Mountain West football round-up Week 9 Mountain Division
Utah State is on a bye this week, but that doesn't mean you can't get your football fix. There's plenty of action going on in the Mountain Division, as two of the Aggies' future opponents are preparing for challenges.
Colorado State, a team that hasn't had much success on the road, will try to avoid a stumble at Hawai'i. Wyoming gears up for a potential shootout against San Jose State. Air Force and Boise State are dealing with quarterback issues - an increasingly hot topic around the conference, wouldn't you say?
Please note that New Mexico is omitted because the Lobos are on a bye. Check out the West Division notes here.
For the first time since the season opener, Air Force's choice at quarterback will be dictated by merit rather than circumstance.
Karson Roberts returned to practice on Monday, so coach Troy Calhoun and his staff must choose between the sophomore and freshman Nate Romine, who appeared in relief in the previous game and nearly led the Falcons to a victory over San Diego State.
"We'll see who practices best the next two days, just because Karson did not practice last week," Calhoun said.
Roberts had been sidelined with a concussion since the first quarter of the game on Oct. 10 against the Aztecs.
His departure marked the latest in a string of bad fortune at the spot for the Falcons, starting with the loss of Kale Pearson to a knee injury in the season's first half and the ineligibility of backup Jaleel Awini late in September.
This will be the first time that the Falcons will enter a game with a backup who has seen game action other than mop-up time.
Next game: vs. Notre Dame, 3 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Air Force appears refreshed coming off an open week following a stretch in which it played three games in 12 days in three time zones. The Falcons lost all three of those. .... RB Jon Lee (elbow) and LB Spencer Proctor (concussion) are expected to return.
- Brent Briggeman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs)
Junior Grant Hedrick on Friday will become the first Boise State backup quarterback to start a game because of injury in 11 years.
Hedrick, who took over on the second offensive snap last week against Nevada, will face BYU. He replaces senior starter Joe Southwick, who likely will miss at least three games with a broken right ankle that required surgery.
Hedrick provides a different dimension than Southwick, whose strengths are his command of the offense and accurate passing. Hedrick is a dynamic runner.
"We'll always cater toward the guy back there's strength, but it will be tweaks here or there," coach Chris Petersen said. "It's not going to be a brand-new offense."
Hedrick was 18-for-21 for 150 yards with an interception in the comeback, 34-17 defeat of Nevada. He rushed eight times for 115 yards and two touchdowns - the first 100-yard rushing game by a Broncos quarterback since 2004.
Hedrick led the Broncos to touchdowns on five of their last six full drives. They rushed for 407 yards, including a 222-yard outing by sophomore tailback Jay Ajayi.
"Great credit to Grant," Petersen said. "That's just not an easy position and when you're not preparing all week like it is your show, that's a hard thing to be put in. We've said all along, Grant is a good player, and he is, and he showed it tonight."
The Broncos went 4-0 with backup quarterback B.J. Rhode in 2002, when starter Ryan Dinwiddie had a broken ankle. The only other time that a backup has started since then was in 2008, when Bush Hamdan took the first series on Senior Day.
Southwick could return in time for his own Senior Day, which is Nov. 30 against New Mexico.
"He is in good spirits," Petersen said. "He wants to get back as soon as possible. That's his whole mission."
Next game: at BYU, 6:06 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN)
Notable: Boise State's defense has allowed just 40 points in the past three games. The Broncos shut out the Wolf Pack in the second half. ... The Broncos have two healthy, scholarship quarterbacks left - Hedrick and redshirt freshman Nick Patti. ... DE Demarcus Lawrence set a national high with his 3.5 sacks against Nevada. ... The Broncos have won 50 straight games in October.
- Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
Jim McElwain doesn't want to make too big a deal about the difficulties of playing at Hawaii.
The second-year Colorado State coach never has done it before, and neither have his players.
But he hopes his plan to follow their usual routine this week will keep his Rams (3-4, 1-1 Mountain West) focused on the Hawaii team they're going up against and not on the 7- to 8-hour plane trip across four time zones to Honolulu for Saturday night's game against the Rainbow Warriors (0-6, 0-4) or the 10 p.m. MDT starting time. CSU hasn't played at Hawaii since 1996.
"This is a business trip," tight end Crockett Gillmore said Monday. "We're there to play a football game, and (players) know that."
The Rams, McElwain said, held some workouts this summer under the lights at Hughes Stadium at 11 p.m. to help prepare for this game. And they won't fly to the islands until Friday, leaving campus at mid-morning after going through their usual Friday morning meetings and walk-through. The only difference is they'll spend most of the day on the chartered plane from Denver to Honolulu, with a stopover in California to refuel.
Strength coach Mike Kent will get the players up for exercises, one position group at a time, every 45 minutes or so to keep them loose during the flight, McElwain said, suggesting that they'll even be running windsprints in the aisles.
"I'm a little worried about the counterbalance on the plane when some of those linemen get up," McElwain said. "It should be OK, but I feel sorry for those stewardesses."
McElwain said he'll also relax his travel dress code for this trip, allowing players to forego the usual coat and tie for their team warm-up suits.
Otherwise, the routine will be the same as it is for any other road game, McElwain said.
"I know that the travel over, you can use it again as an excuse as to maybe why you don't play to your fullest," McElwain said. "How we handle it will be part of the growing experience and see if we're mentally capable of taking the distractions and understanding what kind of business trip we're going on here."
CSU has yet to win a true road game under McElwain, going 0-5 over the past two seasons in games they've had to travel to by plane. They stayed at a hotel in Fort Collins this past Friday night before making the 65-mile bus trip to Laramie, Wyo., where they beat Wyoming 52-22. They also were technically the road team for the 2012 season opener in Denver against the University of Colorado, which they won 22-17.
Next game: at Hawaii, 10 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: CSU has yet to win back-to-back games under McElwain, who is 7-12 in his two seasons. The first of his team's three home wins in MW play - with road losses in between - late last season was a 42-27 win over Hawaii. ... Senior Shaq Bell, who plays both cornerback and safety, pulled a muscle in his left leg during the first half of Saturday's game at Wyoming and did not return. He's listed as "day-to-day" this week, McElwain said. ... CB Bernard Blake, who was ejected on a questionable targeting call late in the first half at Wyoming, sat out the second half and won't have to miss any time at Hawaii because of the violation.
- Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
The Cowboys gave up 509 yards - 290 rushing and 219 passing - in their 52-22 home loss to Border War rival Colorado State last week.
One of the big reasons why, coach Dave Christensen said, was mental errors.
"About 80 percent of the errors were alignment errors," he said.
"It's our responsibility as coaches to have our players aligned properly. It's also our responsibility to prepare throughout the week so they can do that."
Wyoming (4-3 overall, 2-1 MW) gave up its most points to its rival since the 1920s, and its rushing defense continues to drop as it is 117th out of 123 FBS teams (246.9 yards per game).
The meat of the Cowboys' schedule begins this week as they play at San Jose State (3-3, 2-1) on Saturday. Four of their last five opponents are .500 or better, and three of those games are on the road.
San Jose State averages 327.5 passing yards per game and is coming off a bye week after it won at Colorado State 34-27 on Oct. 12.
Christensen's high-tempo offense was stuck in first gear last week as the starters scored just 14 points and had a season-high three turnovers.
"We just need to execute better," said junior quarterback Brett Smith, who threw two interceptions against CSU for the first time in 15 games dating back to early last season.
"It shows us that we're going to have to kick it into overdrive and prepare even harder than have in the past."
Next game: at San Jose State, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports/MW Digital Network)
Notable: San Jose State senior quarterback David Fales walked on at Wyoming in the summer of 2011 for about a month but left before fall camp started. Fales has family in Torrington, Wyo. ... Junior starting strong safety Darrenn White (shoulder) will have season-ending shoulder surgery this week. White was injured Oct. 12 against New Mexico. He had 28 tackles and a team-best two forced fumbles. ... Wyoming listed three positions as "or" in terms of starters this week. At center it's between sophomore Rafe Kiely and junior Albert Perez, at strong safety it's juniors Jesse Sampson and Chad Reese and at strong-side linebacker it's Mark Nzeocha and sophomore Malkaam Muhammad. Christensen said injury or illness have nothing to do with the competition, and the starters will be based on how they practice this week. ... The Cowboys are last in the nation in time of possession (24:31 per game).
- Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle