With a couple losses and a steady stream of injuries, Air Force's season outlook is a lot different than it was two weeks ago.
The Falcons were 5-1 and ranked before going to San Diego State. A loss to the Aztecs was followed by an uncompetitive 38-7 defeat at TCU in which the defense allowed the most yards a Troy Calhoun-coached team has ever given up.
"Right now there's a gap," Calhoun said. "That's stating the obvious."
And turning around this streak won't be easy for the Falcons. They play another top 10 team, Utah, at home this week.
The loss to TCU was discouraging not because it was unexpected, as the Horned Frogs are a legitimate national title contender, but because aside from a touchdown on their opening drive, the Falcons were dominated.
The Falcons allowed 562 yards, the most since 2005, and didn't crack 200 yards on offense until the final meaningless possession of the game. That is despite gaining 89 yards on their first drive.
The defense couldn't make enough plays, especially in the second half, when TCU was running and passing at will.
"I'm real disappointed with our second half effort," defensive end Rick Ricketts said. "Guys just weren't playing assignment football, nobody stepped up. Just mediocre play all the way around."
Pulling out of the slide is tougher because the Falcons have lost six starters to injury in the last few weeks.
Nose tackle Ryan Gardner and safety Brian Lindsay were lost to the defense. On offense, fullback Jared Tew, tight end Chaz Demerath, wide receiver Kevin Fogler and his replacement Zack Kauth are out.
Fogler came back for a few plays against TCU but aggravated a knee injury and is back on the shelf.
The injuries can't explain everything, however. Air Force isn't as sharp as it was early in the season, when it had an impressive win and almost pulled off an upset at Oklahoma.
"Give them credit, they're really good," quarterback Tim Jefferson said. "At the same time, we didn't execute as well as we could. Offensively, we missed a lot of assignments.
"Defensively, we missed tackles. When you do that against a top five team, they're going to expose you."
--The Falcons almost knocked off Oklahoma on the road early this season, losing by three points. The result against TCU was much different, a 31-point loss. The Falcons just aren't the same team they were a little more than a month ago. "Oklahoma, we played really well," quarterback Tim Jefferson said. "We made our assignments, we made tackles, special teams made plays as well. Today, I can't really say the same."
--Losing fullback Jared Tew for probably the rest of the regular season was difficult on the field, but players and coaches were sad for the senior, who was on pace for 1,000 yards, but will miss a good part of his final season. "A guy that's made himself, through dedication, will and character, a darn good football player," coach Troy Calhoun said. "As a human being, he's as top shelf as they come. He was raised that way, wonderful parents, but in that home you were going to work, you were going to understand what it was to earn an education and you were going to comprehend what you thought of others, in a respectful way."
--Last season, cornerback Anthony Wright had seven touchdowns, the most for an Air Force player since 1992. He has none this year, which is tough to explain because he has done a solid job covering this season. "When you think about what happened last year, as far as the numbers game, it does get a little frustrating and you start to think about it," Wright said. "But as long as the team has success, then I'm having success."
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Tim Jefferson -- Nobody for Air Force had a great game against TCU, but Jefferson had some decent moments. He had a few effective runs early in the game, including a 16-yard touchdown on Air Force's first drive, which turned out to be the Falcons' highlight. Jefferson has become an effective punter, and had a few nice kicks against TCU. The Falcons have taken to leaving their offense on the field on fourth down and letting Jefferson punt. The defense can't line anyone up deep because of the threat of Air Force going for the first down.
KEEP AN EYE ON: RB Cody Getz -- Asher Clark is coming off a tough game against TCU. The Horned Frogs are much faster than the Falcons and were able to shut down the outside running lanes Clark likes. Getz isn't going to take over for Clark, who has a chance to reach 1,000 yards this season. But Clark has taken a vast majority of the carries this season, and Getz could see some more time down the stretch to keep Clark from wearing out. Getz is a small, but elusive back who could make some plays.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not taking anything away from TCU, they're a great team, they played really well. I just don't think we played up to our capability." -- Quarterback Tim Jefferson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Air Force's special teams, a liability as recently as three weeks ago when the kickoff coverage team gave up a bunch of long returns to Colorado State, has played better recently. The Falcons did a solid job against TCU's very potent special teams. Having quarterback Tim Jefferson punt the ball from a normal offensive formation, which prevents the opponent from sending a returner deep, is a huge benefit.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Falcons' front seven was overpowered early in the game by TCU. The Horned Frogs started getting runs to the outside after softening up the middle, leading to a long day for the defense. The run defense has had a few bad games, and it will be tough this week to contain Utah's fantastic running game, led by Eddie Wide.
--TE Josh Freeman started at tight end against TCU and could get a couple more starts as Chaz Demerath recovers from a knee injury. Demerath could miss a couple more weeks.
--S Anthony Wooding, a freshman, was inserted into the starting lineup against TCU. He replaced P.J. Adeji-Paul, who didn't play that well against San Diego State, whe he replaced injured starter Brian Lindsay. Wooding had an interception in the first quarter against the Horned Frogs.
--LB Ken Lamendola, who is trying to come back from a knee injury, is doing some work to the side in practice, but is still a couple weeks away from returning. He was Air Force's leading tackler two years ago.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall is getting good at predicting his team's games. That's a little bit unfortunate, or at least stressful.
The Cougars scored the first 16 points against Wyoming on Saturday, but still needed to make a last-minute defensive stand to keep the Cowboys from driving 25 more yards in rainy conditions at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The stop afforded BYU a 25-20 victory to head into the bye week with a 3-5 record. It was a far cry from the last two years, when the Cougars outscored the Cowboys, 96-0.
But Mendenhall, in his sixth season, understands completely that these are different circumstances.
"It was a great football game," Mendenhall said. "I think both teams were pretty similar coming in. And I think what the game showed was that there were execution flaws on either side that kind of kept the game close.
"We had a number of chances to pull away, but mistakes here or there kept it close. But I liked the resiliency of team, and I liked the end result. So I was proud of our team."
BYU overcame two key first-half mistakes, both by freshmen. Jake Heaps' second-quarter interception was returned 55 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 16-7, and Josh Quezada's fumble led to another three points.
The Cougars have won two of their last three games, the other victory coming against San Diego State. That one was in another down-to-the-wire finish, 24-21, that Mendenhall has basically said will be how the Cougars will have to win the rest of the way.
"I did tell our team earlier this week that I did anticipate the game to be very similar to San Diego State, where someone is going to have to be on the field at the end of the game to win the game," Mendenhall said. "Sure enough, it ended up just like that.
"Wouldn't be what I would prefer, but that's just currently where we are. Our players, I am pretty blunt with them in telling them that, and all I have asked them to do is to continue to try as hard as they can try until the end of the game. And that, in and of itself, is progress."
--BYU really doesn't make anything easy. Remember, this is a team that barely defeated San Diego State a couple of weeks ago, 24-21, despite controlling the ball for 45 of 60 minutes. This time, Wyoming had minus-18 yards of total offense at halftime, but was in the game at 16-10 after an interception was returned for a touchdown and a fumble recovery led to another three points.
--QB Jake Heaps, despite some more struggles, threw a 12-yard touchdown pass that sealed the victory. It was his first such moment for the freshman since the Florida State game on Sept. 18. He continues to say the offense is "one or two plays from really exploding," but it's not looking like fireworks will be coming for the Cougars anytime soon. They're having to grind some games out in low-scoring affairs.
--BYU is set for a bye week, followed by games against UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State that must be won to have a chance at a bowl game. The Cougars will play at Utah to finish the regular season over Thanksgiving weekend, and that would appear at this point to be the team's sixth loss. "I think it's a great chance for the team now, as we have played enough games to see where the work needs to be," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We can use it to focus and get a little healthier. Knowing there are still things to play for, I think they are anxious to have a week to work before we play another game."
GAME BALL GOES TO: Senior WR Luke Ashworth has been MIA until now. He's dropped passes, or been absent from the game plan. But he had a team-best six receptions for 57 yards, including the game-clinching touchdown on a 12-yard crossing route with about seven minutes left. Coach Bronco Mendenhall said, "It might have been the happiest I have ever been for a player on this team. This is a compliment to Luke. ... He did a lot of great work in practice."
KEEP AN EYE ON: How BYU uses the bye week. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has really run practices hard since he's inserted himself into more of a hands-on role. This time to rest, heal and prepare might ultimately be the most important week of the season if the Cougars use it correctly.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was glad to see signs of improvement. It is not that I'm saying we have arrived, but we have inched forward. And that's better than backward." -- Coach Bronco Mendenhall, on an offense that passed for under 100 yards for the third consecutive game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Aside from one 80-yard drive which went for a touchdown in 80 seconds, the BYU defense continues to progress, compared to where it stood at the start of the month. Wyoming had minus-18 yards at halftime.
STILL NEEDS WORK: QB Jake Heaps completed 10-of-18 passes for 81 yards. He threw a second-quarter interception that was returned half for a touchdown, and the coaches put the clamps on him for a while, with the offense relying on the running game. There has to be a better balance of offense, and letting Heaps make mistakes and learn from them as a freshman.
--BYU dismissed mercurial WR O'Neill Chambers at the beginning of the week. Coach Bronco Mendenhall had suspended the junior from Florida for a couple of games. Chambers did not catch a pass in his final two games at BYU. "We've already been through it once this season, so I don't think it will really affect us at all," Mendenhall said. "I'm hopeful to help every player in the program reach their goals and mature as people and make good decisions and learn and grow. I don't think in (Chambers') case that I've been successful. Sometimes, there are only so many chances you can be given before it starts to affect the team."
--Senior K Mitch Payne missed the first field goal attempt of under 30 yards in his career against Wyoming. It was blocked with 8:10 left, as the Cougars were looking to ice the victory. Payne had made all 23 of his attempts from inside 30 yards, including 8-for-8 this season. He did make a 42-yarder, his first beyond 30 this season.
--S Steven Thomas, out since the Sept. 18 game at Florida State because of a concussion, was cleared to play but didn't get on the field against Wyoming.
Every time Colorado State seems to take a step forward, there's something else ready to slap it back to reality.
The Rams broke through on Oct. 16 with a victory, albeit against similarly struggling UNLV. Still, Colorado State had played TCU tough for a half, and was possibly turning a corner with a young team.
Then it played Utah, and got beat, 59-6.
The defeat showed that the Rams have a lot of work still to do to be truly competitive in the Mountain West Conference.
The Utes dominated the Rams in every way, piling up 648 yards to 213 for Colorado State. Even when the Rams did something right, they couldn't finish. Two drives deep into Utah territory resulted in only field goals. The Rams didn't score a touchdown.
"When you get in the red zone, you've got to score touchdowns, and we didn't do that," coach Steve Fairchild told the Associated Press.
Even one of the team's recent bright spots was suddenly dimmed. Running back Leonard Mason, who had helped revive the Rams' offense when he got healthy about a month into the season, was benched against Utah.
The Coloradoan reported the odd benching was due to a coach's decision.
Still, the Rams tried to stay positive through the loss. A combined sack from Mychal Sisson and C.J. James was just the second given up by Utah's starting offensive line all season. And a second-quarter field goal by Ben DeLine was the first score against Utah in the second quarter all season.
Fairchild has tried to stay positive about his team all season, and will continue to do so despite the blowout loss.
"Just having patience," Fairchild said. "I would like the results to be faster for everybody, but I know we're doing the right thing. We have good young kids and we're developing a work ethic.
"I think we'll hit our stride this year and get this program back where it belongs."
Colorado State has a chance to bounce back this week against lowly New Mexico, a team the Rams should be able to beat, even considering their own struggles.
--Colorado State has some talented linebackers, which has made it difficult for freshman LB Mike Orakpo to get on the field. Orakpo, whose brother Brian is a star with the NFL's Washington Redskins, has impressed the coaches and has a bright future in the program, even though he is waiting his turn behind LB Ricky Brewer. Orakpo had two tackles against Utah. "The more we can get him on the field, the better it is," coach Steve Fairchild said. "It shows up in the practice field. Every time he's on the field he's making something happen."
--The theme for coach Steve Fairchild all season, no matter the results on the field, has been how much he enjoys being around this young Rams team.
Although the Rams' results have been mixed -- there have been three games in which they didn't score a touchdown, the first victory broke a long losing streak, and another win against UNLV snapped a conference losing streak -- he has not criticized the team for its attitude. "I like this football team because it has enjoyed going to practice and it has stayed together," Fairchild said. "They care about each other."
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Chris Nwoke -- Nwoke was given a surprise start, the first of his career, over mysteriously benched RB Leonard Mason, and responded with a solid performance. The powerful runner had 48 yards on 15 carries and added another 49 yards on eight catches.
KEEP AN EYE ON: FB Zac Pauga -- Pauga is a good receiver, and had three catches for 38 yards against Utah. He is a tough blocker as well, but the senior's main value on a young team has been his leadership. As the Rams try to build, and get some momentum for 2011 with a good finish, Pauga can leave a legacy by getting his younger teammates to follow his example.
QUOTE TO NOTE: " No matter what happens on Saturday, we go back to work and improve." -- Coach Steve Fairchild.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Freshman QB Pete Thomas hasn't been perfect this season, but he has made a lot of strides. He has cut back on his turnovers, a positive development for a young quarterback. Going back to the first quarter against Idaho on Sept. 27, Thomas has only two interceptions in 138 passes. He has seven touchdowns over that time.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Colorado State's defense still gives up too many big plays. Utah repeatedly hit long plays, getting touchdowns of 30, 71, 18, 36 and 72 yards. The young secondary is a reason for that, but the defense was supposed to carry the team as a young offense developed. Although the defense has had some good moments, letdowns here and there have opened up big holes that opponents have exploited.
--DE C.J. James made his first career start. He had a half a sack, which is a rare feat against Utah. The Utes' starting offensive line had only allowed one sack before playing Colorado State.
--DE Broderick Sargent has a concussion and was held out against Utah. He will continue to be monitored.
UNLV (1-6, 1-2) has had an extra week to prepare for this week's game against fourth-ranked TCU (8-0, 4-0). But coach Bobby Hauck didn't spend much of the bye week getting ready for the Horned Frogs.
Instead, Hauck focused on his young team, which has played 22 freshmen so far this season, including 14 true freshmen.
"We took the opportunity to get out and have some physical practices to try and get better in terms of technique and understanding of our base scheme," Hauck said. "I think that has been productive."
Hauck had threatened to hold a full-scale team scrimmage last Saturday, "if the team laid an egg," at Colorado State (a 43-10 loss) but backed off that statement because of his team's injury situation.
"We can't afford to take the risk of getting a few more players injured because we need them for our games," Hauck said.
The Rebels will get in extra practice this week for the Horned Frogs, but Hauck seemed more concerned with the way his team is playing more than facing potential BCS title-game busting TCU.
"We enter the second half of the season with the same goal that we always have had, and that is continuing to improve," Hauck said. "Whether you are winning all your games or not, you still have to improve as the season goes on."
--TCU is the only school that UNLV has not beaten in Mountain West Conference play. The Horned Frogs are 5-0 against the Rebels since joining the MWC and 7-1 overall. The Rebels' only victory over TCU came in 1997, 21-19, when both schools were members of the WAC.
--The Rebels were shut out by the Horned Frogs, 41-0, last season in Fort Worth and never penetrated past the TCU 34-yard line. UNLV finished with only seven first downs and punted 11 times.
--TCU has allowed a total of only 10 points in its last four games.
SERIES HISTORY: TCU leads UNLV, 7-1 (last meeting, 2009, TCU 41-0).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Rebels should get a boost this week with the return of all-conference WR Phillip Payne from suspension. UNLV's struggling ground game will face its stiffest test of the season against a TCU defense that is allowing only 103.0 yards per game on the ground and has yielded three rushing touchdowns.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: UNLV has 10 true freshmen on its two-deep, including two starters. That doesn't figure to bode well for the Rebels against a big, veteran and physical TCU offense that piled up 562 yards in total offense against Air Force. UNLV's front seven, led by LB Ronnie Paulo and Starr Fuimaono, will have to be at its best against a TCU rushing attack, led by TB Ed Wesley, which is averaging over 209 yards per game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our team continues to practice with good enthusiasm. We don't look like a 1-6 football team out there. Guys are excited to be practicing and they continue to go out and practice hard, and I like that." -- Coach Bobby Hauck.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
TCU at UNLV, Oct. 30 -- Ho hum. Another week and another ranked team for the Rebels. No. 4 TCU is the fifth UNLV opponent that has spent time in AP Top 25 this season, joining Wisconsin, Utah, Nevada and West Virginia. The Horned Frogs are the second highest-ranked team UNLV has ever played, behind No. 2 Tennessee in 1996.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Rebels need a lot of things to fall their way to have any chance of even making this a competitive game. UNLV must force the Horned Frogs into a number of turnovers while also containing TCU's powerful running game. Offensively, the Rebels need to be efficient and put together some long, time-consuming touchdown drives. Obviously easier said than done.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Omar Clayton -- The 6-foot-1 senior will be making his 30th college start, so he shouldn't be intimidated playing against another highly-ranked team. Clayton has the mobility to avoid TCU's strong pass rush and has thrown only two interceptions in 145 passes this season. He'll have to play the best game of his career for UNLV to have any chance.
DT Isaako Aaitui -- The 6-foot-4, 315-pound senior is an NFL prospect who will be counted on to help slow down TCU's potent ground attack.
WR Phillip Payne -- The 6-foot-3 junior, a preseason All-Mountain West Conference pick, is expected to play after missing two games as punishment for some unflattering tweets about the coaching staff. There isn't a better red-zone target in the Mountain West Conference than Payne, who has 16 touchdown receptions in his career.
--WR Phillip Payne, who sat out the last two games as punishment for some tweets he made about the Rebel coaching staff, returned to practice with the regulars during the bye week and is expected to play against TCU.
--Starting OLB Starr Fuimaono (ankle) is expected to be back for the Horned Frogs.
--Starting CB Sidney Hodge and starting DE Daniel Mareko are questionable because of shoulder injuries.
For a program that has lost 22 of its last 23 games, New Mexico must look for any positives to try to turn around its fortunes. The latest shred of hope comes in the form of Saturday night's 30-20 loss to San Diego State at University Stadium.
The Lobos (0-7 overall, 0-3 Mountain West Conference) held the Aztecs (5-2, 2-1) 76 yards below their offensive average -- the second consecutive improved effort by the defense.
But a special teams and defensive lapse at the end of the first half gave San Diego State a two-possession lead that the home team could not overcome.
New Mexico was trailing, 10-6, when it got the ball at its 20 with 41 seconds left in the first half. The Lobos couldn't muster a first down and were forced to punt with 13 seconds left.
Ben Skaer's kick went off the side of his foot, traveling 11 yards to the New Mexico 40 with five seconds left.
Quarterback Ryan Lindley heaved the ball to the end zone on the final play of the first half, and wide receiver DeMarco Sampson out-jumped two Lobos to catch the ball for a touchdown and a 17-6 halftime lead.
"That should not have happened," coach Mike Locksley said. "No. 1, we didn't execute the punt very well and No. 2, they got after it and made a play. It's kind of how it's been. We have to find a way to make that play and thus far we haven't."
Still, New Mexico pulled to within 20-13 on B.R. Holbrook's 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lucas Reed midway through the third quarter. As with every game the Lobos have played this season, they could not sustain momentum.
The Aztecs responded with a six-play, 63-yard touchdown drive to push the lead to 27-13 and New Mexico effectively was finished. Backup quarterback Brad Gruner found Reed on an 18-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds left in the game for a cosmetic bandage.
Holbrook was rusty in his first game since the Texas Tech loss in week two. The sophomore, who had been out because a lingering knee injury, was 11-of-27 for 124 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
The defense held the conference's leading rusher, freshman Ronnie Hillman, to 64 yards on 18 carries. Hillman, who entered the game averaging 130.8 yards per game, left in the third quarter because of a hip injury.
--Redshirst freshman T Darryl Johnson started in place of injured senior Maurice Mears. Johnson became the 35th Lobo to start a game this season. New Mexico has started 18 players on offense and 17 on defense. Two more Lobos made their first college appearances when true freshman K Justus Adams and redshirt freshman WR Demarcus Rogers played. Rogers ruptured an Achilles' tendon during spring practice.
--The much-anticipated return of former Lobo head coach Rocky Long to University Stadium turned out to be not that anticipated. The crowd of 16,488 Saturday night was New Mexico's smallest home attendance since the inception of the MWC in 1999. Long, San Diego State's defensive coordinator, was making his first trip to Albuquerque since he resigned as New Mexico head coach in 2008. Long coached the Lobos for 11 seasons, leaving with the most wins and losses (65-69) in school history.
--TE Lucas Reed made his presence known as an offense weapon. Reed, who entered the game with 12 receptions for 131 yards and one touchdown, had five receptions for 95 yards and two touchdowns Saturday night. He surpassed his total receiving yards from a year ago, with 226 compared to 212, and his 17 receptions this season match his output from last season.
GAME BALL GOES TO: Despite the egregious error at the end of the first half, the New Mexico defense played well enough to give the team a chance to win the game. It held the Aztecs to 384 yards, after San Diego State came into the game ranked 16th in the nation at 460.5 yards per game. The Lobos bottled up RB Ronnie Hillman, as his 64 yards were fewer than half of his season average of 130.8. New Mexico also was able to get some pressure on QB Ryan Lindley, forcing him into an 18-of-37 passing night. New Mexico did allow a 40-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the first half that gave the Aztecs a 17-6 lead, but it was Ben Skaer's 11-yard punt that put the defense in that situation.
KEEP AN EYE ON: It was in the loss to San Diego State in week eight last season when the Lobos began to show noticeable improvement. New Mexico showed noticeable improvement against the Aztecs on Saturday in week seven (not counting the bye week). If the defense continues to improve at its current rate, New Mexico should have a legitimate chance for a victory in two of its final five games -- against Wyoming and Brigham Young. Both those teams have been struggling on offense and might not score a lot of points. That should allow the Lobos a chance to keep the game close.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I continue to be disappointed and disappointed for our players. The fact that we can't find a way to win a game is disappointing. This team is in desperate need for a win. All I know is that those guys will show up Monday and be ready to go, and be ready to practice. The things that continue to hurt us are the same things that hurt us the first six weeks of the season. We are our own worst enemies when it comes to penalties and turnovers." -- New Mexico coach Mike Locksley.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: RB James Wright has led the team in rushing for consecutive weeks, thanks to his season-high 60 rushing yards against San Diego State. Wright had been relegated to third-string behind Demond Dennis and Kasey Carrier for most of the season, but the Lobos are trying to use his 227-pound frame to move the ball north and south. New Mexico has shown it can't effectively run the ball around the edges, and Wright gives the offense a straight-ahead hope with some power. If the Lobos can get control of game tempo, they might be more competitive down the stretch.
STILL NEEDS WORK: New Mexico has not been able to maintain any momentum the entire season. The offense has struggled to score all season, and when it has done so to give the team some life -- the Lobos have had leads in each of their last four games -- they made a critical mistakes on defense or special teams to give the momentum right back. And when the defense or special teams come up with a big play, the offense has turned that play into points at times but has not been able to mount any type of follow-up score.
--QB B.R. Holbrook played his first game since week two against Texas Tech. Holbrook, who is suffering from a lingering knee injury, finished 11-of-27 for 124 yards, with a touchdown and an interception in a rusty return. He left the game in the fourth quarter after taking a vicious hit in the pocket -- and was favoring his knee when he came off to the sidelines. Holbrook was walking better after the game.
--S A.J. Butler played his first game in four weeks after suffering a thumb injury. He finished with three tackles and a pass breakup.
--True freshman QB Stump Godfrey replaced B.R. Holbrook. He had four carries for 17 yards but did not throw a pass. Fellow true freshman QB Tarean Austin, who made two starts in place of Holbrook during his absence, did not play for a second consecutive game. He sprained an ankle in the second half against UTEP in week five and has not played since.
SAN DIEGO STATE
In playing so poorly Saturday night, the Aztecs showed how good they've become.
San Diego State made New Mexico look like a respectable team but still earned a fairly 30-20 victory. The Aztecs (5-2 overall, 2-1 Mountain West Conference) are off to their best start in 14 seasons and within one victory of bowl-eligibility.
"We'd like to play a lot better," quarterback Ryan Lindley told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "But from where we've come from the last two years, I wouldn't say I'm not happy.
"But in the locker room, it's a feeling that we know we need to get better."
The Aztecs looked out of sync from their first chance to put out the offense against the Lobos (0-7, 0-3). Larry Parker fumbled on a punt return, giving New Mexico the ball at the Aztecs 30. The Lobos connected on a 46-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
San Diego State was inconsistent running and passing the football. Star running back Ronnie Hillman had only 64 rushing yards -- less than half of his 130.8 average -- before leaving in the third quarter because of a hip-pointer.
Lindley completed only 18-of-37 passes for 249 yards, with two touchdowns, and an interception when his receiver broke off his route after Lindley released the ball.
Lindley often overthrew his targets, including wide receiver Vincent Brown, who was open on a couple of occasions for touchdowns.
Wide receiver DeMarco Sampson, who finished with seven receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns, dropped passes right in his hands that would've resulted in two more touchdowns.
The defense helped the Lobos keep drives alive with costly penalties and gave up a meaningless touchdown with 14 seconds left that made the score closer than the game appeared.
"It's good to get a win," coach Brady Hoke said. "We're on the road and all those kinds of things, but we didn't play great football, I didn't think. We struggled offensively.
"Defensively the last drive was one that we would like to not have had happen."
And yet, the Aztecs moved three games above the .500 mark for the first time since the 1998 season -- the last season San Diego State went to a bowl game as a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
--Rocky Long, San Diego State defensive coordinator and former New Mexico head coach, has been on the winning sideline of this rivalry the last 10 times these teams have played. He led the Lobos to eight consecutive victories over the Aztecs from 2001-08 and has been with the last two San Diego State teams to beat New Mexico.
--San Diego State is 9-10 in 19 games under second-year coach Brady Hoke. The nine victories equal to the total number of victories the Aztecs had in the 33 games before his arrival, when San Diego State went 9-24.
--FB Brandon Sullivan led the Aztecs with a season-high 69 yards rushing on a season-high 18 carries. His previous highs this season were two carries for 14 yards against Nicholls State in the opener. Sullivan became the 32nd Aztec to record 1,000 career rushing yards, reaching the milestone in the third quarter of his 36th career game.
GAME BALL GOES TO: Earlier in his career, Brandon Sullivan often led his team in rushing as the team's featured tailback. That was before he made the sacrifice this season to move to fullback to make room for Ronnie Hillman. When Hillman went down in the third quarter because of a hip pointer, the Aztecs turned to Sullivan, who showed his reliability with the ball in his hands. His 69 yards were his most since a 105-yard effort against Wyoming on Nov. 14, 2009, and the 18 carries were his highest total since toting the ball 24 times against New Mexico on Oct. 31, 2009. Sullivan's ability to move the ball on the ground helped the struggling Aztecs escape Albuquerque without an embarrassing loss.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Look for the Aztecs to play a much better game next week against Wyoming. San Diego State played poorly in a 41-21 win over New Mexico State in week two, bounced back and should have beaten nationally ranked Missouri the following week. After a poor game in a 27-24 loss against Brigham Young, the Aztecs played much better to beat Air Force, 27-25. A victory would give San Diego State its sixth win of the season to become bowl-eligible, but the team needs to learn to play consistently from week to week. Just as the team has bounced back from poor performances, it has yet to put back-to-back strong efforts together.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "For us when we're on, we'll take anyone. We're a better team than what we played today. There's a lot of different reasons why we move the ball, why we don't move the ball. There's a lot of different things that happen throughout the game. We just think we had some opportunities, dropped a couple of balls here and there and couldn't keep the momentum as well as we wanted." -- Coach Brady Hoke.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: San Diego State's kicking game continues to shine. K Abel Perez connected on field goals of 36, 30 and 31 yards to help the Aztecs keep New Mexico at bay. P Brian Stahovich had a 46.3-yard average on seven punts, three landing inside the New Mexico 20. The other four went for touchbacks. Stahovich has 14 punts of 50 yards or more on the season, including three against the Lobos. His long was a 61-yarder.
STILL NEEDS WORK: QB Ryan Lindley has only five interceptions through seven games after throwing 16 in 2009, but he has shown he has not completely grasped Al Borges' offense. Lindley completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes against a porous New Mexico pass defense, going 18-of-37 for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Lindley has completed 126-of-233 passes, 54.1 percent, this season. That's down from his 2009 performance of 54.7 percent. If the Aztecs expect to challenge for a Mountain West Conference title, Lindley has to complete a higher percentage. Some of the responsibility is on his wide receivers, who dropped passes against New Mexico. Lindley, however, must connect more often when his targets are open.
ROSTER REPORT: RB Ronnie Hillman left the game against New Mexico because of a hip pointer in the third quarter and did not return. Hillman finished with 64 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, after entering the game with a 130.8-yard average.
The streak had to end eventually, but the TCU dominance on defense hasn't.
When the Horned Frogs allowed a 16-yard touchdown to Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson with 6:36 left in the first quarter of Saturday's 38-7 victory, it ended a streak of 199 minutes, 48 seconds in which the unit had not allowed an opponent to score a touchdown.
It was the first touchdown TCU allowed in October. The Frogs kept their first three Mountain West opponents -- Colorado State, Wyoming and BYU -- out of the end zone and have outscored four league opponents, 141-10.
"The confidence plays a big part, especially on defense," senior safety Colin Jones said. "When you get going, you like to keep going."
Coach Gary Patterson had a different take on why his team's defense has been so good in recent weeks.
"You've got to give the offensive line credit," Patterson said. "A lot of people say, 'The defense played great.' The defense played great because they are standing on the sidelines."
While TCU did hold a five-plus minute edge in time of possession thanks in large part to an offensive line paving the way to a clock-eating 377 rushing yards, it's hard to not give the credit for the team's success as of late to the defense.
TCU is allowing 219.9 yards of total offense to opponents this season, second in the nation behind Boise State, which allows 210.2 yards per game.
The Horned Frogs did surrender 184 rushing yards to Air Force, but that's 162 yards below the nation-leading average of 346.9 rushing yards Air Force had before the game.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, whose team played Oklahoma to a 27-24 loss in Norman, Okla., on Sept. 18, said it's pretty simple to understand why TCU's defense is arguably the best in the nation.
"They are big, fast and experienced," Calhoun said.
--For the third consecutive week, TCU dominated a Mountain West Conference opponent. For the third straight week, the Horned Frogs were leapfrogged by a team in at least one of the two major Top 25 polls. The Auburn Tigers better be careful. While Auburn on Sunday jumped past TCU to No. 3 in the AP and USA Today Coaches Top 25 polls, it should be noted that the last two teams to do so -- Nebraska in the coaches poll two weeks ago and Oklahoma in both bolls last week -- both lost the following week. Eventually, the hope around Fort Worth is, there won't be any teams left to jump past TCU and they might creep up to No. 3 in the nation.
--Air Force found a way to stay away from punting to WR Jeremy Kerley. On three fourth downs in the first half of Saturday's game, Air Force kept its offense on the field and pretended they were going for a first down only to have QB Tim Jefferson punt with no TCU return man on the field. "They wanted to keep Kerley off the field and they were able to get that done," coach Gary Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
--The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Sunday that several bowl representatives have been regulars at recent TCU games, a rarity for most non-AQ programs in October. Saturday vs. Air Force, representatives from the Fiesta Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl, the Independence Bowl and the Texas Bowl were in attendance.
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Ed Wesley -- The sophomore running back had a career-best 209 rushing yards, more than the entire Air Force team. That's not bad considering Air Force leads the nation in rushing. Wesley's 109.3 rushing yards per game rank 13th in the nation and second in the Mountain West.
KEEP AN EYE ON: TCU's rushing defense -- The Horned Frogs did allow a touchdown for the first time in October, but still were dominant in a 38-7 victory over Air Force. TCU held the nation's top-ranked rushing offense, averaging 346.9 rushing yards per game, to 184 yards on the ground.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You've got to give the offensive line credit. A lot of people say, 'The defense played great.' The defense played great because they are standing on the sidelines." -- Coach Gary Patterson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: TCU's running game gained 377 yards, led by a career-high 209 from sophomore RB Ed Wesley. With two starting TCU offensive lineman out of the game because of injuries, the stat line is all the more impressive. TCU's defense, meanwhile, is simply on another level than almost any team in the nation right now. Yes it gave up a first-quarter touchdown, but considering it had almost gone 200 minutes without allowing a team to hit the end zone, that's easy to overlook. Air Force's national-leading rushing attack was held 162 yards below its average.
STILL NEEDS WORK: QB Andy Dalton has had better games. The senior completed only 11 of 20 passes for 185 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His first-quarter interception came in Air Force territory and was on the drive immediately following the Falcons' only touchdown of the game. Fortunately, the momentum didn't last long as the TCU defense bailed Dalton out by forcing punts on the next three Air Force possessions. The defense didn't force a turnover in the game and still has only forced 11 this season, which ranks 75th in the nation, one of the few defensive categories in which TCU is not at or near the top of the standings.
--NT Kelly Griffin suffered a broken ankle in the first quarter and, according to head coach Gary Patterson, is probably lost for the season.
--LG Kyle Dooley and RT Zack Roth missed Saturday's Air Force game becauwse of injuries, but it didn't seem to slow the TCU offense much. Jeff Olson replaced Roth and Spencer Thompson replaced Dooley. Coach Gary Patterson expects both starters back in the next couple weeks.
The nationally ranked Utes didn't make that much of a statement a week ago week in a 30-6 victory over Wyoming. They didn't make the same mistake twice.
Quarterback Jordan Wynn atoned for his poor performance a week earlier, completing 23-of-29 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns to lead Utah (7-0 overall, 4-0 in the Mountain West Conference) to a 59-6 blowout of what had been an improving Colorado State team (2-6, 1-3).
Wynn threw three interceptions the previous week against the Cowboys, but helped the Utes start to put away the Rams in the second quarter with touchdown passes of 30 yards to Eddie Wide and 71 yards to DeVonte Christopher.
"(Wynn) played very efficiently and was able to take care of the ball the entire game," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He made good decisions and was able to put us in a position to win.
"We had a talk (about the Wyoming game) on Monday, but he didn't need to be reminded much more than that. He's a competitor. He's his toughest critic, so he knew what he needed to do. He's very self-motivated."
The Utes amassed a season-high 648 yards on offense, representing the fifth- highest total in school history. The defense held Colorado State to 28 yards rushing, a season-low.
"We're ready to make a statement," defensive end Christian Cox told the Salt Lake Tribune. "We're excited to show the critics what we can do. We know what they're saying, that we haven't played anybody. But we know how good we are."
Thirteen Utes caught passes as they threw for 427 yards. Wynn, who threw two of his interceptions in the Wyoming end zone last week, needed to show his improvement to himself and his team.
"Jordan rebounded," Whittingham told the Tribune. "Rebounded is probably not the right word, but he was much more efficient and was able to take care of the football the entire game."
With a brutal schedule down the stretch, beginning next week at Air Force, the Utes need their sophomore quarterback to show he's in command. He did that against the Rams.
--The 28 rushing yards by the Rams were the fewest Utah has allowed this season, but it's the fifth game the Utes have held opponents to fewer than 100 yards -- Pittsburgh (82), New Mexico (69), San Jose State (94) and Wyoming (67). Colorado State had minus-5 yards after three quarters. Utah climbed from 13th to sixth in the nation in rushing defense, giving up an average of 87.4 yards per game.
--The Utes showed some special-teams trickery, executing an onside kick with a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. Utah was able to tack on a field goal for a 17-3 lead and snuff out any momentum the Rams had when they got on the board with a field goal -- thanks to Shaky Smithson's fumble on a punt return.
--Utah has scored more than 50 points in four of its seven games this season (56 at New Mexico, 56 vs. San Jose State, 68 at Iowa State and 59 against Colorado State). The last time Utah had four games with more than 50 points was 2004. The Utes have outscored their opponents, 134-13, in the second quarter.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Jordan Wynn had every reason to believe that he had to look over his shoulder after throwing three interceptions against Wyoming. His backup, Terrance Cain, had been terrific in his absence because of a sprained thumb and would be leading the nation in passing efficiency had he thrown enough passes. Wynn went out and had arguably his best game of the season, completing 23-of-29 for 321 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Coach Kyle Whittingham has been insistent that Wynn must be the trigger man for the Utes to compete for BCS postseason consideration, and the sophomore proved why.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The cupcakes are (mostly) gone. Utah enters a five-game stretch that can heighten its national profile, starting with Saturday's game at Air Force. All eyes are looking at the Utes' Nov. 6 home game against TCU. The Utes have shown how dominant they can be when they play mistake-free football, and they did that on Saturday -- other than Shaky Smithson's fumble on a punt return that led to a Colorado State field goal. Also on the schedule is San Diego State (5-2) and two struggling-but-still-big-name programs, Notre Dame and BYU. The Utes' confidence should be soaring entering this stretch, and if they can build on that confidence, they could be qualifying for their third BCS game in seven years.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a very productive night. We were able to score a lot of points and were able to limit our penalties and turnovers. We had that fumble on a punt return, but other than that, we played a pretty clean game. The special teams played well. With the exception of the fumble, we were solid in that area. The defense played outstanding, only allowing two field goals and coming up with that interception in our territory at the end of the fourth quarter. It was a successful night because we were able to get out without any major injuries, except for the usual bumps and bruises. There was a lot of good stuff that came from tonight, but we know we have a tough test next Saturday in Air Force. That may be our toughest game to date." -- Coach Kyle Whittingham.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Six Utes scored touchdowns Saturday. The Utes have a variety of playmakers to keep defenses from keying on any particular player. Sausan Shakerin broke free on a 72-yard touchdown run to lead the Utes in rushing with 80 yards against Colorado State. He gives the Utes a third rushing threat alongside Eddie Wide, who had 71 yards plus one touchdown rushing and one receiving, and Matt Asiata, who ran for 39 yards and two touchdowns. DeVonte Christopher had his third 100-yard receiving game of the season with 111 yards, and Jereme Brooks had a team-leading seven receptions. Shaky Smithson scored his third receiving touchdown of the season, and the Utes have dual weapons at quarterback, Jordan Wynn and Terrance Cain.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Shaky Smithson fumbled twice, once on a punt return in the season opener against Pittsburgh. He had played fantastic on special teams since -- until Saturday. He fumbled a punt return to start the second quarter, leading to a Colorado State field goal. If Smithson responds the way he did after his turnover in the season-opener, the Utes have no problems. But a second fumble could start to create some doubt in his mind, and if that happens, the Utes might lose one of their big playmakers as they head into their difficult stretch of games.
--Redshirt freshman WR Fatu Moala earned his first career start and junior DE Derrick Shelby had his first start of the season. Shelby missed much of last season because of a torn ACL.
--RB Sausan Shakerin has scored two touchdowns in his last three games after missing the first four games of the season because of with a concussion.
--Freshman WR Griff McNabb scored his first career touchdown on a 5-yard pass from Terrance Cain.
Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels proved he's not Superman on Saturday in Provo, Utah. Superman could have beaten Brigham Young by himself. Carta-Samuels fell 25 yards short.
The Cowboys again could not muster enough offense, this time against BYU, and put watched their postseason hopes go on life support with a 25-20 defeat. Wyoming (2-6, 0-4 Mountain West Conference) must sweep its final four games of the season to become bowl-eligible.
The Cougars (3-5, 2-2) held Wyoming to an unthinkable minus-17 yards in the first half, but had only a 16-10 lead to show for it, thanks to a takeaways by the Cowboys late in the first half.
Wyoming was trailing, 16-0, when linebacker Keith Lewis intercepted a pass thrown by BYU quarterback Jake Heaps and returned the ball 55 yards for a touchdown with 3:50 left in the half.
Defensive tackle Mike Purcell then forced a Cougar fumble that cornerback Marcell Gipson recovered at the BYU 20. That led to a 44-yard field goal by Ian Watts right before halftime.
"All the kudos to the defense," Carta-Samuels told the Casper Star-Tribune. "The defense did an unbelievable job. They kept the offense in the game. They gave us the opportunity at the end.
"People will say that the offense drove down the field and gave the team a chance to win there at the end, but the defense is what did it for us. We didn't hold up our end of the deal."
Wyoming did, however, go back to its staple offense, the spread, in the second half, and had 191 yards.
Carta-Samuels' ability to scramble out of danger led to a 56-yard drive, culminating in Watts' 38-yard field goal to pull the Cowboys within 19-13. Time and again, Carta-Samuels was flushed out of the pocket, desperately hoping for a receiver or back to break free.
BYU marched 70 yards on seven plays for a touchdown but missed the two-point conversion try. That pushed the score to 25-13, putting the pressure on the Wyoming offense.
The Cowboys responded with a four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Running back Robert Herron's 47-yard run was the big play, but Carta-Samuels perfectly executed a pump fake to the flat to spring wide receiver Chris McNeill free in the end zone for a 16-yard scoring reception.
Wyoming got the ball back with 4:42 left at its 14 with a chance to win the game.
Carta-Samuels got the drive started with a little gamesmanship, drawing a 15-yard late hit penalty with a nice bit of acting as he was hit near the sideline. His 10-yard scramble and had a two completions got the ball to the BYU 25, but Wyoming couldn't advance any farther on four passing plays.
--LB Keith Lewis' interception return for a touchdown snapped Wyoming's shutout streak against BYU at 166 minutes, 37 seconds, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. The Cowboys hadn't scored against the Cougars since Wynel Seldon's touchdown run during the third quarter of a 35-10 Wyoming loss in 2007.
--P Austin McCoy, one of the team's best performers all season, had two of his rugby-style punts bounce off members of his wedge, giving the Cougars great field position. The first one came in the first quarter, traveling 15 yards and giving BYU a first down at the Wyoming 33. The Cougars scored a touchdown in five plays. McCoy had an eight-yard punt in the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys escaped damage when Marcell Gipson blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt.
--RB Robert Herron, who missed the previous game because of an injury, bounced back against BYU with the biggest play from scrimmage. He broke free for a 47-yard run to the Cougars' 20 in the fourth quarter to set up the Cowboys' only offensive touchdown. Herron finished with 62 yards on six carries.
GAME BALL GOES TO: The stats won't reveal the type of game QB Austyn Carta-Samuels had. The sophomore was 13-of-26 passing for 110 yards and one touchdown. He also finished with 13 rushing yards on nine carries and was sacked three times. But he kept more than a handful of plays alive with his ability to escape the BYU rush and the Cougars were sending only three or four men in the second half as it was protecting its lead. Carta-Samuels' fourth-quarter touchdown pass came as a result of a great pump fake he executed to a route in the flat, drawing in the BYU safety and leaving WR Chris McNeill wide open at the goal line.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Cowboys' postseason hopes hinge on next week's game against surging San Diego State at War Memorial Stadium. Wyoming, which doesn't have a bye week this season, must win its last four games to become bowl-eligible. They have to fight back their physical and emotional fatigue from a demanding schedule to have any hope of reaching their annual goal under coach Dave Christensen. The Cowboys' 191 yards in the second half vs. BYU were their most in a half since the second half of the opener against Southern Utah.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "No, I'm not taking (consolation), I just want to win. I'm just frustrated, to be honest with you. I don't have too much more to say about that. I'm tired of losing." -- Safety Shamiel Gary, who had a game-high 13 tackles.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Minus two poor Austin McCoy punts that traveled a combined 23 yards, Wyoming's special forces (coach Dave Christensen's term for special teams) had a productive day. K Ian Watts connected on both his field-goal attempts, including a career-long of 44 yards in the first half. Ghaali Muhammad averaged 29.3 yards per kickoff return and Marcell Gipson blocked a 28-yard BYU field goal attempt in the fourth quarter that gave his team new life. McCoy, who has been one of the team's most consistent performers, can be expected to bounce back, so the play of the special forces looks promising as the team moves on.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Cowboys might be running out of solutions on offense if they can't get their spread attack to move the football against San Diego State. They've tried going to the Wing-T and the Pistol. They've done countless trick plays and they have one of the best quarterbacks in the conference in making plays happen with his feet, sophomore Austyn Carta-Samuels. But the line was allowing three- and four-man rushes to sack Carta-Samuels or flush him out of the pocket. And when Carta-Samuels did buy time, his wide receivers just could not shake off BYU defenders. The inability to get open even with extra time is problematic. Wyoming must execute perfectly to move the ball down the field.
--Junior WR Mazi Ogbonna and redshirt freshman DT Tyler Strong did not play against Brigham Young. The school does not release details of injuries.
--LB/KR Ghaali Muhammad was injured on his final kickoff return in the fourth quarter and didn't return. T John Hutchins and DT Ben Durbin were also limited during stretches against the Cougars.
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