or more and five running plays of 10 yards or more). One of those explosive plays was a 10-yard run by freshman running back Trey Woods that led to Wyoming’s first field goal. The other 10 explosive plays came from junior quarterback Josh Allen. Allen had pass plays of 28, 15, 23, 26, 19 and 28 yards and running plays of 16, 16, 13 and 11 yards. Three of Allen’s big pass plays came on a drive that was capped off when Allen ran in for a touchdown from one yard out. Another one of Allen’s pass plays and a running play came on a drive that resulted in a field goal. Two other pass plays were on the game-winning drive capped by a 28-yard TD pass from Allen to wide receiver C.J. Johnson.
Special teams also played a critical role in Wyoming’s most recent win, as sophomore place-kicker Cooper Rothe and true freshman punter Tim Zaleski both were key to Wyoming’s win over the Aggies. Rothe converted both of his field-goal attempts from 21 and 29 yards and converted 2 of 3 PATs, missing the first PAT of his career on a low snap. He had made 78 straight PATs prior to that miss. Zaleski punted six times versus Utah State, placing each of his final four punts inside the USU 20-yard line at the 12, 15, 9 and 7-yard line.
As the Cowboys prepare to face Boise State this Saturday, it is hard not to think back to the classic game played between the two teams last year in Laramie. Wyoming recorded its first win over Boise State by a score of 30-28 on Oct. 29, 2016. It was the first Wyoming win over a Top 25 ranked team since 2002, and was the first of two Top 25 wins of the season for the Pokes. (UW would later defeat No. 24 ranked San Diego State.)
The Cowboys won in dramatic fashion over the Broncos, with 6:42 remaining in the game quarterback Allen connected with senior wide receiver Tanner Gentry on a 27-yard touchdown pass to make the score 26-28 in favor of Boise State. Allen then hit senior wide receiver Jake Maulhardt for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 28-28.
Neither team could move the ball on their next possessions. On Boise’s next possession, Cowboy senior nose tackle Chase Appleby came free on a defensive line stunt and sacked the Bronco quarterback, knocking the ball out of his hand. The ball bounced out of the back of the end zone for a safety, and Wyoming had its first lead of the game at 30-28 with only 1:25 remaining in the game. After recovering an onside kick, the Cowboys would gain one first down on a couple big runs by junior running back Brian Hill and run out the clock for the victory.
Following this Saturday’s road game at Boise State, Wyoming will return home on Oct. 28 to host the New Mexico Lobos for Homecoming. That game will kick off at 5:30 p.m., M.T.