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Pre-Snap Read: The Wyoming Cowboys

What has us concerned about the Cowboys? In what are we confident? Here's a quick look at the big storylines for Saturday.

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

The Cougs welcome in the Cowboys from Coach Leach's home state of Wyoming this Saturday to finish off their non-conference slate. Wyoming -- like WSU -- stumbled out the gate against their FCS opponent, North Dakota (the other one, not the really good one Wyoming coach Craig Bohl built). Then last week they suffered a mollywhopping at the hands of Eastern Michigan in Laramie, when they were down to their third-string QB and forced to try and ground-n-pound.

The Cowboys notched 430 rushing yards in that contest, including 242 yards on 21 carries by sophomore Brian Hill, and only 32 yds through the air. Second-string QB Josh Allen was responsible for all of them, going 3-of-4 passing before being knocked out of the game early on. The third stringer completed 3-of-13 passes for zero yards, which is sorta impressive in its own right.

With their QB1 Cameron Coffman healed up enough to get the nod, the Wyoming offense should return to a way more balanced look than their previous games would indicate. They remain a power running team, but Bohl works some West Coast Offense passing elements into his ground attack. Coffman was 19-of-37 for 282 yds and two TDs before leaving the opener. They will throw it a bit.

What has me concerned about the Pokes

WSU's own consistency. Before the game against Rutgers, we mentioned that Luke Falk would have a "prove it" moment. The young QB rebounded from the week one dud by leading the team on a 90-yard game-winning drive in under 90 seconds, in the face of some real adversity, earning PAC-12 Player of the Week honors for his efforts. So ... at this point in Falk's career, we either see a lousy game or he secures a conference POTW, basically. Which one will we see on Saturday?

Playing to the level of your opponent. The season is still really young, but you can start to get a whiff in the air that this might be what these Cougs do. Young teams have a real knack for it. Seeing as how this could be the last opponent against which WSU will be favored, that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just potentially a bad thing this week.

All jabs, no overhand rights. Last week the offense left a lot of points and yardage on the field. Both Leach and Falk mentioned leaving "meat on the bone" -- meaning, Falk took what was open ... but another route was open downfield, too, begging for a big play. The Cougs are sitting at 7.07 yards per attempt (72nd nationally) and 10.47 yards per completion (99th), which supports that idea. Wyoming has allowed 33 plays of over 10 yards, with 12 of those being explosives (20 yards or more), putting them at 103rd in the nation in long-play-from-scrimmage rankings. This match up will be a good opportunity to try stretching the field, if they care to do such a thing.

A certified Freak. Wyoming's 6-foot-1, 305-pound defensive tackle Uso Olive landed himself on Bruce Feldman's Top 25 'Freaks' in College Football. Seriously read all of those entries if you're unfamiliar with this series. Kill some time at work. Olive -- who is from Federal Way, Washington -- is comically strong; he's benched 555 pounds for five reps, squatted 876 pounds for two reps, and does the NFL standard combine bench of 225 pounds for 40 reps "easily". Here's a video of him squatting 765 pounds. Olive looks to play DT on the right side of the line, pitting him against Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund on the Wazzu left. I'd allocate some eye time on that brawl, as it should be a good one all game long.

Wearing down against the run. Wazzu has played solid defensively for the first half of both its previous games, then the clock strikes midnight at halftime and a pumpkin is careening down the road for the rest of the game.

Against PSU and Rutgers, the defense allowed 137 yards on 37 attempts (4.0 per carry) in the first half. That ballooned to 307 yards on 54 attempts (5.6 per carry) after halftime. No TDs in the first half, four in the second. Seven runs of 10+ yards in the first, a devastating 13 in the second half with three of those going for over 20 yards.

Something not good is happening at halftime, and the opponent adjustments have been relatively simple. Inverted veer from PSU, and Rutgers went to a stretch zone/weakside counter/bootleg combination that was almost enough to win them the game. That nonsense is on film now, and a Wyoming team that's rattling off nearly six yards per carry has seen all of it.

Ryan Holmgren, beat writer for the Cowboys at the Casper Star-Tribune was nice enough to lend his thoughts

What are you most confident about with the Cowboys?

"At this point, it's really tough to be confident about a whole lot.

"In its season opener, a 24-13 loss to North Dakota, it amassed just 29 rushing yards — its fewest since finishing with 28 against Utah State on Nov. 30, 2013. Then against Eastern Michigan, the Cowboys racked up 430 rushing yards, including 242 from sophomore running back Brian Hill.

"On the other hand, UW senior quarterback Cameron Coffman passed for 282 yards and two touchdowns without an interception against North Dakota. He didn't play last week due to a sprained right MCL, and the Cowboys' backup quarterback, Josh Allen, broke his collarbone on their second drive against EMU. So altogether, Wyoming passed for just 32 yards in Week 2, with its third-string QB, redshirt freshman Nick Smith, going 3-for-13 for no yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Wyoming's defense hasn't had many positives at all."

Read up on this by Ryan on how the Pokes are preparing to defend Wazzu's Air Raid

What has me confident in WSU

Zone. Craig Bohl will run a base Tampa-2 defense, most likely out of nickel (he lists SAM and Nickel as interchangeable in his depth chart), instead of their traditional 4-3 look. This will be the second week in a row the offense has seen a two-high safety zone defense. Last week, Falk was able to exploit the seams with the safeties vacating their hashes with concerns over the sideline routes. This left their WILL backer chasing River Cracraft at an obvious disadvantage.



"Tampa" takes some of that away by dropping MIKE, or a SAM "nickel" (where MIKE busts to the hook-to-curl) to the middle (12 - 15 yds deep) at the snap, or even a little before it. This offense should eat zone defenses alive, unless they are really pretty good, and Wyoming just isn't quite there yet under Bohl. During conference play the Cougs will see a load more man, with one or two free safeties, so this will probably be one of the last few times they face a true zone team.

Size matters. Aside from DT Uso Olive and a freshman back-up NT from Seoul, Korea, no other player in the Wyoming front-seven is over 255 lbs. After the pass pro clinic the offensive line put on in Piscataway, it'd be nice to see the big guys spring one of the backs for massive ground gains. The OL deserves a lot of recognition, but people might not take notice until one of the troika running the ball breaks a hundred in a game.

Sunshine. We haven't been able to sit in the stands and watch Cougar Football without getting rained on yet. And I guess more importantly the passing game has had to deal with that too. With a current forecast of 73 degrees and 0% rain, the offense might get to pitch and catch a dry football, and we get to clock-in for decent hours at a tailgate.

Ryan Holmgren

What scares you about Wazzu?

"I think Washington State's style of offense is a nightmare for Wyoming's inexperienced defense. In the first two games, the Cowboys started three redshirt freshmen and a sophomore in the secondary. This week, a senior — Tyran Finley, who has played sparingly throughout his career, I might add — will replace one of those redshirt freshmen, Anthony Makransky, at cornerback. But UW will still be very inexperienced.

"Four of Wyoming's top six linebackers — including starting strong-side backer/nickel back D.J. May, starting middle linebacker Eric Nzeocha — are new to the position. May moved from running back and Nzeocha, the younger brother of Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker Mark Nzeocha, switched from tight end.

"Eastern Michigan backup quarterback Brogan Roback completed 17 of 24 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns without an interception last week in his first start.

"With so much youth and inexperience in the back seven, Wyoming could be in for a long day if it can't stop the pass, which it hasn't showed the ability to do yet."

How I think it'll play out

The Cougs come out to prove a point this week. A slip up against a FCS team (even if they somehow turn out to be good) at home will leave some stink in the building for a while. Clearing that out takes wins, and lots of touchdowns. I think we see a more aggressive offense, especially going against a zone team that should play underneath pretty well, and that leads to some big plays.

I'd also expect the running game to get going. Wicks has been a powerhorse back the past couple weeks and is due to break some tackles for real yardage against a team that allows nearly five yards per carry and 225 yards per game. Also, Tavares Martin Jr. is going to house a kick return soon, and it might be this Saturday. He's been extremely close a couple of times over the past few games.

Wyoming's offense will keep things interesting, especially if they can dominate time of possession. They have a physical brand of rushing attack with lineman downfield chopping second-level defenders, and their RB Brian Hill showed he's capable of outrageous numbers when they get those holes. Returning their first-string QB is huge, and he'll be able to keep the defense honest. Ultimately, the Coug wide receivers are too much too handle for a really young secondary and the TDs mount up. Wazzu gets their first of two wins against "UW" this season.

Final score: WSU 55 - 24 Wyoming

Ryan Holmgren

How do you see the game playing out?

"I think the 24-point spread will probably be fairly accurate. Wyoming needs to chew up clock with its running game to keep things close, essentially not giving WSU many chances to score. The Cowboys haven't forced a turnover yet this year, and to remain competitive they'll need to do that at least once.

"I see Washington State coming away with its first home victory of the season."