Mountain West football round-up Week 10 Mountain Division
Of the two divisions, the Mountain Division looks like the one coming down to the wire. And while Utah State and Boise State were expected to be in the race, Colorado State has crept into the mix.
While New Mexico and Air Force are languishing, the Broncos have a lot on the line coming off an ugly loss to BYU. The Rams are hoping to set themselves up as a leader in the Mountain Division with a win against Boise State this Saturday. Wyoming, once seen as a potential contender, has issues to sort out after firing its defensive coordinator this week.
Check out the Mountain West's most pressing news written by the team beat writers. Also, click here for the news from the West Division, including Utah State's upcoming opponent Hawaii.
Air Force is through with a stretch that was believed to be as rough as any in team history.
It went as bad as feared.
"It didn't kill anybody," coach Troy Calhoun said. "It wasn't fun, in terms of we want to play better. What it can do is build a little more mettle."
The Falcons dropped seven in a row in facing Utah State, Boise State, Wyoming, Nevada, Navy, San Diego State and Notre Dame. It's the program's first seven-game losing streak since 1979.
The Falcons have started four quarterbacks during the stretch and have broken in first-time starters at many positions. Dating back two years ago to a trip to Notre Dame, only three current Falcons who played in that game saw significant action Saturday.
"You're going to have some guys now who have been through some battles," Calhoun said. "You have to be exposed to as many situations as can arise in football. You don't get that in one game, you don't get that in four games."
Next game: vs. Army, 10 a.m. Saturday (ESPNU)
Notes: Wide receiver Sam Gagliano (concussion) and strong safety Dexter Walker (deep thigh bruise) missed practice Monday and are questionable for this week. ... Calhoun has not said if freshman Nate Romine will start again at quarterback or if Karson Roberts will return to the spot after missing time following a concussion.
- Brent Briggeman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs)
In the Broncos' last two losses - to Fresno State and BYU - they have committed six turnovers and forced zero. They were minus-four in the turnover battle last Friday at BYU, which led to a 37-20 loss.
"We're putting our defense in too much harm's way," coach Chris Petersen said. "There's no way they can hold up that long against a good BYU team. Four turnovers, we had no chance."
The loss started with the Broncos' worst first half - a 24-3 deficit - since the last game of the Dan Hawkins era. It was Petersen's 100th game.
Now the Broncos are 5-3 for the first time since 2001.
"(Morale) is kind of down but we're trying to pick it up," sophomore safety Darian Thompson said. "It's not going to be easy. We don't lose very often. When we do, we take it to the heart."
Many factors have contributed to the Broncos' uncharacteristic record - injuries (six starters missed the BYU game), youth on defense, slow starts and fourth-down failures among them. The margin for error was small with this team, which makes the turnover problem more pressing.
The Broncos have lost seven fumbles this year. They averaged 8.5 over the past two seasons.
All three of the fumbles against BYU occurred when players were trying to extend already successful plays.
"I don't think they should be fighting for extra yards," Petersen said. "They (should) hit creases and go forward and try to fall forward. I don't think guys should be dancing and pulling and spinning because bad things are going to happen. You watch (wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes), who is a heck of a playmaker. He's starting and stopping and looking great, but he gets very few extra yards."
Next game: at Colorado State, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Petersen said backup QB Grant Hedrick was "solid" in his first start but "we need darn good." The Broncos traveled two quarterbacks to BYU. ... Starting QB Joe Southwick (broken ankle) is expected to return near the end of the regular season. ... Safety Dillon Lukehart was ejected for targeting against BYU and will miss the first half against Colorado State. ... Redshirt freshman Travis Averill is expected to start at right tackle this week. He's the fourth player used at that spot. Starter Rees Odhiambo is week to week. ... Running back Jay Ajayi leads the Mountain West with 917 rushing yards, cornerback Bryan Douglas is first with four interceptions and defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is tied for first with 7.5 sacks based on totals, not per-game averages.
- Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
It's been awhile since Colorado State has played in a November football game that mattered.
But Saturday night at Hughes Stadium, the host Rams (4-4, 2-1 Mountain West Conference) will have just as much on the line as visiting Boise State (5-3, 3-1). Both are locked in a tight race, along with Utah State (4-4, 3-1), for the Mountain Division title and a spot in the first MW championship game against the West Division champion.
While conference titles are a way of life at Boise State, which has won 11 in the past 14 seasons, they've been a bit scarce at Colorado State in recent years. The Rams haven't won a conference title since 2002 and haven't even had a winning record in league play in a season since 2005.
After back-to-back road wins at Wyoming and Hawaii, the Rams still have a lot to play for as this season winds down. A head-to-head win over Boise State would give CSU a tie-breaking edge over the Broncos should the two tie for the Mountain Division title, and the Rams still have a chance to take down Utah State, too, when those teams meet Nov. 23 in Logan, Utah.
Hard to believe for a team that was just 1-3 five weeks ago.
"It's something I haven't ever seen around here since my time at CSU, so it's going to be big for us," junior receiver Charles Lovett said Monday. "It's a game that really matters."
It's not just about keeping the Rams' hopes of playing for the conference title alive, though. It's also a chance for them to pick up another key win toward bowl eligibility. With a 13-game schedule, the Rams need to win at least seven games, a total they're three games shy of with five games remaining.
So instead of wondering if they can play the spoiler down the stretch, keeping another conference team from getting to the MW championship game or one of the six bowl games contractually obligated to take a MW team, the Rams still are playing to reach their own goals as the season winds down. That hasn't happened since 2008, when CSU also had to win three of its last five games to get to a bowl game in Steve Fairchild's first season as coach.
It's what football in November is supposed to be like. Players, on their Twitter accounts, have been urging fans to fill Hughes Stadium, which seats 32,500, for the game, and second-year coach Jim McElwain said he'd like to see a large and loud crowd there to cheer on his team. CSU averaged just 19,895 fans for its first three home games this season.
"I've always said I've got to give the people a reason to come," McElwain said. "We're playing a meaningful game in November that obviously a hometown, home-stadium crowd can help. I'm not sure I've given them enough to come yet, but I do know how hard our guys are playing.
"And we're putting ourselves in a position now where late-season games are becoming relevant."
Next game: vs. Boise State, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Starting QB Garrett Grayson sprained an ankle in the final minutes of Saturday night's game at Hawaii and wore a protective boot on the flight home, McElwain said. Grayson continued to play after suffering the injury, and McElwain said he was told the quarterback can practice on it "as tolerated" this week. Backup QB Conner Smith started four games after Grayson was injured last season but has only played two series this season in mop-up duty, handing the ball off six times at Wyoming. The Rams didn't practice Monday and pushed back their usual afternoon meetings to the evening to help players recover from the trip to Hawaii and back - a trip that had them crossing four time zones Friday and again Sunday. ... RB Kapri Bibbs, No. 3 on the depth chart coming into the season, had his third 100-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance in four games at Hawaii with 137 yards on 33 carries. Bibbs has 767 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. ...G Brandon Haynes injured a foot in the second half of the Hawaii game and didn't return. His status for Saturday's game against Boise State will be determined later this week.
- Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
Coach Bob Davie and his players are hoping for a November to remember.
Odds are, it will be a November to forget. Starting Saturday at San Diego State, the Lobos (2-5, 0-3) stand to be decided underdogs in four of their five remaining games. Only a victory over Air Force (Nov. 8 in Albuquerque) would be less than a major upset.
Still, the Lobos are conceding nothing.
"I'm confident that we can win out," senior center Dillon Farrell said, "if we really play as hard as we can, if everybody's clicking and on the same page. It's definitely possible.
"There's always a chance. That's the great thing about college football. On any given Saturday, any team can win. That's what's exciting about it."
Davie, for his part, notes that the Lobos are healthy and well-rested coming off their second bye week of the season.
"There's an old saying: 'They remember November,'" he said. "The good news is that we still have five games to play and we're still relatively healthy.
"It's about finishing this season and remembering how we finished."
The Lobos went 0-for-November (0-4) last year, Davie's first at UNM.
Next game: at San Diego State, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports/MW Digital Network)
Notable: San Diego State coach Rocky Long held the same position at UNM from 1998 to 2008. He remains the program's all-time winningest (65 games) and losingest (69) head coach. ... Sophomore quarterback Cole Gautsche, who saw limited action during UNM's 45-10 loss to Utah State due to a knee injury suffered the previous week at Wyoming, is expected to be 100 percent for San Diego State.
- Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal
Coach Dave Christensen announced Tuesday morning the firing of defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Tormey.
Wyoming (4-4 overall, 2-2 Mountain West) lost its last two games, and the defense gave up 103 points and 1,151 yards.
Defensive line coach Jamar Cain, who joined the staff this season, will be the interim defensive coordinator the rest of the season. Cornerbacks coach Renaldo Hill will also coach the safeties the rest of the season.
Out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, UW is 93rd in scoring defense (31.6 points per game), 105th in total defense (465.8 yards per game) and 116th in rushing defense (236 ypg). Its pass defense was ranked first in the MW (190.7 ypg) prior to the San Jose State game. But in the 51-44 loss, Spartans quarterback David Fales was 27 of 37 for 482 yards and five touchdowns. Three of those scoring throws went for 76, 60 and 30 yards, and there were four more completions of 26 yards or more.
"It's not something you ever want to do, but I thought at this point and time we needed to make a change in leadership at the defense side of the ball. That's why I decided to make the change at this point and time," Christensen said after Tuesday morning's practice.
Cain said he was told of the change late Monday night. The team was told prior to Tuesday's practice.
"This late in the season you have to get back to fundamentals and technique," Cain said. "We're going to get back to the basics on form tackling, pursuit to the ball, things like that. We're going to slow it down a little bit in practice. A lot of kids these days are visual learners. They have to see it happen and do it again to get it right.
"We're going to try and simplify some things on defense."
Next game: Nov. 9 vs. Fresno State
Notable: Another factor in Wyoming's consecutive losses has been its turnover margin. It was minus-3 in a 52-22 home loss to Colorado State and minus-1 at San Jose State. Those are the only two games this season the Cowboys have had a negative turnover margin. ... Christensen expects sophomore Rafe Kiely and junior Albert Perez to continue to platoon at center, as well as juniors Chad Reese and Jesse Sampson at free safety. ... Christensen's Monday news conference was pushed back from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. because he was traveling back from the funeral of former Washington coach Don James, who died last week at the age of 80. Christensen was an offensive lineman for James in the 1980s and also a graduate assistant for James.
- Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle