On paper, the Wyoming Cowboys (3-4, 2-1) are the better team going into Saturday’s Border War with CSU (4-2, 1-1).
Luckily for the Rams, games are determined on the field.
“You hear it from the media,” said safety Jake Galusha. “Wyoming this, Wyoming that. We’ve kicked their butts the last two years but we don’t get any exposure for it.”
If the Rams knock off the hot Cowboys this weekend, Galusha’s wish just might come true.
As great as the Rams’ defense has played this season, they won’t even be considered the best on the field in Laramie. The Cowboys’ defense currently ranks ahead of the Rams, allowing an average of 222.4 yards per game compared to the Rams’ 267.2.
“They have guys in their system who have played and have experience,” said offensive coordinator Dan Hammerschmidt earlier this week. “They have a good defense that is very aggressive.”
The Rams’ defense will take on the challenge of playing one of the most boring offenses in the conference. The Cowboys lead the league in first downs. The five touchdowns scored under redshirt freshman quarterback Karsten Sween are: 2-yard rush, 4-yard rush, 24-yard pass, 12-yard pass and 4-yard pass.
“They’re a team with a young quarterback, they’re not going to go for big plays,” said
Galusha. “It’ll be little hitches, screens, things like that. We’re scheming for it.”
CSU’s defense will also be without some of the key players who have contributed to their early success. Safety Mike Pagnotta, defensive end Jesse Nading and cornerback Joey Rucks will all watch from the sidelines.
Fewer players means fewer rests for the defense.
“It’s gonna be crazy,” Galusha said. “I’m usually not in there for every play. Now it’s every snap, every down, every special teams. Hopefully the offense can stay on the field and give us some rest.”
For the offense to be able to do so, now is the time for starting running back Gartrell Johnson to have his first 100-yard rushing game. Wyoming’s pass defense is No. 1 in the conference.
“The main thing about them is they blitz from everywhere,” said offensive lineman Clint Oldenburg, who is from Wyoming. “You got to keep your head up and watch everybody, because they’re coming.”
Getting the ball rolling on first down with successful running plays won’t force quarterback Caleb Hanie to be throwing on second-and-long and third-and-long situations.
For the Rams, the game plan for success will just be performing like they know they can.
“It’s not a matter of what they do, it’s a matter of what we do,” Oldenburg said. “If we do what we can nobody can stop us. Rankings don’t matter in the Border War. It’s a fight every play.”
While everyone will be talking about “who wants it more” in this game, the real deciding factor will be turnovers: who commits less.
The Cowboys are great at forcing turnovers, but even better at coughing them up. Going into Saturday their 18 turnovers are the most in the conference.
“In meetings the coaches got fired up and wrote ‘4’ on the board,” Galusha said. “Four turnovers is our goal. It’s a lofty one, but for us to dominate we have to capitalize on their mistakes.”
Saturday’s game is a rivalry, and rivalries are always close. It’s the Rams’ game to lose. Last time it was the Rams’ game to lose was when they led Air Force 21-3 at the half Oct. 12.
If the Rams get in that situation again, they will be ready for it.
Football beat writer Brett Okamoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.