Wyoming (2-1) at Air Force (1-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 21, 10:15 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Falcon Stadium (46,692) -- United States Air Force Academy, Colorado. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: Wyoming 2-0, Air Force 1-1. Away Record: Wyoming 0-1, Air Force 0-1. Neutral Record: Wyoming 0-0, Air Force 0-0. Conference Record: Wyoming 0-0, Air Force 0-2. Series Record: Air Force leads, 27-21-3.
GAME NOTES: The Air Force Falcons play a Mountain West Conference foe for the third time in the first four games of the season this weekend as they host the Wyoming Cowboys.
Air Force opened the 2013 campaign with a 38-13 romp over Colgate at home, but the competition took a huge step in the two games that followed. First, the Academy was squashed by Utah State at home back on Sept. 7 by a score of 52-20, and then six days later the Falcons hit the road for the first time and were sent packing by Boise State, 42-20.
Air Force has now scored in a school-record 249 straight games, the fourth- longest active streak in the nation behind Michigan (353), Florida (312) and former MWC foe TCU (257).
As for the Cowboys, this game represents their conference opener. Since coming up just short against nationally-ranked Nebraska on the road in the season opener, 37-34, the Pokes have bounced back nicely with a 42-10 victory against Idaho and a 35-7 romp over Northern Colorado last weekend.
This game is the first of back-to-back road dates for Wyoming, with a stop in San Marcos, Texas next weekend to take on the Bobcats of Texas State in non- conference play.
Air Force pulled out a narrow 28-27 win in last year's meeting in Laramie, pushing the team's advantage in the all-time series to 27-21-3. The Falcons also lead the series between the schools with both as conference foes, 18-14, although six of the last eight meetings have been decided by one possession.
The Cowboys had to endure a 58-minute break in the action during their meeting with visiting Northern Colorado last Saturday due to weather concerns, but that didn't stop Wyoming from eventually enjoying a four-touchdown victory. The defense came to play for the Pokes as they recorded five tackles for loss and returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns, the first time that's happened in more than a decade.
Shaun Wick scored touchdowns on runs of one and 20 yards in the second and fourth quarters, respectively, while Jordan Stanton (39 yards) and Cortland Fort (50 yards) brought back picks for TDs as well. Quarterback Brett Smith hit 30-of-47 passes for 264 yards and a TD, but was picked off once and sacked four times.
Wick has been a pleasant surprise for the Cowboys to this point, scoring three of the unit's five rushing touchdowns while averaging almost seven yards per carry. Averaging 8.1 yards per rush, Smith is also a valuable piece in the ground attack for the Pokes, but his presence in the pocket is generally much more punishing, now that he has nine passing TDs and has completed 63.3 percent of his attempts.
On the receiving end of four of those passing scores has been Dominic Rufran who has caught 25 balls for 268 yards. While he has just one TD to his credit, Robert Herron is averaging a team-best 18.8 yards per catch on 14 grabs.
The Wyoming defense could use a bit of a kick moving forward though, allowing 404.7 ypg, with a good chunk of that coming on the ground (193.0 ypg). Eddie Yarbrough, third on the team in total tackles with 26, has tried to stem the tide with four sacks and six tackles for loss, both team highs, but it is still a work in progress.
The Falcons scored a rushing touchdown for the 50th straight game last Friday night versus Boise State, but the team needed a lot more than that in what turned into a 22-point setback on the blue turf. Quarterback Jaleel Awini scored twice on the ground for the Academy, finishing with 107 yards on 23 attempts for a squad that generated just 188 yards on 52 carries. Awini did complete four of his nine passes for another 99 yards, but the defense surrendered 533 yards to the Broncos in the losing cause.
Awini, forced into action following the loss of Kale Pearson who will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury, has actually shown an aptitude and willingness to put the ball in the air, something the Falcons are not completely used to after being one of the top running teams in the country for so many years. Awini has completed 10 passes for 186 yards, although one of those completions went for 53 yards to Sam Gagliano which skewed the numbers a bit.
Make no mistake, the Falcons are still a run-first squad, averaging 253.0 ypg and having scored eight touchdowns, three of which have been logged by Awini.
Unfortunately, as much as Air Force runs on opponents, those same adversaries are apt to return the favor, averaging 201.0 ypg and scoring eight TDs through the first three games.
Considering the Falcons are a run-heavy team, Wyoming will have its hands full this weekend. Not only will Air Force beat down the defense of the Cowboys in the trenches, prolonged drives by the Falcons will also keep the ball out of the hands of Smith and the Wyoming offense which could prove costly.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Wyoming 31, Air Force 24
09/18 10:31:22 ET