Bringing you another installment of the Mountain West football round-up, as the conference comes of a 6-6 week (of course with Utah State's win creating an Air Force loss). The most pressing issues of each team are tackled by the beat writers who cover them.
The Mountain Division keeps up the fun this week as Boise State and Air Force square off in a measuring stick match for the Broncos. New Mexico and Wyoming are coming off wins while Colorado State hopes to get its first this week.
Check in later today for the West Division notebook.
Beginning with Friday night's game at Boise State, Air Force enters a bizarre stretch in which six of its next nine contests begin after 5 p.m. Mountain Time and another kicks off at 9:30 a.m.
With Monday's announcement that the Sept. 21 home game against Wyoming will start at 8:15 p.m., the Falcons only have one more Saturday afternoon game on the schedule - a 3 p.m. start against Notre Dame on Oct. 26. Two games - home vs. Army on Nov. 2 and at Colorado State on Nov. 30 - are still awaiting start times.
With the late starts, two Thursday games and two on Fridays, it will be difficult for Air Force to develop routines.
"I kind of like it, to be honest. The Friday night games will remind me of high school," receiver Sam Gagliano said. "I like a challenge and the adverse part of it. It will help test our resolve and help us see what kind of team we can be."
Coach Troy Calhoun, an Air Force graduate, has expressed displeasure in the past with midweek games and their impact on his team's class time. However, he sees some positives in learning to prepare for things that might be out of the ordinary.
"A bunch of our guys one day will be asked to do something where they can't tell you that kickoff is going to be 1:15, two weeks from tomorrow," Calhoun said. "They're going to be asked to carry out an assignment of significance where you don't always know where kickoff is, and you've got to be prepared."
Next game: at Boise State, 6 p.m. Friday (ESPN)
Notable: Quarterback Kale Pearson will have surgery in three weeks to repair damage to the ACL and MCL in his right knee and miss the remainder of the season. The junior was injured in the second quarter of the season opener. ... Last week's 52-20 loss to Utah State was the Falcons' most lopsided home defeat under Calhoun.
- Brent Briggeman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs)
Missed tackles have been a critical issue for the Boise State defense in the first two weeks of the season. Now the Broncos will have to deal with Air Force's rushing attack, which puts a premium on tackling.
The Broncos missed more than 30 tackles in the opener against Washington. They were better against UT Martin, but Air Force will provide a better gauge of that progress.
Coach Chris Petersen said the Broncos have worked on live tackling more than usual with their young defense, which has seven new starters.
"If (offenses) create space, you're going to miss tackles," Petersen said. "So we've got to get more guys to the point of attack. One guy is not going to make the tackle in space. If you see one guy out there missing tackles, it's probably not just his fault."
Youth, Petersen said, has played a role in the missed tackles.
"Really good defenses, you don't have a lot of huge tackling issues," he said. "When you have young guys, they're thinking about a lot of things. ... It comes with experience. Good players who have been out there a long time are going to tackle better than new and young guys."
The Broncos rank 98th in rushing defense at 210 yards per game this season. Air Force ranks 18th in rushing offense at 294 yards per game.
Two years ago, the Falcons rushed for 264 yards in a 37-26 loss in Boise. That was against one of the Broncos' most talented defenses.
What did Petersen learn from that experience?
"That I was really hoping that we wouldn't be in the same league as them," he said. "It's not fun to go against them."
Next game: vs. Air Force, 6 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN)
Notable: Backup middle linebacker Travis Saxton (knee) is out for the year. ... Six true freshmen have played this season, including five on defense. ... Punt returner Shane Williams-Rhodes ranks sixth in the nation with a 23.7-yard average.
- Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
There's more than one team on Colorado State's schedule running the triple-option offense these days.
So the Rams (0-2) spent some extra time preparing for the run-oriented scheme during spring drills and fall camp that coach Jim McElwain hopes will have some residual value this week as his team prepares for Saturday's home opener against Cal Poly (1-1). The Mustangs are ranked No. 14 in both major Football Championship Subdivision polls this week.
The Rams didn't focus on the specifics of each team's version of the offense, McElwain said, but they did spend time learning the basic principles they'll employ to try to slow down the rushing attacks of Cal Poly, Air Force and New Mexico. The Rams allowed Air Force to run for 459 yards last season in a 42-21 loss to the Falcons but limited New Mexico to just 137 rushing yards later in the season in a 24-20 win over the Lobos.
"We worked on it for the three opponents that we're going to see that run it, from a principle standpoint," McElwain said. "There are different guys, so we have to prepare for each one differently."
Cal Poly's version, McElwain said, is a lot like Air Force's. It's a triple-option offense run out of a variety of different formations. And like the Falcons have done several times to Colorado State in recent years, the Mustangs will make opponents who focus too much on stopping the run pay with a formidable passing attack. Cal Poly is averaging almost as many passing yards (235.0) as rushing yards (239.5) a game after a win over San Diego and loss at Fresno State.
That's where that extra work against the triple option will pay off the most, CSU safety Trent Matthews said. It's not a once-a-season look anymore, with only one week's worth of practice to prepare.
"It's going to help a lot," Matthews said. "Secondary-wise, we need to look at what we can do to execute and know what keys to look at. I know the coaches are going to coach us well on that, so we just have to be prepared."
CSU's run defense, among the worst in the nation a year ago when the Rams allowed 202.4 yards a game, has shown improvement through two games this season, allowing an average of 130.5 rushing yards in losses to Colorado and Tulsa. Both of those teams ran pass-oriented spread offenses, though. This will be a different kind of test.
"I think that this one gives you a different set of concerns," McElwain said. "I think that our linebackers are playing fast, and that's going to be huge -- that they can get out there where they need to. And obviously the run support by the corners; I would be remiss not to mention how well our corners are playing right now. I think they are really competing, and they need to be a force on the edges."
Next game: vs. Cal Poly, 1:30 MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: RB Donnell Alexander (hand) and WR Charles Lovett (knee) were practicing again Monday after sitting out with injuries and are expected to return this week. Alexander was the Rams' leading rusher last season and Lovett was the leading receiver. ... WR/PR Joe Hansley (ankle) wasn't able to practice and is questionable this week, McElwain said. ... Although junior Garrett Grayson has taken every snap at QB in the first two games, McElwain said he would consider giving the two players he beat out for the starting job -- sophomore Conner Smith and true freshman Nick Stevens -- some playing time this week to spark what has been an anemic offense.
- Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
After a season-opening home loss to UTSA, coach Bob Davie said his players were the most disappointed he'd seen them after any game since he took over the program in 2012.
So, in the midst of preparing for Saturday's game at Pittsburgh, Davie encouraged his players to savor last week's 42-35 overtime victory at UTEP.
"Capture what this feels like compared to what it felt like one week ago at the same time," he said of his message to the players. "That difference between winning and losing is unbelievable.
"That (the satisfaction of winning) is what got me back into coaching," said Davie, who spent 10 years as an ESPN/ABC game analyst after being fired as head coach at Notre Dame in 2001. "If you could just capture that and sell what it is on the market, you'd make a pretty good penny."
But Davie added that he sees his young team no differently this week, after a victory, than he did after the UTSA loss.
"Let's be realistic," he said. "We have to get better. If you like that feeling, there's only one way to feel it again, and that's to get better."
Next game: at Pittsburgh, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, (ESPN3/ACC Network)
Notable: Sophomore quarterback Cole Gautsche had not been cleared to play as of Monday after missing the UTEP game with concussion systems sustained late in the UTSA game. That decision likely will be made Wednesday, Davie said. If Gautsche plays against Pitt, he likely would share time with junior-college transfer Clayton Mitchem, who played the entire game at UTEP. ... Senior center Dillon Farrell strained an MCL against UTEP and is expected to miss the Pittsburgh game but return for UNLV on Sept. 28. The Lobos have an open date on Sept. 21. ... As a program, New Mexico is 1-8 all-time in games played east of the Mississippi River. The only victory came in Dayton, Ohio, in the now-defunct Aviation Bowl, 28-12 over Western Michigan, in 1961.
- Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal
The Cowboys rolled up 564 yards and scored six touchdowns in their 42-10 home-opening victory over Idaho last week, but coach and new play caller Dave Christensen wasn't happy. Wyoming punted on its first four possessions, including two three-and-outs.
"I guess it's a good problem to score 42 points and be disappointed in the way you played offensively, but that is how I feel," he said.
Wyoming scored touchdowns on six of its next eight drives. Junior quarterback Brett Smith, despite starting 1 of 10 for 11 yards, had his second consecutive game of throwing four touchdown passes, and the team ran for more than 200 yards for the second straight contest.
The story of the Idaho game, however, was the defense.
It recorded seven quarterback sacks, half of its total all of last season. It also had seven three-and-outs and eight tackles for loss. The Cowboys allowed 344 total yards, and a good chunk of that came in the fourth quarter after they led 42-0.
"That's probably one of the best games that I've seen the front seven play since I've been here and, quite frankly, watching college football this year," senior free safety Marqueston Huff said.
Sophomore defensive end Eddie Yarbrough recorded three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He was named the Mountain West's Defensive Player of the Week. Huff earned that honor the week before. It is the first time two Wyoming players won the league's defensive player of the week award since its inception in 1999.
Wyoming (1-1) hosts Football Championship Subdivision foe Northern Colorado (1-1) on Saturday. The Cowboys lost their lone game against an FCS foe last season, 24-22 to Cal Poly in Laramie. Smith didn't play in that game because of a concussion.
Eleven FCS teams have defeated FBS teams through the first two weeks of the season, and seven others have come within a touchdown of picking up victories.
"I don't think last year needs to be brought up just because there is so much motivation we are getting from other sources," Smith said. "We just want to continue to get better."
Smith now holds the school record for touchdowns responsible for (72), is second in touchdown passes (55 and one shy of tying the record) and fifth in passing yards (6,137).
Next game: vs. Northern Colorado, 2 p.m. MT (No TV)
Notable: Junior cornerback Tyran Finley, who started the season opener at No. 23 Nebraska, underwent season-ending surgery Monday. Finley, a junior college transfer, was hurt late in the Nebraska game and was on crutches last week. Wyoming will petition the NCAA to get Finley a medical redshirt. ... Sophomore buck Siaosi Hala'api'api is questionable with a knee injury. ... Junior receiver Jalen Claiborne, who caught two touchdown passes against Nebraska, was suspended by Christensen this week for a "violation of team standards." Claiborne was one of four starting receivers and also returned punts and kickoffs. Junior Keenan Montgomery will start for Claiborne at receiver. Junior receiver Dominic Rufran will return punts. Rufran and junior receiver Trey Norman will return kicks. Christensen said Claiborne will practice this week and will be back next week. ... Wyoming has not played Northern Colorado since 1949, but in that game it set an NCAA record for most points in a game with a 103-0 victory. ... Wyoming will pay Northern Colorado $275,000 for this game.
- Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle
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