LARAMIE – Something is going to have to give when the University of Wyoming plays at San Diego State on Saturday night.
The Cowboys (4-1 overall, 1-0 Mountain West) rank 16th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing yards per game at 248.2. San Diego State (4-1, 1-1) ranks second nationally in rush defense (52.3 ypg).
“They’re a great gap cancellation team, and they penetrate a lot,” sixth-year UW coach Craig Bohl said during Monday afternoon’s news conference. “The numbers bear that out.”
The Aztecs have held every opponent they have faced below 100 yards. Colorado State gained just 18 yards on the ground during Saturday’s 24-10 loss in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Utah State had the most success of any of San Diego State’s opponents, tallying 82 yards during its 23-17 victory Sept. 21.
Success against the Aztecs’ run defense comes down to execution, Cowboys offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said.
“That sounds very simplistic, but if you don’t stay true to your rules and true to your assignments, guys will pop free and make plays,” Vigen said. “Pretty soon, you’re getting two yards instead of five yards. We have to get five instead of two as much as we can.
“They very rarely give up big plays in the rushing game, so you have to be consistent. You have to be more physical and assignment-sound. Those are all things we’re capable of, but things (the Aztecs) do a good job of making very hard.”
Junior right guard Logan Harris is looking forward to the challenge.
“This is another opportunity to show how much our young offensive line has grown,” the Torrington product said. “We started off hot, but had our ups and downs.
“We couldn’t have picked a better week to come off of than last week, because gaining 374 yards on the ground is pretty big. I think we’ll be ready for their defense.”
Being able to run the ball is especially important for UW, which ranks 126th nationally with 116.6 passing yards per game. The Cowboys passing game will be expected to pick up some slack Saturday in San Diego, but success — or lack thereof — won’t be determined strictly through the air, Bohl said.
“We have to understand who we are, as well,” he said. “... We have to be able to move the ball on the ground. It’s not like we’re going to say, ‘We’re going to do max protection and throw the ball vertically downfield.
“However, our percentages do need to improve, and we have to stay on the field more and be more balanced.”
Bohl said the Cowboys wanted to achieve three things during their bye week: improve fundamentally on offense, defense and special teams, start preparing for San Diego State and get healthy.
They achieved all three, he said.
“We anticipate being at full strength, so we’re excited about that,” he said. “It’s going to be the first time in a long time.”
Harris missed the Cowboys’ 53-17 victory over UNLV because of a concussion he suffered during a Sept. 21 loss at Tulsa. Harris hasn’t been cleared to play, but he was listed atop the depth chart at right guard.
Senior cornerback Tyler Hall also remains in the concussion protocol because of a concussion he suffered in Tulsa. Hall is listed as the starter at one corner position.
Junior right tackle Alonzo Velazquez (right knee) is listed as the starter. He was not on the depth chart for UNLV.
Redshirt freshman Frank Crum of Laramie started at right tackle in place of Velazquez against UNLV. He is listed as the backup at left tackle behind sophomore Rudy Stofer.
Sophomore Patrick Arnold started at right guard in place of Harris, and is listed as the backup at left guard behind sophomore Eric Abojei.
Crum and Arnold were the backups at left tackle and left guard, respectively, heading into the Tulsa game.
Prior to this season, Aztecs coach Rocky Long said he was switching to a spread offense. However, they have continued to use the same power running attack that often features three tight ends.
“The philosophy is not changing, just the formations are changing,” the ninth-year coach said at Mountain West football media days in July.
San Diego State looks awfully familiar offensively, Bohl said.
“I was expecting four wide (receivers) and an empty backfield,” Bohl said with a laugh. “Rocky isn’t going to change. He is who he is, and I love him to death.”