All the 1998 University of Wyoming football team had to do to earn a bowl berth was go on the road and beat a three-win Tulsa squad.
The Cowboys entered the game off a loss to Air Force, but were still 8-2. Tulsa had lost seven of its previous eight games. A UW win wasn’t guaranteed, but looked certain.
Las Vegas Bowl representatives were so sure the Cowboys were going to win, they attended the game. They brought along showgirls and boxes of Las Vegas Bowl swag for UW to wear as it celebrated its first bowl berth since 1993.
“In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a good idea,” said Kevin McKinney, who is UW’s senior associate athletics director.
Tulsa played one of its best games that afternoon. UW played one of its worst and lost 35-0.
The Golden Hurricane rolled up 330 rushing yards, and another 134 through the air. Their defense finished with four interceptions.
“They came out in red uniforms; I’ll never forget that,” said McKinney, who works as the color commentator on UW football broadcasts. “It was apparently a throwback to what they used to wear, and they were ready to go.
“It was one of those games where they came out, and you’re sitting there thinking, ‘This is going to be tough.’ They just kicked our butt. Right from the outset, we couldn’t stop them, we couldn’t cover them, and we couldn’t get to the quarterback.”
The Cowboys were left on the outside looking in during bowl season. There were only 22 bowl games in 1998, compared to 39 this season.
“It was such an empty feeling,” McKinney said. “As the year is going on, you get excited and you want to keep it going. We had such a good team and had had such a good season, but it ended in disappointment.
“The Vegas Bowl was probably angrier than anyone because they had to ship all that gear back, and they all had to go home.”
The Golden Hurricane (1-2) started the season with a loss at Michigan State before winning at San Jose State. They lost to visiting Oklahoma State last week.
Tulsa utilizes a run-based spread offense, Cowboys defensive coordinator Jake Dickert said.
“It’s a high-tempo offense. They come out of the Baylor tree, and they are fast, fast, fast,” he said. “They get lined up and execute at a high tempo. They do a lot of (run-pass options), take shots downfield and try to get their athletes the ball in space. They make you really cover every inch of the field.”
All three of UW’s opponents thus far have run tempo offenses. That should help the Cowboys.
“That shouldn’t be as much of a shock,” Dickert said.
Tulsa has 18 players who have started on defense. Cowboys offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brent Vigen expects the Golden Hurricane to rotate several players in Saturday.
“They have a lot of length and athleticism,” he said. “They’re an active group. They were all over the map schematically last year, but they seem to have found one philosophy and done well with it.”
Senior linebacker Logan Wilson was critical of the Cowboys’ performance against Idaho during postgame interviews. That included his own play.
“It wasn’t pretty, by any means, but we’re still 3-0,” he said. “It’s cool to be in this position, but we still have a lot of room for improvement, and that’s exciting.
“If we continue to improve and get better, the sky is the limit. We’re never going to play a perfect game, but we have to strive for a better level of consistency.”
UW has been outscored 24-0 during the first quarter this season. It must put some points on the scoreboard in the opening frame, senior receiver Austin Conway said.
“We can’t come out and have empty drives at the beginning of the game, and wait too long to get into the groove of the football game,” he said. “That’s something that can hurt us in the future.
“We have had three games where we’ve started behind. We have to start on top for once. We have to be explosive on the first drive.”
Some of that starts with the passing game. The Cowboys are averaging just 81.7 yards through the air.
“We have to do a better job of making plays for Sean (Chambers),” Conway said. “When our numbers are called, we have to answer the bell.”