It's a Long Way to December, But Cowboys Can Step Into Bowl Eligibility With Win on Saturday
In the final moments of the post-game media session last Saturday, Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, who preaches that each week is a season in its own, and there is no looking past that next opponent on the schedule, smiled at the inquiry.
The question was partially asked.
"Not to overlook Nevada, with Boise State and Utah State the need to have a more balanced offense. . . "
And Bohl responded, "I get where you are. I think we need to improve offensively. But I can dang sure tell you this. We need to beat Nevada."
Just the same, the Nevada game at War Memorial Stadium Saturday (noon kickoff, AT&T Rocky Mountain) is a key part of looking ahead. A year ago, the Cowboys stumbled early, finished with a flourish and became bowl eligible with a season-ending win at New Mexico.
Wyoming, however, was one of four six-win teams left out of the post-season dance, the first time in three years they didn't go bowling.
The oversight can be overcome this year. The Cowboys go into the Nevada game wit a 5-2 record, the losses by less than a touchdown in the closing minutes at Tulsa and San Diego State. A win on Saturday and the Cowboys join the ranks of the Bowl Elgibles with four games remaining -- at Boise State and Utah State, then home for the rivalry showdown with Colorado State before closing out at Air Force.
The expectation is the Cowboys should win at least two of those four, but, as Bohl would underscore, the first issue is beating Nevada, which has been a Jekyll and Hyde team.
This is a team that beat Purdue 34-31 the first week of the season, but four weeks ago lost to Hawaii 54-3, and last week dropped a 36-10 decision to Utah State. The Wolfpack is without two key defensive players -- defensive end Kameron Toomer and linebacker Lucas Weber.
Nevada also announced this week that Cameron Strong, who started the first three games of the season and made a second-half appearance against Hawaii, is back behind center at quarterback. Malik Henry won't play again this season to provide him time "to focus on academics."
The consistent in the offensive scheme has been running back Toa Taua, who has carried the ball 115 times for 513 yards. No other Nevada player has more than 32 carries. Taua has rushed for more than 85 yards only once -- picking up 160 yards on 34 carries against San Jose State.
What the Cowboys present is a strong running game, featuring three players with more than 300 yards rushing, although true freshman Titus Swen (356 yards on 67 carries) will be out for the second week in a row with a medical collateral ligament injury.
Sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay, who has battled injuries himself, did return to the lineup healthy against New Mexico, and gained 127 yards on 33 carries, raising his season total to 92 carries for 425 yards.
And then there is quarterback Sean Chambers, who leads the Cowboys in rushing with 547 yards on 85 carries, and nine touchdowns. He also showed an emerging passing game against New Mexico.
He completed 9 of 15 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. He completed 7 of 12 attempts in the first half, and then, with the Cowboys in a grind-it-out approach in the second half, Chambers was 2-for-3 for 30 yards, including a 15-yard scoring pass in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys had their grind it out defense in order against New Mexico, rushing 55 times for 259 yards, including 117 net yards on 18 carries for Chambers.
It was all about controlling the clock. The Cowboys won the possession battle by more than 10 minutes over the Lobos -- 35:13 to 24:47. And they dominated the fourth quarter.
They outscored New Mexico 10-0 in the final 14:55, band controlled the ball for 10:48 of the final 16 minutes, rushing 18 times for 96 yards.
And while Nevada is challenged in trying to stop a passing game -- much like New Mexico -- Bohl indicated there were be no Air Coryell approach.
"It is up to us to know who we are," he said. "Dance with who brung us. We have been throwing the ball better in practice and I think we threw the ball better in the (New Mexico) game. ... To say we are going to flip the field and drastically change, and send a message out that 'I've been in touch with Mike Leach and we are going air raid is an overstatement."
The focus remains on grinding and winning -- one game at a time.
Sometimes, however, one game can be bigger -- like when a win lifts the team into Bowl Eligible territory with four games still to play.