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University of Wyoming running back Xazavian Valladay, center, cuts back with the ball in-between Boise State linebacker Riley Whimpey, left, and linebacker Ezekiel Noa, right, during the second half of the Cowboys' 23-13 loss Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Boise Idaho.

Quarterback

Utah State junior quarterback Logan Bonner has made a case as the Mountain West’s top newcomer this year. The Arkansas State transfer has led the Aggies to an 8-2 start, while passing for 2,749 yards and 25 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. Outside of a costly late interception, Wyoming sophomore Levi Williams was productive against Boise State – becoming the first Pokes quarterback since Sept. 18 to complete more than 60% of his passes.

Advantage: Utah State

Running back

The Cowboys didn't have a single rusher above 60 yards last week, but they were able to move the ball efficiently on the ground. UW finished with 4.6 yards per carry, with junior Titus Swen receiving the bulk of the carries. Between Swen and senior Xazavian Valladay, the Pokes have a chance to exploit a defensive front that has struggled at times this season. Calvin Tyler Jr. is another player that has stepped in and made an impact for the Aggies from the transfer portal, ranking eighth in the conference with 72.1 rushing yards per game.

Advantage: Wyoming

Wide receiver/tight end

It’s been all Isaiah Neyor or nothing for the UW passing attack as of late, as the Cowboys navigate injuries to key receivers Ayden Eberhardt and Alex Brown. Neyor had six of the Cowboys' 11 receptions last week for 126 yards and a touchdown, ranking among the best in the MW in both categories, but it’s the Aggies that will have the most proven playmaker on the outside. Utah State senior Deven Thompkins enters Saturday with 1,441 receiving yards, the most in the country, and eight touchdowns. Thompkins needs just 91 yards to break Utah State's single-season record.

Advantage: Utah State

Offensive line

Wyoming appears to have a slight edge on the offensive line, with the Cowboys giving up four fewer sacks on the season. The Pokes have also been more consistent on the ground, averaging 4.6 yards per carry – an entire yard more than the Aggies. This is the byproduct of a seasoned position group that is expected to get injured senior Eric Abojei back this week.

Advantage: Wyoming

Defensive line

The Pokes have been solid up front defensively, but similar to the receivers group, UW’s defensive line has been ravaged by injuries. Veterans Solomon Byrd and Ravontae Holt are both done for the season, depleting the depth of one of the deepest positions on the roster. Utah State, meanwhile, is coming off arguably its best performance in the trenches. The Aggies had seven tackles for loss in the first half of a 48-17 win over San Jose State last week, holding the Spartans to just 12 rushing yards.

Advantage: Utah State

Linebackers

Utah State senior linebacker Justin Rice has been no stranger to change during his college career, earning first-team all-conference honors at Fresno State and Arkansas State the past two seasons. After following first-year Utah State coach Blake Anderson from ASU, Rice is now the Aggies' leading tackler. Still, the Cowboys hold an undeniable advantage at the linebacker spot – and not just because of Bednarik and Butkus Award semifinalist Chad Muma. Sophomore linebacker Easton Gibbs was a thorn in Boise State’s side last week, racking up 12 tackles, seven solo stops, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup.

Advantage: Wyoming

Defensive backs

Last week wasn't pretty for the MW's top pass defense, which gave up 225 yards on 72% passing in a loss to Boise State. The Cowboys have been forced to play veteran safety Esaias Gandy less due to stingers in his shoulder and neck area, but freshman Isaac White has filled in nicely – breaking up a potential touchdown pass with a big hit at the goal line against the Broncos. Utah State has been susceptible to getting beat through the air, ranking 10th in the conference with 247.6 passing yards allowed per game.

Advantage: Wyoming

Special teams

There isn't much separation in terms of the kicking game for Wyoming and Utah State. The Cowboys are ninth in the league in field goal percentage, while the Aggies rank seventh. Utah State is fourth in the conference in punting average, with the Pokes two spots back. The return game is where the difference has been, with Utah State scoring a pair of touchdowns, compared to none for UW.

Advantage: Utah State

Final score: Utah State 28, Wyoming 21

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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