20211010-spts-XazavianValladay01

University of Wyoming running back Xazavian Valladay, center, carries the ball during the Cowboys’ 24-14 loss at Air Force on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Falcon Stadium in Air Force Academy, Colo.

Quarterback

Jake Haener has passed for 2,230 yards and 18 touchdowns this year, ranking third and fifth in the country in those categories, respectively. As a result, Fresno State is going to have an advantage at the quarterback position against almost any Mountain West team, perhaps with the exception of Nevada. Wyoming's Sean Chambers looked solid through the first four games, going 78 pass attempts without an interception at one point. Last week was a setback, however, as he completed only 11 of 28 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.

Advantage: Fresno State

Running back

The Cowboys had a respectable performance on the ground against Air Force last week, rushing for 114 yards on 27 carries. It should be noted, though, that 74 of these yards came on one run by senior running back Xazavian Valladay. Still, Valladay has established himself as one of the top backs in the conference, and the duo of him and Titus Swen is averaging more than five yards per carry on the season. Ronnie Rivers leads a pass-happy Fresno State offense in the rushing department with an average of 70 yards per game.

Advantage: Wyoming

Wide receiver/tight end

Fresno State features one of the top Group of Five receivers in the country in Jalen Cropper. The junior leads the Mountain West with nine touchdown catches, five more than his closest competition, and is averaging 7.3 receptions and 88 yards per game. The Bulldogs’ pass attack is hardly one dimensional, however, with six other players above the 100-yard mark receiving. UW's Isaiah Neyor is tied for second in the MW with four touchdown catches and is averaging 56.4 yards per game, followed by senior Ayden Eberhardt with 42 yards per contest. Tight end Treyton Welch has also been a viable target for Chambers, ranking second on the team with two touchdown grabs and pulling in two catches for 23 yards against Air Force in his return from injury.

Advantage: Fresno State

Offensive line

After over-matching their final three non-conference opponents, the Cowboys’ offensive line took a step back against the Falcons. Outside of Valladay’s long run, Wyoming averaged just 1.5 yards per carry, with Chambers being sacked four times. Fresno State, meanwhile, will have to perform better up front than it did in its last game. Haener was under constant duress during a 27-24 loss to Hawaii, being sacked three times and finishing the game with five turnovers.

Advantage: Push

Defensive line

The Cowboys’ defensive line deserves praise for its performance against Air Force, during which it helped limit the top rushing offense in the country to 156.4 yards below its season average. The group will need to play a different role this week, however, with UW coach Craig Bohl noting the importance of being able to get four-man pressure on the quarterback. Fresno State has a stout D-line of its own, with the duo of Arron Mosby and Kevin Atkins combining for 16 tackles for loss on the year.

Advantage: Fresno State

Linebackers

After a quiet outing against UConn, UW senior Chad Muma made his presence felt last weekend – racking up 11 total tackles and six solo stops to lead all players. He also has a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns this year, and this playmaking ability could come into play against a Fresno State team that’s averaging 43 pass attempts per game. The Bulldogs have a solid linebacker corps, led by Tyson Maeva and Levelle Bailey, with the pair helping to hold opponents to 3.5 yards per carry.

Advantage: Wyoming

Defensive backs

Fresno State’s passing attack and UW’s secondary could very well be the matchup that determines Saturday’s game. The Bulldogs’ passing prowess is no secret, but neither is the fact that the Cowboys lead the conference with 171.2 passing yards allowed per game. Veteran cornerbacks Azizi Hearn and C.J. Coldon have been a vital part of this success, but a deep safety position has made a major impact as well. As for Fresno State, safety Evan Williams leads the team with 41 tackles, with the Bulldogs holding opponents under 52% passing.

Advantage: Wyoming

Special teams

It’s difficult to find much disparity in the special teams units for the Pokes and Bulldogs. Less than a yard separates the punting averages of UW's Ralph Fawaz and Fresno State's Carson King, with each recording seven punts of 50 or more yards on the year. Both teams have missed only one field goal, and neither has recorded a return of more than 40 yards.

Advantage: Push

Final score: Wyoming 28, Fresno State 24

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.

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus