LARAMIE – Coming off a rough outing at Boise State the week prior, the University of Wyoming knew offensive improvement was going to be key to bouncing back and beating Utah State on the road to become bowl eligible.

The Cowboys got just that, and then some.

UW delivered its most productive offensive performance since 2014, racking up 604 total yards in a 44-17 rout of the Aggies.

“I feel like we were all locked in to get a bad taste out of our mouth from losing the previous week,” senior running back Xazavian Valladay said. “We just wanted to cap off a great opportunity, to get to bowl eligibility and do everything in our power to come out swinging.

“We definitely did that, just believing in the game plan, and believing in the coaches and our players.”

UW established its trademark run-first attack, rushing for 362 yards and two scores, with Valladay and junior running back Titus Swen each surpassing the 140-yard mark.

The Pokes were still productive on the ground the week before, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, but they were hampered by a bevy of penalties on the offensive line. Outside of a couple false starts, there were no such issues at Utah State – something UW hopes to carry over this week against Hawaii and into a potential bowl game appearance next month.

“Most of the time it does start up front, unless you’re taking the ball out wide and doing a lot of jailbreak screens, hitches and things like that where the offensive line doesn’t have to block very long or open up some running lanes,” UW coach Craig Bohl said.

“We challenged our offensive line to get man-on-man. I think early in the game Utah State came up with a couple of stunts that we didn’t quite match up well with, but there were no catastrophes.

“Along with that, we didn’t have any holdings from the offensive line. I think we had two jumps, one early, but outside of that they played really clean.”

As dominant as UW’s rushing attack was, such success wasn’t a new development. Earlier this month, the Cowboys gained 385 yards on the ground in a convincing win over Border War rival Colorado State.

The passing game was a different story.

Sophomore quarterback Levi Williams’ 242 passing yards were UW’s most this season by a wide margin, while his 80% completion rate was the Pokes’ highest in a single-game since 2015. Williams, who took over the starting job Oct. 30, has improved his completion percentage in each of his six appearances this season.

Sophomore receiver Isaiah Neyor continued to make a case as one of the top underclassmen in the Mountain West last week in Logan, Utah, hauling in four catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, while classmate Joshua Cobbs had six receptions for 76 yards and a score – all career-highs.

“When we were making decisions on changing the quarterback position, which is a seismic change, one of the things we noticed during that time was it seemed like Levi had a little bit better touch on the ball on the back-shoulder fades and some of the deeper balls,” Bohl said. “When you have a guy with the catch radius and strong hands like Isaiah, that’s a really challenging combination. I think those two have really been in-sync, and it was encouraging to see Josh Cobbs come up with some big plays.”

Added Neyor on Williams: “(It’s) just him being more comfortable. With the QB battle between him and Sean (Chambers), it was kind of hard for them confidence-wise. Now that he’s known to be the true starter, it’s built his confidence. He has more confidence in the pocket, and more confidence with us.”

Neyor points to the Pokes’ preparation as the greatest factor in an all-around imposing performance.

“The key to that was just executing, utilizing our weapons and being on the same page as the quarterback,” he said. “It was a team effort, and we practiced really hard that week. Practice was a big part of that.”

Defending a dual-threat

It’s been a mixed bag for UW this year in terms of containing dual-threat MW quarterbacks.

The Cowboys struggled mightily against San Jose State’s Nick Nash, who went off for 261 total yards and a touchdown, with UW falling 27-21. The next week in a win against CSU, Todd Centio compiled 233 total yards and two touchdowns, but was intercepted twice.

Hawaii junior quarterback Chevan Cordeiro poses a similar challenge as these two, with 2,470 passing yards, 256 yards on the ground and 16 total touchdowns this season.

“Nash had great speed, but Chevan (Cordeiro) has great feet and his arm is better than all those other guys,” Bohl said. “He’s a dynamic quarterback. I’ve been having some discussions with our defensive staff on what kind of things we’ll need to do to neutralize him, but that’s going to be a tall order.

“He handles the ball well, he places it where it needs to be placed and he’s very elusive. When he takes it and runs with it, very rarely do you get a clean shot on him.”

Going pro

Bohl confirmed on Monday that senior linebacker Chad Muma will be entering the NFL draft after accepting an invitation to the Senior Bowl last week.

Muma – a finalist for the Butkus Award, honoring the top linebacker in college football – ranks third and second in the country, respectively, with 120 total tackles and 75 solo stops. His three interceptions are also the third-most in the MW.

“You’re going to hear from all kinds of agents and different projections and things like that, but the Senior Bowl is vetted by the NFL,” Bohl said. “Once you get an invitation for the Senior Bowl, I don’t want to say you’re guaranteed to be a top-100 player, but that’s pretty much where it’s at.”

Stone named MW special teams player of the week

University of Wyoming sophomore Cameron Stone was named Mountain West special teams player of the week Monday. The Rosharon, Texas, product returned a kickoff 99 yards during the first quarter of the Cowboys’ 44-17 win Saturday at Utah State in Logan.

Stone’s touchdown gave the Cowboys a 14-7 lead. He also had a second return of 25 yards.

It’s the first return TD for Stone, and the second-longest in UW history. The only return longer was a 100-yarder by Sonny Jones in 1948.

Stone was elevated to the Cowboys’ top kick return unit prior to their 23-13 loss to Boise State on Nov. 12. He has returned four kicks an average of 45.8 yards. As a cornerback, Stone has seven solo tackles in 10 games.

Bowl projections

UW might need another win to guarantee a bowl game invitation, especially if San Jose State can upset Fresno State on Thursday to become postseason eligible. However, nearly every bowl projection from a major national media outlet currently has the Cowboys slated to play next month.

The Action Network and Sports Illustrated have the Pokes picked to play Texas-El Paso in the New Mexico Bowl, while CBS Sports and ESPN have them in the Hawaii Bowl against a combination of Memphis, Ball State or Liberty. Sporting News predicts UW will play South Carolina in the Military Bowl, with USA Today having them squaring off against Miami (Ohio) in the Frisco Bowl.

Josh Criswell covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at jcriswell@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @criswell_sports.

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