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Mountain West football round-up Week 2 — Mountain Division

Published September 4, 2013 11:28 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Week one wasn't the best for the Mountain West, as the league went 3-9 in its season openers.

Week two finds a lot of the conference trying to reset and refocus on their goals. Utah State gets started in Mountain West play, but other programs are playing out-of-conference opponents.

Check up on what's happening in the Mountain Division with notes written by the beat writers who know them best — and remember Utah State plays each of these teams this year. Check out part two on the West Division here.

Air Force

For the second consecutive week, Air Force will be breaking in a first-time starter at quarterback.

Kale Pearson injured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee just two quarters into his starting debut in a 38-13 victory over Colgate and likely will miss "a while," according to coach Troy Calhoun.

The Falcons will turn to sophomore Jaleel Awini, a native of nearby Aurora, Colo., who had battled Pearson for the position through the spring and fall. Awini threw just three times against Colgate, completing two passes for 26 yards. He lost 18 yards on a sack, leading to a line of minus-3 yards rushing.

At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, the strong-armed Awini is significantly taller than Pearson.

"He's a good leader," receiver Ty MacArthur said. "I think he'll assimilate fine into the starting position. We're all pumped up for him."

Sophomore Karson Roberts slides into the backup spot behind Awini.

Next game: vs. Utah State, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)

Notable: Aside from Pearson, Air Force emerged from the opener without a significant injury. ... This week's opposing quarterback, Utah State's Chuckie Keeton, decommitted after initially deciding to attend Air Force. ... The Falcons trailed Colgate 7-0 after the first quarter before scoring 38 straight points.

- Brent Briggeman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs)

Boise State

The Broncos failed to score an offensive touchdown in the season opener for the second straight year, losing 38-6 at Washington.

It was the Broncos' worst loss since 2005 and their first game without a touchdown of any kind since 1997.

The loss came in the program's fifth straight high-profile season opener. The Broncos beat Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia before losing to Michigan State and Washington.

"You open up every year like we open up, you're going to get your nose bloodied," coach Chris Petersen said. "It's just a matter of time. I know that. Nobody else seems to, but I know that. ... Did I think the game was going to be closer and we were going to be right there battling? Absolutely. Am I shocked it went like it did? Well, I knew it could if we didn't make some plays on offense to score some points because we've got a lot of guys on the other side of the ball who hadn't been in that arena before."

The Broncos moved the ball fairly well with their new up-tempo, pistol-based offense - holding it for at least 12 plays four times. But they were unable to hit big plays (long of 18) or convert in the red zone, where they failed to get into the end zone on three trips.

"It's similar to opening against Michigan State (last year), where they're not going to give you much," Petersen said. "When you've got a chance, you've got to strike."

Next game: vs. Tennessee-Martin, 1:04 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN3)

Notable: Co-starting strong-side linebacker Jonathan Brown will miss about six weeks with a knee injury. ... True freshman Aaron Baltazar has emerged as the No. 2 tailback. ... Boise State will unveil its new HD video board - about 37 feet by 59 feet - at Bronco Stadium on Saturday.

- Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman

Colorado State

Colorado State doesn't have time to look back on its season-opening loss Sunday evening to Colorado, not with a road game Saturday at Tulsa.

"There's no time to dwell on it now," junior quarterback Garrett Grayson said Monday. "It's crunch time. We've got three days to really prepare, and then Friday we're traveling. We need to focus in, big time."

The Rams had to take a day off Monday under NCAA rules and haven't really had a chance yet to look at a Tulsa team coming off a disappointing 34-7 loss of its own Thursday at Bowling Green.

CSU coach Jim McElwain reiterated his disappointment in Sunday's loss, particularly the defensive breakdowns that left Colorado receiver Paul Richardson wide open twice for long touchdown passes and an ineffective third-down offense. But he also saw a lot of positives he believes his team can build upon for the remainder of the season.

Sophomore running back Kapri Bibbs, getting extra playing time after starter Donnell Alexander injured his hand early in the game, ran for 70 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. And receiver Joe Hansley, also a sophomore, reminded his coach and teammates of the playmaking ability he first displayed a year ago by catching eight passes for 91 yards and returning three punts for 92 yards, including one for a 74-yard touchdown.

Grayson completed 22 of 39 passes for 201 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions, but seven of the incomplete passes were dropped by receivers, McElwain said, including three that would have gone for first downs to improve the Rams' 2-of-14 success rate on third downs.

Redshirt freshman Hayden Hunt punted seven times for an average of 49.7 yards a kick. And other than giving up those two long pass plays, McElwain felt like his defense played relatively well against what he felt was a pretty formidable CU offense. Richardson caught touchdown passes of 82 and 75 yards for the Buffs' first and last touchdowns of the game that were responsible for 162 of their 513 yards of total offense.

"I'm disappointed; what competitor wouldn't be?" McElwain said. "But I guess it's how you handle that disappointment and how it fuels your energy to move forward, and I'm ready to move forward."

Next game: at Tulsa, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)

Notable: Alexander suffered a hand injury in the opener that might require surgery. WR Joe Hansley twisted an ankle late in the game but isn't expected to miss any playing time. ... McElwain said he generally was pleased with the play of Grayson, who won a three-man competition for the starting job just two days before the opening game, and that he never considered a change during the game. True freshman Nick Stevens, he said, won the backup job over sophomore Conner Smith.

- Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan

New Mexico

Last winter, New Mexico coach Bob Davie and his staff made it a priority to sign a junior-college quarterback as a backup to sophomore Cole Gautsche. They sought an early graduate who could participate in spring practice, a run-pass QB who would be a good fit for offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse's system.

They'll find out Saturday, sooner than expected or hoped, how well they did in that regard. Clayton Mitchem, a transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, will be at the controls when the Lobos play UTEP in El Paso.

Mitchem will start in place of Gautsche, who left last week's 21-13 loss to UTSA in the fourth quarter with concussion symptoms.

In relief against UTSA, on the Lobos' final possession of the game, Mitchem completed his first two passes and scrambled for 9 yards. But he misfired on his final three pass attempts and turned the ball over on downs.

"You do see a spark there," New Mexico coach Bob Davie said, "whether he takes off with the ball, his running ability, and certainly his passing ability with a quick release and a strong arm. I'm anxious to watch him."

Next game: at UTEP, 6 p.m. MT (Fox College Sports)

Notable: Davie said he hopes Gautsche will return in time for the Lobos' game at Pittsburgh on Sept. 14. ... Wide receiver/kick returner Chase Clayton injured a knee against UTSA and likely will be out two weeks. ... Much has been said and written about the Lobos' experience on the offensive line, but Davie said the blocking skills of two departed tight ends, Lucas Reed and Chris Biren, were sorely missed in the loss to UTSA.

- Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal

Wyoming

There were a lot of positives from the Cowboys' 37-34 loss at No. 18 Nebraska on Saturday.

Wyoming rolled up 602 yards of total offense, the eighth most against a Nebraska team at home. It rallied from a 37-21 fourth-quarter deficit and had the ball late with a chance to tie or win the game. The defense gave up 375 yards rushing, but forced two fourth-quarter turnovers and recorded eight tackles for loss.

But coming close against a nationally ranked team isn't enough. Wyoming hosts Idaho (0-1) in its home opener Saturday.

"We haven't won yet," junior starting quarterback Brett Smith said. "That in itself motivates everybody."

Smith threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for 92 yards against Nebraska. The team rushed for 219 yards after averaging only 125.2 yards per game last season.

Coach Dave Christensen liked what his offense did in the first game with him calling the plays. But the thing that impressed him the most was the offensive line that featured a new center in Albert Perez and two new tackles - a pair of junior-college transfers who redshirted last year - in Walker Madden and Connor Rains.

Smith was sacked only once and the team lost only four yards on 30 rushing attempts. Sophomore Shaun Wick recorded his first 100-yard game with 101 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.

"I never was able to coach an offensive line to play at the level those guys played on Saturday," Christensen said. "It was unbelievable line play. It was physical. They performed at a much higher level than any line I ever had perform against Nebraska."

Christensen took several teams into Nebraska when he was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Missouri from 2001 to 2008.

"I thought going in this could be the best line we've had here. Without a doubt, it isn't even close. These guys are special," Christensen added.

But there are improvements that need to be made. Wyoming threw two interceptions in the red zone. The defense, with only six players healthy and ready to play along the line, allowed Nebraska to go 9 for 17 on third-down conversions. And Christensen wants to see better play from his kickoff coverage and punt return squads.

Idaho lost its opener Saturday at North Texas 40-6 in the debut of coach Paul Petrino. Wyoming beat Idaho 40-37 last season in overtime in Moscow, Idaho.

"We can't be complacent," sophomore defensive end Eddie Yarbrough said. "Who are we to say anything because we haven't won. If you give (Idaho) an opportunity, they will expose you."

Up next: vs. Idaho, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (ROOT Sports)

Notable: First-year quarterbacks coach Jason Gesser was the running backs coach and interim head coach at Idaho last season. ... Junior cornerback Tyran Finley is questionable after he suffered a leg injury late against Nebraska. If he doesn't play, true freshman Tim Hayes likely will get the start. ... Senior safety Marqueston Huff, the Mountain West's Defensive Player of the Week, had 18 tackles against Nebraska, which tied him for the most in the country last week. ... True freshman walk-on Ethan Wood averaged 52.2 yards on four punts, and a net average of 42.2.

- Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle