Mounwain West Conference Preview Week 7

Mountain West Conference play is in full force with only three teams still unbeaten in conference play...

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AIR FORCE =========

INSIDE SLANT

Air Force has gotten its program to a point where it can beat a conference foe by 22 points, and build a 36-point lead to start the fourth quarter, and can feel like it didn't play well.

The Falcons are taking their place among the elite teams in the Mountain West as they enter a tough stretch of games against San Diego State, TCU and Utah. Air Force isn't happy with just winning, or winning big, but is intent on reaching a higher level this season.

"There are guys in there that felt that it could have been a lot bigger game, margin wise," receiver Jonathan Warzeka said of the Falcons' 49-27 victory over Colorado State. "But at the same time, a win is a win."

The truth is, Air Force probably should have won by much more. A lost fumble by Jared Tew inside the 5-yard line cost the Falcons a touchdown. Air Force also had an interception.

The Falcons' defense wasn't great. Colorado State came in with a plan to run the ball at Air Force, which is odd considering the Rams were dead last in FBS in rushing offense. But the Rams thought they could get a push against Air Force's front seven, and they did. Their 285 rushing yards was more than five times their season average.

"The front seven got knocked around a little bit today," linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole said. "We can't continue to play like this, as a front seven."

And Air Force's special teams were poor in covering kickoffs. The Falcons did many things well on special teams -- a blocked punt, a blocked extra point, a fake field goal for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown -- but coach Troy Calhoun wasn't pleased with the 32.9 yards per kickoff return the Falcons allowed.

With a very tough stretch ahead, Air Force wants to make sure it is improving. Even though the Falcons are 5-1 and ranked for the first time since 2003, there have been teaching points from every game, and the team has taken on the attitude that it will not be content with what it has done.

"We just have to play better as a team," Tew said. "We'll easily lose games if we don't."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Fullback Jared Tew lost a fumble inside the 5-yard line, the third time he has lost a fumble this season and the second time in the last two weeks. That led to the coaching staff pulling Tew for a couple of series and going with backup Nathan Walker.

"Sometimes in your gut you feel like the guy that is most reliable is the one that's going to go out there," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.

Calhoun has little patience for fumbling. Tew said he was simply trying to do too much, stretching out to put the ball over the plane of the goal line, and was stripped.

"I took the ball away from my body, which was dumb," Tew said. "I've got to learn it's more important to take care of the ball than it is to stick your head out for an extra yard."

--Air Force went for a fake field goal when it led Colorado State 28-7 early in the third quarter, a curious move with the game seemingly in hand. The play worked, resulting in a 25-yard touchdown pass.

"For us, are we going to take anything for granted here? We can't," Calhoun said. "You better shoot every bullet you've got every time out."

GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Asher Clark -- Clark had 125 yards and a touchdown against Colorado State. He is a little bigger and a little stronger this year and has been able to get yards after initial contact. Against the Rams, Clark showed off all of his skills, taking advantage of some open lanes for big gains, but also running tough when he had to.

KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Zach Kauth -- With Kevin Fogler out, perhaps for the rest of the regular season, Kauth has to take on his role as the team's deep threat. He had a nice day against Colorado State, getting the first two touchdown catches of his career. That performance should give Kauth more confidence, and the coaching staff more confidence to keep going to him.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I never felt like that would happen, all week. That part they get, in terms of being ready to go and playing." -- Coach Troy Calhoun on Air Force not letting down against Colorado State.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: Air Force's secondary did a very good job against Colorado State freshman quarterback Pete Thomas. Thomas had just 88 yards through three quarters before adding some garbage-time yardage in the fourth quarter. Still, Thomas finished with 136 yards on 35 attempts, a pretty stout performance by a veteran Falcons secondary. Air Force has played well all season in the secondary, and has a tough test this week at San Diego State.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Air Force's run defense should be a cause for some concern. The Falcons twice have faced a team ranked last in the nation in rushing offense (Wyoming and Colorado State) entering the game and both times allowed that opponent to have a big game running the ball. This time, the Rams rushed for more than five times their season average. Air Force needs to get better, especially with SDSU star running back Ronnie Hillman up this week.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Starting nose guard Ryan Gardner hurt his groin against Colorado State and was on crutches in the second half. He will likely miss some time.

--Starting SS Brian Lindsay hurt his clavicle. Although coach Troy Calhoun wouldn't specify how long Lindsay will miss, he said it was a serious injury and Lindsay would be shelved for a while.

--Starting LB Brady Amack started against Colorado State. Amack was questionable all week with a bone chip in his ankle.

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BYU =============
INSIDE SLANT

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall is the first to say his team has not arrived, even after a win Saturday that showed progress.

A 24-21 win at home against San Diego State, coming off four consecutive losses, was a start for a young team that had continued to dig a deep rut for itself since a Sept. 4 season-opening win over Washington.

The Cougars (2-4) finally did enough offensively and defensively to give themselves a chance to win deep into the second half. They never trailed, but it was never a sure thing despite leading 14-0 on the strength of the first two possessions, when the Aztecs failed to defend a fake field goal (setting up the first score) and threw a quick interception to fall behind by a couple of touchdowns.

"I was proud of our team today," Mendenhall said. "They are resilient. They played as a team and showed more grit and determination. They team battled from beginning to end, and I am proud of this game."

It was a much-needed balm, especially considering the path to winning -- as arduous as it seemed this week -- gets much tougher Oct. 16 with a trip to nationally ranked TCU.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Head coach Bronco Mendenhall hopes his team has learned about the effort that goes into winning a game, something the Cougars hadn't done in more than a month before defeating San Diego State. This was a week-long process.

"There are a lot of valuable lessons with perseverance and determination," the sixth-year coach said. "It was gratifying ... our team was battling as hard as they could. It has not been easy, and it doesn't mean we have arrived. On this day, and this week, they performed to the end and played BYU football from beginning to end."

--BYU controlled the ball for an unheard of 45 minutes and one second. SDSU only had it for 14:59. The Cougars rushed for a season-best 271 yards on 62 carries, and that includes the 19 yards quarterback Jake Heaps lost because of sacks. It was the most ground attempts for the pass-happy program since 1996.

--BYU threw a few wrinkles, using former high school (option-style) quarterback Matt Marshall. The current receiver was used in wildcat formation on several occasions. He also threw a 16-yard pass on a fake field goal that set up BYU's first score. "He did everything," Mendenhall said of Marshall. "Players like that are a good example of what our team is trying to be like."

GAME BALL GOES TO: Head coach Bronco Mendenhall -- Mendenhall was going through his most turbulent time since the initial stages of his promotion in 2005. Then, he started 1-3 and had to beat his mentor, Rocky Long, then the head coach at New Mexico. Almost five years to that day, facing Long as the defensive coordinator at SDSU, Mendenhall pulled out another must-win considering his team's 1-4 mark.

KEEP AN EYE ON: The schedule -- BYU has to find a way to get through the Oct. 9 game at TCU with health and confidence intact. That would set up a potential four-game winning streak against Mountain West lightweights before facing Utah to end the season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It felt like BYU football again." -- BYU senior safety Andrew Rich, on snapping a four-game losing streak that hadn't been felt at BYU since 1993.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: The running attack was simply awesome. The offensive line played with great confidence, while J.J. Di Luigi and fullback Bryan Kariya hit every hole. Freshman Josh Quezada also had his most productive day at this level, 11 carries for 50 yards. If BYU can move the ball on the ground, that'll make the development of freshman quarterback Jake Heaps a little smoother.

STILL NEEDS WORK: BYU went with a really conservative game plan on offense in the second half, several times setting itself up merely to run clock or put itself in field goal or punt position -- rather than force the action. That works against some teams in the Mountain West, but not the nationally ranked ones (the Cougars already lost at Air Force, but still have to play at TCU and Utah).

ROSTER REPORT:

--BYU and Utah will continue playing each other in football once they leave the Mountain West Conference next year.

The in-state rivals said Oct. 7 they have agreed to a home-and-home series beginning in 2011. Utah is leaving the Mountain West to join the Pac-10 after this season. BYU is leaving the conference to become an independent program in football, mostly because of Utah's decision. The teams will play in Provo for the first game on Sept. 17, 2011, and then the Cougars will travel to Salt Lake City for the Sept. 25, 2012, game. The game in Provo next year keeps the rotation location of the series intact, as well.

--Receiver O'Neill Chambers returned after a two-game suspension. He did not catch a pass and had three special teams returns of 62 yards. His biggest moment was a game-clinching play, in which Jake Heaps tried to throw his way -- and San Diego State was called for pass interference. The Cougars easily ran out the clock from there.

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COLORADO STATE ==============
INSIDE SLANT

Colorado State is trying to fix its problems, one at a time. The Rams' hope is sometime soon, everything will be whole at the same time.

Against Air Force, the Rams had a fantastic game running the ball. They averaged 56.2 rushing yards per game, but even with starting running back Raymond Carter out with a knee injury, Colorado State had 285 rushing yards against Air Force.

The problem was, the passing game bottomed out. Quarterback Pete Thomas had 136 yards on 35 attempts, and most of those yards came in fourth quarter garbage time. Thomas had less than 100 yards in the first three quarters.

The Rams are looking for any signs of progress at 1-5, heading into a home game against UNLV this week. As usual, coach Steve Fairchild had a positive spin on what the offense did against Air Force.

"We're doing some things that are good," Fairchild said. "One week we're playing decent defense. The next week we're throwing the ball good. The next we're running the ball good. You know we have good players."

The revelation of Saturday's loss at Air Force was running back Leonard Mason. During the week, Fairchild didn't reveal who would start or how he would divvy up carries. But Mason, who was coming off a hamstring injury, got 22 of Colorado State's 50 rushing attempts and had 139 yards and a touchdown.

Mason ran hard between the tackles and added a spark to the running game that has been missing most of the season.

Thomas had a tough day, however. Air Force did a good job cutting off the deep pass, and Thomas had just one completion longer than 13 yards. He struggled to push the ball downfield, and the result was an offense that didn't have a scoring drive longer than 30 yards before the fourth quarter.

"They were deep," Fairchild said. "They weren't going to give up big plays."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Freshmen Tony Drake and Charles Favors were not taken on the trip to Air Force because of an unspecified violation of team rules. CSU coach Steve Fairchild wouldn't say after the game what their status was for this week's game against UNLV.

"I'll make the decision on Monday," Fairchild said.

Drake and Favors are both contributors on special teams.

--With Drake, the explosive freshman running back, out of the lineup on Saturday, Derek Good took over on kickoff returns. He might have won the job even when Drake returns.

Good set a Mountain West record with 263 kickoff return yards, breaking the record set by Drake. Good did get eight opportunities to rack up those yards, but his 32.9-yard average on those returns is impressive.

"I should play him more," Fairchild said. "Every time I put him in there, he does something good."

GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Leonard Mason -- Mason was Colorado State's leading rusher last year, but a hamstring injury and the inclusion of Raymond Carter into the starting lineup made him a bit irrelevant at the start of the season. But with Carter out and Mason healthy, Mason made a big impact on the Rams' offense. The 216-pound senior ran hard and had a team-high 139 rushing yards, giving the Rams a top option at least until Carter returns.

KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Lou Greenwood -- Greenwood made one of Colorado State's biggest plays against Air Force, a 13-yard touchdown run on a reverse. He got another carry and gained 18 yards. Greenwood also caught four passes for 24 yards. The Rams are desperate for some playmakers, so Greenwood may get more opportunities.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There were too many big plays and they are too good of a team. You can't do that." -- Coach Steve Fairchild on CSU's loss to Air Force.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: Colorado State hadn't scored many touchdowns, so getting four against a ranked team like Air Force was a good step. The Rams finished the game strong, getting two scores in the final quarter. The special teams did well to give the Rams' offense some short fields to work with, and Colorado State cashed in a few times. Colorado State had more than 400 yards of offense on the afternoon, a sign that a young offense might be coming together.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The Rams' defense too often looked confused against Air Force. The triple option is tough to prepare for, but there were too many blown assignments. Particularly troubling was the play of the cornerbacks, who didn't see many passes their way, but still gave up 136 yards and two touchdowns on four completions. They should have an easier time against UNLV this week.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Backup RB Derek Good not only had a huge day returning kickoffs against Air Force, but he made an impression on offense as well. Good got three carries late in the game and had 29 yards. He could get more opportunities going forward.

--RB Chris Nwoke got 12 carries with Raymond Carter out but didn't do much with them. Nwoke got 42 yards, with a long gain of 8 yards. He did have a touchdown, however.

--S Ivory Herd had his first career interception against Air Force. It came on a ball that was batted in the air after a big hit.

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NEW MEXICO ==========
INSIDE SLANT

Good teams find a way to win. Bad teams find a way to lose.

New Mexico committed five turnovers and had 115 penalty yards, and New Mexico State's Tyler Stampler kicked a 22-yard field goal with 1:56 left in the game to lead the Aggies past the Lobos 16-14 on Saturday night in Las Cruces, N.M.

New Mexico (0-6) has suffered losses to previously winless UNLV and New Mexico State (1-4) in two of the last three weeks and heads into the bye week wondering if it will see the win column at all in 2010.

"It's a tough loss, one that will sit in our craws here the next two weeks," Lobos coach Mike Locksley said. "The guys got the game into the fourth quarter, which is something we have asked of them. We didn't make the plays we needed to win the game."

When asked whether the Lobos, 1-17 since Locksley arrived in 2009, reached an all-time low, he replied, "I don't know; I only know Lobo football for the two years I've been here. Obviously, it's a low point for me and the team under my regime."

New Mexico now heads into a bye week badly in need of physical and emotional repair. The question is, can the team recover from what had to be considered its best chance to win a game this season? The Aggies had entered the game averaging 11.8 points while giving up 46.0 points per game.

The Lobos burned the redshirt of a second freshman quarterback when they inserted Stump Godfrey into the game in the third quarter. It was his fumble at the New Mexico 44 with 5:11 left in the game -- the Aggies blew past porous blocking at the line of scrimmage to maul Godfrey on an option play -- that set up New Mexico State's winning score.

To show how snakebitten the Lobos are, the Aggies then pulled off the redshirt of their own true freshman quarterback, Andrew Manley, on the ensuing drive, and he completed a pair of passes to get the Aggies to the UNM 4. That set up Stampler for the game-winning field goal.

The Lobos then drew a questionable late-hit penalty on the ensuing kickoff that pushed them back to their 15. They gained 19 yards but starting quarterback Brad Gruner's desperation Hail Mary pass was picked off on the last play of the game.

The road doesn't get any easier for the Lobos as former UNM coach Rocky Long and San Diego State visit University Stadium on Oct. 23. Long, the winningest coach in Lobo history with 65 wins, quit in 2008 and is now the Aztecs' defensive coordinator.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Lobos have been forced to use four quarterbacks this season. Sophomore starter B.R. Holbrook missed his fourth consecutive game with a knee injury. Coach Mike Locksley said UNM will evaluate Holbrook during the next two weeks before deciding whether to let him continue practicing in hopes he can play or shut him down for the season and have him undergo surgery.

--UNM pulled the redshirt off true freshman Tarean Austin to start the season. But he suffered a sprained ankle last week against UTEP and was unable to play against NMSU. That forced fellow true freshman Stump Godfrey to burn his redshirt with an appearance against NMSU.

--Junior Brad Gruner had 44 rushing yards and 55 passing yards in UNM's 35-24 victory over NMSU when he started the 2008 game. Of course, the Lobos ran for 297 yards to assist Gruner in that game. On Saturday, he rushed for 49 yards and had 145 passing yards. But he suffered two fumbles, and the Lobos finished 114 rushing yards.

GAME BALL GOES TO: WLB Joe Stoner -- Stoner continues to be UNM's big-play performer on defense. He forced a fumble at the Lobo 26 that DT Brett Kennedy recovered to temporarily help the Lobos preserve a 14-13 fourth-quarter lead. He also held up an Aggie rusher while Lobo teammates came to strip loose another ball that UNM recovered. He finished with 12 tackles. So far this season, Stoner has three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception.

KEEP AN EYE ON: New Mexico's confidence -- Can the Lobos regroup emotionally during the bye week? They lost their first three games -- to Oregon, Texas Tech and Utah -- by an average of nearly 50 points per game. They thought they would match up better against winless UNLV -- and subsequently lost 45-10. Now, the rivalry game against New Mexico State showed the Lobos they couldn't beat a team that entered the game losing by an average margin of 33.8 points per game. Embattled coach Mike Locksley must somehow demonstrate enough positives to the team to keep its fight intact.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Obviously when you turn the ball over five times you don't give yourself a chance to win. As I've said every time, it's my job as the head coach to find a way to stop the turnovers, stop the dumb penalties and this bye week couldn't come at a better time for us. We get an opportunity to get healthy not just physically but also mentally. It's been a tough six weeks for us and we will come out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then the guys will have about four days to get away from football." -- New Mexico coach Mike Locksley.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: MLB Carmen Messina is starting to return to his 2009 form, when he led the nation in tackles. Messina suffered a high ankle sprain against Oregon in the season opener that has hampered his progress. But he finished with 12 tackles against New Mexico State, his second straight double-digit effort in tackles. Now he has two weeks to get completely healthy to help the defense create some more momentum-changing turnovers.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The Lobos' offensive line looked awful against a NMSU unit that entered the game giving up 257.2 yards per game on the ground and was the worst team in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total yards allowed at 541.8 yards per game. UNM managed only 114 rushing yards and surrendered two sacks to the Aggies -- who hadn't recorded a sack all season. NMSU also did not have a takeaway but was able to penetrate the UNM line to force two of its four fumbles.

ROSTER REPORT:

--QBs B.R. Holbrook and Tarean Austin, Nos. 1 and 2 to start the season, both missed Saturday's game against New Mexico State. Holbrook missed his fourth game because of a knee injury. Austin suffered a sprained ankle last week against UTEP and couldn't play Saturday.

--DE Johnathan Rainey found out he had a broken bone in his neck during the week and is now out for the season. He was second in the MWC in 2009 in sacks and tackles for loss.

--Starting RB Demond Dennis didn't play because of an academic issue. James Wright made his first start of the season in place of Dennis and finished with 49 yards on 11 carries.

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SAN DIEGO STATE ===============
INSIDE SLANT

The Aztecs ought to ask the NCAA permission to play with a 12th man on the field. For the second time, an official's call that went against San Diego State factored in a game that resulted in a loss.

Brigham Young (2-4, 1-1 Mountain West Conference) ended a two-game losing streak with a hard-fought 24-21 victory over the Aztecs (3-2, 0-1) on Saturday night.

The Cougars led 17-14 late in the third quarter when San Diego State stripped running back J.J. DiLuigi of the football at the SDSU 25 that Aztecs defensive end B.J. Williams recovered. Officials ruled him down. Replays clearly showed that DiLuigi lost the football before his knee hit the ground, but the call was not overturned.

"I wouldn't have challenged it if I didn't think we got it," coach Brady Hoke told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "My opinion is it was a fumble. But those things happen. It's football."

The Aztecs lost 27-24 to Missouri on Sept. 18 because of a last-minute touchdown pass that was aided by a block in the back that wasn't called.

Hoke, however, was wise to dismiss the missed call at BYU. It's hard to make a case that you deserved to win when your opponent has the football for a half-hour longer than you do.

BYU had the ball for a mind-boggling 45 minutes, 1 second of the game. It had 271 rushing yards and ran 37 more plays than the Aztecs.

"We didn't do our job. Point blank. Period," defensive lineman Earnie Lawson told the Union-Tribune. "That's on me as captain. We have to be able to make plays when we have the opportunity. I didn't make the plays when I had the opportunity."

Meanwhile, the Aztecs' new-found rushing attack went missing with just 53 yards on the ground. SDSU did show some fight, rallying from a 14-0 deficit.

It got the ball at its 20 with 3:26 left in the game to embark on a game-tying or game-winning drive. Three straight incompletions forced a punt, and BYU ran out the clock.

"That's just bad football," offensive coordinator Al Borges told the Union-Tribune.

NOTES, QUOTES

--With three TD passes, QB Ryan Lindley moved past Kevin O'Connell for fourth place on SDSU's career passing TD list with 48. But he threw a first-quarter interception that BYU returned to the Aztecs 24, leading to a Bryan Kariya 2-yard TD and a 14-0 Cougars lead.

--Junior P Brian Stahovich had two punts of 50 yards or more against the Cougars on Saturday, giving him 10 on the season. He averaged 44.3 yards per punt and still ranks fifth nationally at 46.6 yards per attempt.

--The SDSU offense put its defense in bad positions for much of the game. The offense had four drives of three-and-out and had one other one-play drive that resulted in Lindley's interception.

GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Vincent Brown -- Brown posted a season-high six receptions for 101 yards, including a 36-yard TD reception. After a slow start to the season, Brown has recorded 100-yard receiving days in back-to-back weeks. The Cougars, however, were able to contain the SDSU running game without having to expose the secondary in the passing game. The Aztecs have to figure out how to use Brown to loosen defenses.

KEEP AN EYE ON: The running defense -- After being gouged by BYU for 271 rushing yards, the Aztecs have three days to prepare for Air Force and its triple-option attack. The Falcons come into the game averaging 352.7 rushing yards per game. SDSU started to develop a little bit of swagger on defense before the BYU game. Now the Aztecs coaching staff has to find a way to maintain the unit's confidence in the face of another potential big day for the opponent's rushing attack. That confidence is key as SDSU continues its chance for a postseason berth.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're never going to be a great team until we figure out how to play when it matters -- when it really matters. That's two games where it's mattered and we're not performing. We have to find that ingredient, whatever it is." -- San Diego State offensive coordinator Al Borges, to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: The Aztecs had the ball for only 14:59 in the game and gave up 271 rushing yards to BYU while accumulating just 53 rushing yards on their own end. In years past, such a combination may have led to a 40- or 50-point loss. This SDSU team did not give up after getting behind 14-0 early. The Aztecs put themselves in position twice in the fourth quarter to seize momentum. Now they have to find a way to finish the game.

STILL NEEDS WORK: SDSU must find a way to finish games. It had chances to keep Missouri off the field in week three and prevent the Tigers from getting the ball late and benefiting from a non-call on a TD reception. Against BYU on Saturday, the Aztecs forced a fumble on their own 25 that officials ruled was not a fumble. They allowed a 5-yard run on third-and-4 on the next play. Then, SDSU had a chance to tie the game or take the lead late in the game but couldn't complete a pass in three attempts. The Aztecs must find a way to execute better down the stretch to complete the leap to consideration to be among the league's elite.

ROSTER REPORT:

--RB Walter Kazee pulled a hamstring muscle during pregame warm-ups and could not play against the Cougars. The loss hindered SDSU's offensive game plan.

--Aztec back Andrew Preston missed the second half of the BYU game because of a head injury. Coach Brady Hoke told the San Diego Union-Tribune he didn't think Preston suffered a concussion.

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TCU ===============
INSIDE SLANT

Texas Christian is starting to make its case.

After a 45-0 pounding of Wyoming at home Oct. 9, the Horned Frogs have now strung together back-to-back shutouts, the first time the defensive-minded program has achieved that since 1955, when the Frogs had three straight shutouts.

"That's cool," TCU head coach Gary Patterson acknowledged, but then brought back some big picture focus. "For me, I just go back to the W. I was excited for our kids. We had to make some adjustments with some calls and how we lined up and our kids did a good job. It was an interesting day. Some good things happened because players had to think and they had to react on both sides of the football."

The defense held the Cowboys to 191 total yards of offense (116 passing, 75 rushing) and just eight first downs.

But the offense was just as dominating.

TCU had 586 yards of total offense (281 passing, 305 rushing) and registered 27 first downs.

The complete domination sure had the look of an elite team to Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen, who said the Frogs' experience and leadership on both sides of the ball will be hard for any team to compete with this season.

"As advertised, they are everything we thought they were," Christensen said. "They are an experienced football team and a very good football team. Obviously they have a lot of talent with 16 starting seniors. They are every bit as good as some of the teams we have faced this year, and we have faced a few."

The lopsided victory translated to TCU receiving a first-place vote in both the AP and coaches polls and it might be hard to keep considering the Frogs that other non-automatic qualifying team for too much longer.

NOTES, QUOTES

--As impressive as QB Andy Dalton was against Wyoming -- he completed 14 of 17 passes for 270 passing yards and three touchdowns to go along with 42 rushing yards -- none of that compared to the play he pulled off earlier in the week off the field.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Oct. 6 that Dalton was engaged to TCU marketing major Jordan Jones.

--In the latest example of how well the TCU defense has been able to plug in backups without missing a beat, junior S Tekerrein Cuba, starting in place of the injured S Alex Ibiloye, had a team-high 12 tackles Oct. 9 vs. Wyoming.

"When one person goes down, the coach is going to get the next person who's ready to go," Cuba said. "So you've got to give it to the coaches for doing a good job of getting us prepared for the game."

And there doesn't seem to be any hard feelings from Ibiloye as he's been watching Cuba star in his absence.

"When I am on the field he's like a coach to me," Cuba said. "He tells me what I can do, what I can do better and things like that."

--Poll watching: With Alabama's loss to South Carolina, the Frogs inched up to No. 4 in this week's AP Top 25, including one first-place vote. In the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, TCU sits at No. 5 and has one first-place vote.

In the AP poll, TCU trails No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Boise State. In the coaches poll, TCU trails Ohio State, Oregon, Boise State and No. 4 Nebraska.

GAME BALL GOES TO: The TCU defense -- It doesn't matter who you play, recording a shutout in college football is impressive (you won't find many BCS schools with shutouts against even FCS teams). But not only have the Frogs pitched one shutout this season, they've now done it in consecutive conference games and held Wyoming to just 191 yards of offense in a 45-0 win Oct. 9.

KEEP AN EYE ON: S Tekerrein Cuba -- The junior has seen extensive playing time the past two weeks as starter Alex Ibiloye has been out with a knee injury. It's going to be hard to keep Cuba off the field when Ibiloye returns. Cuba had a team-high 12 tackles vs. Wyoming.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We seem to play faster at home. The key will be when we go back on the road to see whether we'll play faster when we start in our next away game." -- TCU head coach Gary Patterson after an Oct. 9 win over Wyoming.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: What didn't look good against Wyoming? The offense racked up 586 yards and 27 first downs with remarkable, albeit common for TCU, balance. The Frogs rushed for 305 yards and passed for 281 yards. The defense was dominant as usual as well, pitching its second straight shutout against a Mountain West Conference opponent. Wyoming mustered just eight first downs, and one of those came via a TCU penalty. The Cowboys tried to establish the run, but averaged just 2.7 yards per attempt. Even special teams was dominant, averaging 16 yards per punt return and 26 yards on kick returns.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The main thing TCU needs to work on now is just keep the momentum going in what is their almost hard-to-believe high level of play as of late. TCU is inching up the respect-meter among pollsters and could still leapfrog Boise State in the ongoing battle among the top two non-automatic qualifiers. TCU has been playing at a level that will be hard to ignore if they keep up the pace the rest of the season. Can it be enough to sneak into a national championship game? Only if they keep working on maintaining this torrid pace.

ROSTER REPORT:

--S Alex Ibiloye (knee) did not play Oct. 9 vs. Wyoming. In place of the senior, junior S Tekerrein Cuba had a team-high 12 tackles.

--Senior WR Bart Johnson's 31-yard TD grab in the second quarter vs. Wyoming extended to 28 his consecutive-games with a reception streak.

--K Ross Evans is now 4-for-4 on the season after a 37-yard field goal against Wyoming on Oct. 9.

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UNLV ====
INSIDE SLANT

Bobby Hauck wasn't kidding when he touted West Virginia as the fastest team the Rebels had played this season.

The Mountaineers (4-1) certainly made very quick work of the Rebels (1-5), taking all of nine offensive plays to score three touchdowns en route to an easy 49-10 victory.

It could have been a whole lot worse. West Virginia, which led 21-0 after a little over 10 minutes and 42-0 early in the third quarter, yanked most of its starters after that. Star running back Noel Devine was limited to just three carries but still gained 84 yards, including highlight-reel touchdown runs of 28 and 48 yards.

"It felt like four plays and it was 21-0," senior linebacker Calvin Randleman said. "Yeah, it was surprising."

UNLV, which left star wide receiver Phillip Payne at home at the last minute after it was discovered he had posted a couple of less-than-flattering tweets about the Rebel coaching staff, started five true freshman in Morgantown and was without a handful of other injured starters.

The good news? Well, the Rebels did earn a guarantee of $740,000 for their first trip to the Eastern time zone since 2004, and that will go a long ways for the cast-strapped athletic department. And next up is a game against equally struggling Colorado State (1-5) in Fort Collins before a much-needed bye week.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Fifteen freshmen were listed on UNLV's participation list for the West Virginia game, including five true freshmen who started: RB Tim Cornett, LB Tani Maka, CB Sidney Hodge and WRs Marcus Sullivan and Tim Davis.

--Junior CB Will Chandler, who entered the West Virginia game leading the nation in takeaways (six) and tied for the interception lead (four), did not start the game as punishment for being late for a team meeting. He finished with one tackle.

GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Tim Cornett -- The true freshman from Houston made his first start and led the team with 56 yards rushing on 10 carries, including a 45-yard run. He also caught three passes for 18 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown.

KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Tani Maka -- The true freshman, who originally signed with UCLA, started in place of the injured Starr Fuimaono and tied for the team lead in tackles (four).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Frankly, they made us look like a not-very-fast, banged-up football team, which is kind of what we are." -- UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck after his team's one-sided 49-10 loss at West Virginia.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: After playing three top 25 teams in their first six games and another (West Virginia) that was No. 26, the Rebels' schedule gets a little easier now. Key word here is "little." UNLV still must play potential BCS buster TCU at home on Oct. 30 and also Air Force at home in mid-November. But next up is a winnable road game at 1-5 Colorado State. Struggling BYU, Wyoming, San Diego State and Hawaii are the other teams remaining on the Rebels' schedule.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Outside of perhaps special teams, there isn't an area the Rebels don't need major improvement in. UNLV ranks near the bottom in the Mountain West Conference in most major offensive and defensive categories. Head coach Bobby Hauck has placed a major emphasis on the run game but the Rebels have rushed for more than 112 yards in a game just once and that was against winless New Mexico (185).

ROSTER REPORT:

--All-Mountain West Conference wide receiver Phillip Payne was a late scratch for the West Virginia trip when Hauck learned he had posted several tweets on his Twitter account during the week that were allegedly critical of the Rebel coaching staff. Asked if Payne would be back for UNLV's next game on Oct. 16 at Colorado State, Hauck replied, "We'll see."

--Freshman wide receiver Marcus Sullivan returned home with the team Saturday night after being taken to a Morgantown hospital during the Oct. 9 game for tests after taking a hard hit to the chest late in the game.

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UTAH ====
INSIDE SLANT

Message delivered. The Utah Utes served notice not to forget about them in the conversation of non-Bowl Championship Series schools that can upset the postseason apple cart with a 68-27 blowout at Iowa State on Oct. 9.

The Utes (5-0) held the Cyclones (3-3) to 0-for-11 on third-down conversions and rolled up 593 yards of total offense in scoring more than 50 points for the third consecutive game.

"This was a statement game for us," Utah offensive lineman Zane Taylor told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I don't think people gave us enough respect, but they have to now with that score."

Making the victory more impressive was that Iowa State led 14-10 after the first quarter. The Utes outscored the Cyclones 34-0 in the second quarter to deliver the knockout blow.

Shaky Smithson was the spark the Utes needed early after showing signs of rust after a bye week. Smithson returned a punt 78 yards to give Utah a first-and-goal at the 2, leading to a 2-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Wynn to running back Eddie Wide for a 10-7 Utah lead.

Smithson then took a pitch and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeVonte Christopher in the second quarter to give the Utes a 17-14 lead.

His 61-yard touchdown reception from Wynn gave the Utes a 38-14 cushion late in the second quarter.

"Tonight was very important for us," Smithson said. "It's very important, and I just do everything I can to help the team. I wanted to make a big play every time I get my hands on the ball and get a lot of momentum for my team. We came out and were successful today."

The Utes scored on all nine possessions in the Iowa State red zone. The Cyclones lost 35-7 on Sept. 11 to then ninth-ranked Iowa, and Utah made a bigger statement with its win Oct. 9.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Utah won its 21st game against a BCS school since the BCS began in 1998. Utah has more wins against BCS schools than any other non-automatic qualifying team. The Utes will have one more chance against Notre Dame later this season before joining the BCS as a member of the Pac-10 next season.

--Reggie Dunn returned a kickoff 100 yards for a TD in the third quarter. It was the seventh 100-yard kickoff return in Utah history. The last 100-yard kick return for Utah was by Erroll Tucker in 1985, and Dunn's score was the first time Utah scored a TD on a kickoff return since Morgan Scalley against UNLV in 2004.

--K Joe Phillips hit four field goals, all 33 yards or closer, to extend his consecutive field goal streak to 16, dating to last season. Phillips is perfect on seven attempts in 2010, with a long of 44 yards.

GAME BALL GOES TO: WR/PR Shaky Smithson -- Ever since he turned the ball over twice in the season opener against Pittsburgh, Smithson has been on a mission to prove himself as a game-breaker. Against Iowa State, he kept the Utes in striking distance early with a 78-yard punt return that led to their first score and then delivered a 32-yard TD strike to WR DeVonte Christopher to give Utah a lead it would not relinquish. He also scored on a 61-yard TD reception to give him two TDs on just six receptions. He is averaging 23.4 yards per punt return this season, with two TDs.

KEEP AN EYE ON: The schedule -- If the Utes feel as though they have to strive for style points, the Utes' next two opponents -- Wyoming and Colorado State -- could be in for rough games. Utah actually came out rusty Oct. 9 against Iowa State, with a pair of turnovers to start the game. But when QB Jordan Wynn and company got into a groove, the Cyclones had no answers. Perhaps it's not so much style points that Utah seeks; it knows the schedule turns brutal beginning Oct. 30 at Air Force, and the team wants all phases firing.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The defense played tough. The majority of the points Iowa State got came in short-field situations. That's a part of the game and every team in the country experiences short-field situations to some extent or another. It's tough to play great defense when you're starting on the 7-yard line, but the offense more than made up for it. They did a great job and controlled the game from that point on." -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: QB Jordan Wynn shook off an early interception to finish 23-of-31 passing for 325 yards and a pair of TDs. The sophomore said he got into a two-minute mode that allowed him to operate quickly and efficiently. He still has only eight career starts under his belt and is starting to show that he's capable of putting up big numbers individually and leading the offense to big numbers. The offensive line is giving him a big assist by keeping the opposing team's pass rush away from him.

STILL NEEDS WORK: RB Eddie Wide led the team with 71 rushing yards and two TDs as the Utes piled up 239 rushing yards. But he lost a fumble for the third time in Utah's last four games. For the Utes to approach their magical 2004 and 2008 seasons, they'll need to play error-free football down the stretch with games against Air Force, TCU, Notre Dame and Brigham Young. As the rushing leader on offense, Wide has to hold on to the football.

ROSTER REPORT:

--LB J.J. Williams missed another game because of an injured foot.

--Backup RB Sausan Shakerin played for the first time since suffering concussion-like symptoms before the season. He had five carries for 24 yards and scored his first TD on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.

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WYOMING =======
INSIDE SLANT

It wasn't a fair fight when Wyoming was at full strength. Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels' absence certainly didn't help.

TCU (6-0, 2-0 Mountain West Conference) scored on its first seven possessions and piled up 578 yards of offense to rout the defenseless Cowboys 45-0.

"It gets mentally draining, but you've got to keep fighting," sophomore safety Shamiel Gary told the Casper Star-Tribune. "As the game keeps going, it's like a pride thing. You can't let ... teams keep whooping on you, because they're testing your manhood."

Wyoming (2-4, 0-2), meanwhile, accumulated just 191 total yards. Senior Dax Crum, filling in for Carta-Samuels, completed 11 of 17 passes for 116 yards and one interception, but the Cowboys became the second consecutive shutout victims at the hands of the Horned Frogs.

"I knew I was going to play this week and wanted to play well today for my team," Crum told the Star-Tribune. "I prepare every week like a starter because that's what a good teammate does."

Wyoming has not disclosed the injury that prevented Carta-Samuels from traveling with the team, but the Star-Tribune reported that sources close to the football team said the quarterback did not practice throughout the week.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys' defense had no answers for red-hot TCU senior quarterback Andy Dalton, who was 14-for-17 for 270 yards. He also had 42 of the Horned Frogs' 297 rushing yards.

"They played like they're ranked," Wyoming captain and linebacker Brian Hendricks told the Star-Tribune. "They did things right and we just had a hard time stopping their offense. They've got so many weapons. They can put it through the air or keep it on the ground. ... They just beat us up front. There's no excuse, but that's just one heck of a team."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Dave Christensen closed practice to the media this week, and Wyoming announced that QB Austyn Carta-Samuels would not play against TCU because of an undisclosed injury. Christensen mysteriously said that the remainder of Wyoming's practices would be closed this season as well.

--The Cowboys continued to mix up its offensive line rotation to get a working combination. John Hutchins, listed as a backup right tackle, got most of the reps at left tackle. Jack Tennant and Brandon Self split time at right tackle. Jed May started at LG.

--Despite the offensive line carousel, Wyoming still managed 75 rushing yards, a total higher than its season average per game. Alvester Alexander had 41 rushing yards on 15 carries, but his longest carry of the day went for six yards.

GAME BALL GOES TO: Senior QB Dax Crum -- Crum started five games in 2008 but was buried on the depth chart when Christensen arrived in 2009. But while several players left the program under Christensen, Crum persevered and earned the backup spot to Carta-Samuels. Then when Carta-Samuels couldn't play, Crum made his long-awaited return to the starting lineup Oct. 9 against TCU. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 116 yards and an interception. "As a quarterback, you don't feel very good after you lose," Crum said. "So, I don't feel good about that. (But) I feel good that I stuck it out and was there for my team."

KEEP AN EYE ON: The schedule -- Wyoming now has played college football stalwarts Texas, Boise State, Air Force and TCU. Up next is another little challenge with unbeaten Utah coming to town. The Utes just beat up on Iowa State 68-27. How long the Cowboys can endure the emotional and physical pounding they're taking is the question. At this point, Wyoming's return to the postseason seems far-fetched, especially if Carta-Samuels' injury is serious.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We don't have an answer for any top-five teams right now. We're not a top-five program, and I've said that for weeks. The schedule's what it is. We show up, play as hard as we can and that's where we're at." -- Wyoming coach Dave Christensen.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: P Austin McCoy continues to help his team in the battle for field position. The nation's 15th-ranked punter at 45.1 yards per attempt, McCoy averaged 46.1 yards on eight attempts against TCU, landing a pair inside the Horned Frogs' 20. If and when the Cowboys start to play teams of comparable talent, McCoy's ability could be a factor in Wyoming's attempts for more wins.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Consider the opponent, but the Cowboys allowed five TCU receivers to record a 30-yard reception or longer, and it allowed five ball carriers to have a 10-yard run or more. Wyoming has to limit big plays if it wants to close the gap against the marquee teams. The defense, which has played the second most plays among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools with 447 (Bowling Green, 471) must find ways to get off the field, but giving up big plays isn't it. When that happens, a limited offense becomes one-dimensional and forces the defense back out on the field quickly.

ROSTER REPORT:

--QB Austyn Carta-Samuels did not make the trip to Fort Worth, Texas. Wyoming closed practices this week to the media and announced Oct. 8 that Carta-Samuels had an undisclosed injury. Senior Dax Crum started in his place.

--CB Marcell Gipson had problems with dehydration, and true freshman Marqueston Huff filled in.

--DT Mark Willis left the game early with an undisclosed injury and was seen on crutches.

--Colorado OL transfer Eric Lawson saw some playing time against TCU -- on defense. Coach Dave Christensen told the Casper Star-Tribune that the coaching staff Wyoming moved him to defense last week.

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