The Washington State Cougars don’t open their 2018 season for another week, but their opponents in that game — the Wyoming Cowboys — get a head start on the season tonight when they travel to Las Cruces to play the New Mexico State Aggies.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. PT, and you can find the TV broadcast on ESPN2. You also can stream it via WatchESPN.com or the ESPN App if you have the requisite cable subscription.
We’ll dig into the Cowboys a bunch more as the week progresses toward the Cougs’ actual opener, but here are a handful of things to know about them as you sit down to scout the Cougs’ first opponent.
First, the Cowboys’ strength is expected to be their defense. Here’s a snippet of what SB Nation’s Bill Connelly wrote about them in his season preview:
There were five excellent defenses in the MWC last year, and Wyoming’s might have been the best of all. And now the experience level is off the charts. Look out.
Wyoming allowed only 3.3 gains per game of 20-plus yards (11th in FBS) and gave up only seven 40-yard gains all year. The Pokes kept plays in front of them until they could leverage opponents behind schedule. Then they teed off. They ranked sixth nationally in passing-downs sack rate, and the two primary reasons — end Carl Granderson and tackle Youhanna Ghaifan (combined: 31.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, four forced fumbles — are back.
Additionally, the Cowboys have a pair of very good safeties: Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps. Wyoming feasts off turnovers.
Offensively, the Cowboys will be much more of a work in progress. Gone is Josh Allen (to the Buffalo Bills), but the offense was pretty putrid in 2017 even with the first round NFL Draft pick. Replacing him will be Tyler Vander Waal, a redshirt freshman taking his first college snaps after beating out fifth-year senior (and last year’s backup) Nick Smith for the job.
The offense does have a ton of experience at the other skill positions, but after a season in which they had great difficulty making plays, it remains to be seen whether experience alone is enough to take a big step forward. The rushing attack was a particular problem, and when the Cowboys got behind the chains, they struggled mightily to catch up.
Much has been made about whether it’s an advantage for Wyoming to have a game under its belt before taking on WSU, or whether it’s an advantage for WSU to get to see Wyoming and be able to game plan accordingly. I have no idea which of those things is the case. But I do know that from a fan perspective, it’s going to be interesting to see if the Wyoming defense is as good as advertised and if the offense looks dangerous.