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Mountain West football round-up Week 11 — Mountain Division

Published November 6, 2013 7:53 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Some frustration is beginning to bubble in the Mountain Division. In Colorado State's case, it's now boiled over.

The Rams were frustrated by a loss to Boise State, which maintained its division lead and is now bowl eligible. New Mexico came close, but was thwarted. Wyoming faces a tough draw against Fresno on Saturday. One surprisingly upbeat team this week is Air Force, which stormed all over Army last weekend.

Keep up to date with Mountain West news and notes. Check out the West Division round-up, including UNLV, by clicking this link.

***

Air Force

Not that he wanted to, but Anthony LaCoste had no way of hiding fromthe spotlight as he walked around the Air Force Academy on Monday.

"We all wear our names on our shirts," LaCoste said. "So people wouldsee it and be like, 'Oh hey, are you that running back?'"

Yes, LaCoste is that running back, the one who exploded for 263 yardsand three touchdowns in a 42-28 victory over Army on Saturday.

The congratulations and honors have rolled in every since. On Monday,LaCoste was named co-offensive player of the week in the MountainWest, an honor he shared with Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.LaCoste also earned an ESPN Helmet Sticker and was namedCollegeFootball Performance National Running Back of the Week.

"Everybody's shooting me texts and messages and just calling andcongratulating me. It's kind of overwhelming, I guess," saidLaCoste's, whose 263 yards were the second-most in a game in programhistory. "Everybody's congratulating me and I just kind of tell themthanks."

The game was the kind that could change virtually everything forLaCoste. He likely won't need to share a spot on the depth chart withJon Lee, as he has all season. He suddenly has a realistic shot at1,000 rushing yards, needing xxx over the next three games. And withthat, who knows what might lay ahead in terms of invitations to NFLcamps or a shot to play football somewhere else down the road.

"That would be pretty awesome if it did," he said. "I love footballand I would love to keep playing it. If I go that opportunity, I wouldtake it."

LaCoste's breakout has been pleasing to Falcons coach Troy Calhoun.

"What we've shared with him is that we wouldn't have made a bowl lastyear if he didn't play safety for us," Calhoun said. "I think thattells you about as much about Anthony LaCoste as anything. Kind offelt like we needed the help at safety last season and we felt wecould have a potential 1,000-yard rusher with Cody Getz, and forAnthony to move over to safety was a huge boost to us. For him to moveback to tailback this year is pretty darn cool. It's neat to see a guyto be that unselfish and team-oriented and yet still play like hehasn't missed a beat."

Next game: At New Mexico, 7 p.m. Friday (ESPNU)

Notes: Freshman nose guard David Harris returned to practice aftermissing several weeks with a knee injury. ... Junior linebacker JoeyNichol did not practice Monday and is questionable with a groininjury. ... Junior wide receiver Sam Gagliano (concussion) had a limitedreturn to practice and remains questionable for Friday's game at NewMexico.

— Brent Briggeman, The Gazette

***

Boise State

Rarely has a bye week come at a more opportune time than Boise State's off week. The Broncos (6-3, 4-1 in the Mountain West) are battling injuries at nearly every positions and have been hit particularly hard along the defensive line.

"I tell you what: It's the right time. There's no doubt about that," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said.

The Broncos defeated Colorado State on Saturday, but played without starting defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe. The senior did not make the trip after experiencing concussion-like symptoms after practice leading up to the game. His backup, junior Justin Taimatuia, finished the game in street clothes on the Boise State sideline.

Depleted Boise State turned to seldom-used sophomore Robert Ash and starting defensive end Kharyee Marshall to plug the hole in the middle of the defensive line. Marshall, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound senior, had never so much as practiced at defensive tackle.

The Broncos, who were already without starting middle linebacker Blake Renaud, played without leading tackler Ben Weaver (ankle) and freshman middle linebacker Tanner Vallejo for parts of the Colorado State game. Starting safety Darian Thompson did not play late in the game, either.

"We've got what we've got right now and those guys are battling and we're really proud of them for going that hard," Petersen said after the Broncos allowed a season-high 626 yards and 35 first downs to Colorado State in the victory.

True freshman Gabe Perez played a big role in the victory, notching eight tackles, including three for loss, and two forced fumbles.

Next game: Nov. 16, 8:15 p.m. MT vs. Wyoming (on ESPN2)

Notable: Quarterback Grant Hedrick, subbing for injured starter Joe Southwick, threw five touchdowns and rushed for one in his second career start. Hedrick has six rushing touchdowns on the year, the most for a Boise State quarterback since Jared Zabransky in 2006. ... Running back Jay Ajayi has 1,008 yards rushing, giving the Broncos a 1,000-yard back for the fifth consecutive season. ... Redshirt freshman Travis Averill started at right tackle against Colorado State. It was his first career start. He is the 17th Bronco to make his starting debut in 2013. ... Boise State's ESPN2 appearance against Wyoming means the Broncos will earn at least $1.1 million in national television bonuses from the Mountain West. The Broncos' regular-season finale against New Mexico will appear on an undetermined ESPN channel. If the game is on ESPN or ESPN2, the Broncos' bonus total will rise.

— Brian Murphy, Idaho Statesman

***

Colorado State

The frustration finally boiled over.

Colorado State coach Jim McElwain, who has spent the entire season trying to fix his team's most glaring weakness simply doesn't know what else he and his staff can do. The Rams can't stop the pass.

Unable to establish the kind of power running attack it prefers against CSU defense, Boise State went to the air Saturday for 305 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-30 win over the Rams. Afterward, McElwain became increasingly agitated while responding to a question about the problems with the pass defense, then cut his usual post-game news conference short after just one question.

The second-year coach apologized to reporters Monday for his abruptness, then spent the better part of his 45-minute news conference discussing what has become an all-too-familiar pattern.

His Rams (4-5, 2-2 Mountain West Conference) are limiting opponents to 136.8 rushing yards a game with the second-best run defense in the MW. But they're giving up 309.6 passing yards a game, last in the 12-team MW and more than all but three of the 123 schools in the country playing football at the highest level. The 25 touchdown passes the Rams have allowed this season is more than 121 of the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision schools — only Idaho, with 29, has allowed more — and their pass-efficiency rating of 155.45 is 11th in the MW and No. 112 in the nation.

McElwain said the young players in his secondary — the Rams start three sophomores and a true freshman — have shown in practice that they understand their assignments and are capable of fulfilling them. They've shown it, at times, during games, too.

"I would not feel so bad probably had I not seen them do it," McElwain said. "Had I not seen them do their job properly in practice to avoid those."

McElwain accepts the blame himself, though, like a teacher whose students ace the tests after each study unit then fail the big exams covering the same material.

The players are frustrated, too, sophomore safety Trent Matthews said.

"Real frustrated because we had a good week, we practiced the routes," Matthews said. "The routes were there for us to go play, but we didn't execute."

The Rams don't have the kind of depth in the secondary to make major personnel changes, McElwain said. So they just have to fight through the problems they're having.

"How long is this going to affect their psyche? I don't know; I really don't," McElwain said. I do know that you face it in life, you face it and you keep working on the things that can help you be successful and you don't run and hide."

Next game: vs. Nevada, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (Mountain West Digital Network)

Notable: QB Garrett Grayson set a school record for total offense in a single game with 445 yards (397 passing, 48 rushing) vs. Boise State. The previous record was 416 by Bradlee Van Pelt in a 2003 game against Colordo. Van Pelt, who was inducted into the CSU Athletics Hall of Fame over the weekend, was at the game watching Grayson break his record. ... K Jared Roberts, a junior from Littleton, Colo., was named one of 20 semifinalists Monday for the Lou Groza Award as the nation's outstanding kicker. Roberts has made 12 of 14 field goals and all 35 of his point-after touchdown kicks this season. ... The Rams have remained remarkably healthy so far this season, McElwain said, and suffered no significant injuries against Boise State.

— Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan

***

New Mexico

Air Force and New Mexico are, statistically, two of the worst passing teams in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision - each ranked in the bottom four in passing yards per game and in the bottom 25 in pass efficiency.

Yet, New Mexico coach Bob Davie is encouraged by UNM's passing game and concerned about Air Force's. The Lobos (2-6, 0-4) and the Falcons (2-7. 0-5) meet Friday night in Albuquerque.

In Air Force's 42-28 victory over Army last week, Falcons freshman quarterback Nate Romine completed 7-of-8 passes for 111 yards and was 3-of-3 for 49 yards during AFA's victory-clinching drive in the fourth quarter.

In UNM's 35-30 loss at San Diego State, quarterbacks Cole Gautsche and Clayton Mitchem combined to complete 10-of-20 passes for 170 yards.

Mitchem, operating UNM's two-minute drill, was 4-of-4 for 69 yards and a touchdown during a drive that cut the Lobos' deficit to five with 46 seconds left in the game.

In a game between teams with the third-ranked (New Mexico) and 11th-ranked (Air Force) ground games in the nation, Davie expects the forward pass to be a significant factor.

"Our offense, every week, is trying to find a way to run wheel routes and play-action passes, just like Air Force is," he said. "So, from that standpoint, you know those big passes are coming, and they're coming off run fakes."

Next Game: Air Force, 7 p.m. MT, ESPU

Notable: New Mexico's cornerback situation is fluid. Starter SaQwan Edwards is questionable and backup Isaiah Brown is out, both with shoulder injuries.Starter Cranston Jones is healthy, but it will be a casting call on the other side of the field if Edwards can't go. Junior Tim Foley, who started six games last season but has been down on the depth chart this year, could get the start because of his familiarity with the Air Force offense.

— Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal

***

Wyoming

Talk about a baptism by fire.

Jamar Cain's first game as interim defensive coordinator will be against one of the nation's best offenses in No. 17 Fresno State (8-0 overall, 5-0 Mountain West) Saturday night in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN2.Cain replaced Chris Tormey, who was fired last week.

Cain, who was hired prior to the season to coach the defensive line, said the last week has been a roller coaster in terms of trying to figure out his new role. He isn't even sure if he will be on the sideline or in the press box Saturday.

But while some logistics still need to be ironed out, Cain's first game as a defensive coordinator will be against a Fresno State offense that is in the top eight nationally in scoring (42 points per game), passing (386.3 yards per game) and total offense (539.9 ypg).

A tall task for a Wyoming defense that has given up 103 points and 1,151 total yards in its last two games — both losses. The Cowboys are 4-4, 2-2 and must win two of its last four games to become bowl eligible.

"We've got to play sound, tackle and keep the ball in front of us," Cain said Monday. "We are going to play fast and hard."

Coach Dave Christensen said the defense will do some different things this week, but also said not a lot of big changes will be made this late in the season.

But there are some areas he wants to see the defense improve upon.

"The biggest change I want to see is eliminating big plays, being out of position and missing tackles," he said.

UW hired long-time defensive coordinator Bill Young as a quality control staff member late last week. Young can't coach the players, but will assist the defensive staff by watching film, offering ideas and helping with game plans.

"His knowledge and experience is what I liked the most about Bill," Christensen said. "I've coached against him in the past. He's been very successful. I thought he would be a guy coach Cain and the rest of the defensive staff could bounce things off of."

Up next: vs. No. 17 Fresno State, 8:15 p.m. MT (ESPN2)

Notable: This will be the first of two consecutive games Wyoming plays on ESPN2 as next week's game at Boise State also will be on that network. Wyoming will get a $500,000 bonus for both games. ... Christensen has three positions listed as "or" on the depth chart this week in terms of starters: center (sophomore Rafe Kiely and junior Albert Perez), strong safety (juniors Chad Reese and Jesse Sampson) and strong-side linebacker (junior Mark Nzeocha and sophomore Malkaam Muhammad). That was the case prior to the Oct. 26 game at San Jose State and both players at each of those positions played. Kiely, Reese and Nzeocha started. ... The weather forecast for the Fresno State game is kickoff temperatures in the 30s under partly cloudy skies, a 10 percent chance of moisture and winds out of the south/southwest at 11 miles per hour.

- Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle