Two teams at opposite ends of the Mountain West Conference standings get together in Laramie this weekend, as the Wyoming Cowboys try to keep up with the 21st-ranked Boise State Broncos at War Memorial Stadium.
The Broncos, who used to be in the Western Athletic Conference before making the switch to the MWC last season and are scheduled to make the leap to the Big East beginning next year, are not only moving up slowly in the AP Poll but they are also 21st in the current BCS standings, which means they own the longest run in the nation in the BCS at 39 consecutive weeks.
Last weekend, Boise State ran its win streak to six in a row, since bowing to Michigan State in the season opener (17-13), by streaking past UNLV in a 32-7 decision at home. The Broncos have not lost a game during October in more than a decade, winning 47 straight contests in the month. Just as impressive, the team has won 32 straight home dates during October stretching back to 1998 when the squad was clipped by North Texas, 21-13.
In addition, the Broncos have not trailed since overtaking Miami-Ohio in the second quarter back in the second game of the season, a span of more than 331 minutes.
As for the Cowboys, they certainly expected some big things in 2012 after making it to the postseason a year ago, but the results have been hard to swallow thus far. Aside from a 40-37 overtime win against Idaho on the road last month, the Pokes have had little to celebrate. In fact, Wyoming has now lost three straight thanks to a 42-14 defeat at the hands of Fresno State on the road last weekend. While BSU is undefeated in three conference games thus far, the Cowboys have come up winless in their three league outings.
Wyoming is still winless in six tries versus BSU, having lost to the Broncos last season in a 36-14 final in Idaho when BSU was ranked in the top-10.
Against the Rebels last week, Boise State didn't allow an offensive touchdown by the visitors and it wasn't until the fourth quarter that Kenneth Penny was able to return a fumble 30 yards for a UNLV defensive score. Instead, BSU limited the Rebels to a mere 210 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers.
"They're playing great," Boise State head coach Chris Petersen said of his defense against the Rebels. "We've got some good players out there, and I really think the seniors that are out there have taken that next step that we continually talk about. I think that they're being coached really well...it's a lot of different guys, and that's how you play good defense."
D.J. Harper claimed the spotlight on offense for the Broncos as he scored twice on the ground, while quarterback Joe Southwick kept drives alive by converting 22-of-30 passes for 243 yards. The team generated close to 400 yards on offense and was able to cruise in the second half for the most part.
Even Southwick sees that the defense for the Broncos is playing big for the team right now and that takes some of the pressure off of him and the rest of the offense.
"They're doing a good job. It's fun to watch. I'm loving their effort. They're doing a good job at getting the ball back for us and getting us good field position."
Stopping the pass has been the hallmark of the Broncos to this point in 2012, holding opponents to just 158.7 ypg which is easily the best mark in the conference and eighth in the country. All of that hard hitting, along with a conservative offense, has resulted in a turnover margin of plus-1.57 per game for the Broncos which is ninth-best in the nation.
By all accounts, Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith is capable of putting up decent passing numbers, throwing for a combined 709 yards and seven touchdowns in two games this season against the likes of Toledo and Idaho, but the sophomore isn't exactly geared to take his time against a staunch defense like Boise State.
Last week, Smith returned to action and threw for 158 yards and two touchdowns against Fresno State, but that was only after the Bulldogs built a substantial lead at home and eventually cruised to an easy win. Converting just 2-of-18 on third down, the Cowboys were limited to just 243 yards of total offense.
Since scoring 40 points in their lone win against the Vandals last month the Cowboys have progressively gotten worse in the scoring department and now the team is averaging 25.6 ppg, which is seventh in the conference and 79th nationally.
The defense for the Pokes has given up no less than 24 points in any game and with 33.9 ppg surrendered on the average the team gives itself little chance of keeping up with the competition. On a positive note, the unit has limited opponents to 78 percent scoring in the red zone and of those 32 trips inside the 20-yard line, foes have earned touchdowns only 66 percent of the time, so maybe all is not lost for the Cowboys.