MWC Week 9 Preview

This is the big week for the MWC as the two top teams square off...

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AIR FORCE
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INSIDE SLANT

When Air Force looks back on its season, the Falcons will appreciate what a difficult schedule they faced. They will also realize they couldn't pull off a win against one of the truly elite teams they faced, even though there were chances.

Air Force's loss to Utah on Saturday was especially difficult. The Falcons lost, 28-23, but gave the game away with five turnovers and other untimely mistakes.

"We made a few plays, don't get me wrong," coach Troy Calhoun said. "Anytime you encounter those guys, you have to make a bunch of plays."

Earlier this year, Air Force almost beat Oklahoma, but lost by three. The Falcons also lost by two points at San Diego State. A 38-7 loss at TCU was the only lopsided loss of Air Force's season.

The combined record of the four teams that have beat Air Force is 30-3. And the Falcons could have defeated three of them. That's what will bother them throughout the off-season.

Against Utah, the mistakes were crucial. Air Force lost three first-half fumbles, all in Utes territory and all at the end of big plays.

Wide receiver Mikel Hunter fumbled at the end of a 34-yard catch on the opening drive, tight end Josh Freeman lost the ball at the end of a 45-yard play and running back Asher Clark coughed it up after getting enough yards to convert a third down.

"We preach ball security all the time, and we just didn't hold onto the ball today," said Jefferson, who threw two second-half interceptions.

The Falcons can still take a big step for their program this week by beating Army and claiming the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 2002. The Falcons beat Navy earlier this season.

"Three losses in a row, we'll bounce back from that," linebacker Andre Morris Jr. said. "We've got a lot of work to do. We always come in business-minded every Monday for every opponent, and Army is no different.

"We need to get back in the win column, and we plan to do that next Saturday."

NOTES, QUOTES

--One problem Air Force has had this season has been not creating enough turnovers, with only 13 in nine games, which is a big difference from the 34 the team grabbed last year. The Falcons have cornerbacks Reggie Rembert and Anthony Wright, who were pre-season all-conference selections, but teams have found success running the ball against Air Force, so there hasn't been much reason to test Rembert or Wright. "We have really talented DBs, but they haven't been able to shine because we haven't put teams in situations where they have to challenge them," defensive end Rick Ricketts said.

--The Falcons, like all Mountain West teams, were trying to fill a hole in next year's schedule after it was announced that Fresno State and Nevada would be staying in the WAC for the 2011-12 school year. Air Force has Army, Navy, Notre Dame and South Dakota on its non-conference schedule, and needs one more game. UTEP is a possibility. "I'm scrambling around right now trying to find out what we're going to be doing," said Jim Trego, Air Force's senior associate athletic director, who handles a lot of the football scheduling. "I'm pretty certain we'll end up with an interesting team."

--One mistake against Utah that will stick with Air Force for a while was on a first-down play with 3:21 left. Utah had just missed a field goal and the Falcons had a chance to drive for the game-winning score, trailing, 28-23. But the Falcons weren't lined up right for a reverse play, and QB Tim Jefferson ended up taking a two-yard loss on a busted play. Three plays later, he was a half-yard short of the first down and Air Force gave up the ball on downs.

"We didn't get lined up right," Jefferson said. "That's day one, simple stuff. There's no excuse for that. That's just really poor."

GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Tim Jefferson -- Even though two second-half interceptions hurt the Falcons, Jefferson did a great job keeping his team in the game. He had a team-high 67 yards rushing, and his career-long 59-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter sparked a rally. He completed 8-of-13 passes for a career-high 201 yards and a touchdown.

KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Mikel Hunter -- With the Falcons suffering from some injuries on offense, the team turned to Hunter to make some plays. He made a nice play on a 34-yard catch, but fumbled at the end of the play. Still, he bounced back to make a nice block on Jonathan Warzeka's touchdown run, and had a 21-yard run and a 22-yard catch after the fumble. Hunter was a playmaker early in the season, but faded out of the picture for a while, and is needed to finish the season strong.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got to work first. We've got to get to the point where, preparation-wise, we're ready to go after that. We need focus, effort, concentration and a hard week of practice." -- Coach Troy Calhoun, on playing for the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy this week.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: The Falcons' defense hasn't been great lately, especially against the run, but played very well in the fourth quarter against Utah. Air Force looked finished when Utah took a 28-10 lead, but when the offense rallied in the fourth quarter, the defense started getting stops. The Falcons forced three punts, a turnover on downs and a missed field goal in the fourth quarter against one of the best offenses in the nation, allowing only 37 yards on 21 plays. That's a good sign for the Falcons heading into their final three games.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The Falcons will be stressing ball security this week. Coach Troy Calhoun can't stand turnovers, and Air Force had five of them against Utah. There were three fumbles and two interceptions, and although Utah defenders made decent plays to strip the ball on the fumbles, the Falcons still won't be happy to see those mistakes on the game film. Air Force had a plus-22 turnover margin last year, but that is way down this season because the offense has given up the ball too much and the defense hasn't made as many big plays.

ROSTER REPORT:

--WR Zack Kauth played against Utah, making a fast recovery from an ankle injury after missing only one game. Kauth wasn't a big part of the game plan on Saturday, but should be able to handle more plays this week.

--TE Chaz Demerath missed one game because of a knee injury. He returned to play against the Utes and caught a pass. He was a big part of the passing game before his injury and should return to that role.

--NG Ryan Gardner dressed and participated in warm-ups on Saturday, but didn't get into the game. He has a good chance to play this week, and the Falcons could use him against Army's run-first offense.

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

Back in September, double digits in points would have been considered an offensive explosion from Colorado State.

Against New Mexico, the Rams showed how far they have come since the beginning of the season, after they didn't score a touchdown until the fourth quarter of their third game.

Colorado State scored 38 points against the Lobos, racked up 584 yards, and was impressive in just about every way.

"We won the game," freshman quarterback Pete Thomas said. "It was a complete team effort, and when we can run the ball like that things are going to turn out good."

The running backs set the tone for everything else, a great sign for Colorado State moving forward. The Rams play at San Diego State this week.

Against New Mexico, Leonard Mason returned to the lineup after a one-game banishment and had 124 yards and three touchdowns. Chris Nwoke had 98 yards, almost giving the Rams two 100-yard rushers for the first time in eight years.

Raymond Carter came back from a knee injury and had 48 yards on five carries. Even freshman receiver/running back Tony Drake had 53 yards on three carries, including a touchdown on a double reverse.

The winless Lobos aren't the toughest competition, but if the Rams get that kind of varied production out of the running game they can be competitive against many teams.

The Rams gave credit to the offensive line, which was very inexperienced early in the year, but is getting better.

"They're working real hard for us; we got to thank them for getting some big holes," Nwoke said.

The running game success against New Mexico made it easier on Thomas, and he passed for 256 yards and a touchdown.

"When we do that, it opens up everything for Pete Thomas and the receivers," Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild said. "We had good balance."

NOTES, QUOTES

--One sign the Rams are maturing as a team is that they bounced right back after giving up a touchdown on New Mexico's first drive to start the game. The Rams allowed only seven points after that. "It was big," coach Steve Fairchild said. "We open up the game and they return the ball up to the 50, and then get a big pass play on us and next thing you know it's 7-0. But we came back." Said linebacker Mychal Sisson: "After first drive we stepped up and said we're not going to let that happen anymore and came out and proved it."

--WR Lou Greenwood continues to be one of the big-play threats for the Rams. After Colorado State fell behind, 7-0, to New Mexico, Greenwood's 43-yard touchdown catch down the middle tied the game and gave the momentum back to the Rams, who rolled to a 38-14 victory. "Lou made a big play," coach Steve Fairchild said. "We made some big plays on third and fourth down. But Lou played well."

--Coach Steve Fairchild gave the offensive line a lot of praise after the Rams gained almost 600 yards in a balanced, dominating performance against the Lobos. "I think (the offensive line) has progressed each game this season," Fairchild said. "Again, I'll say it: I thought last year our offensive line was one of the best in the country, and I think this group can be as good or better."

GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Leonard Mason -- Mason ran hard, which is a great sign after he was held out of the lineup a week earlier for reportedly being late to a team meeting. He rushed for 124 yards on 15 carries, and had three touchdowns. Assuming he doesn't violate any team rules, he should be able to finish his senior season strong as the Rams' top tailback.

KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Mychal Sisson -- Sisson is the Rams' most talented player, and he had an impact game against New Mexico. The junior had 12 tackles, including three for losses, and two forced fumbles. Colorado State needs big plays from a defense that doesn't force a lot of turnovers, and perhaps Sisson can keep it up in that role.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We haven't been tentative; we haven't practiced like a team that lacks confidence. I think we all expect this (winning) to happen. It hasn't been happening every game, that's for sure, but I like the way we're going about our business, and again, I think there's a lot of talented kids out there." -- Coach Steve Fairchild.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: After giving up a touchdown on New Mexico's first drive, the Rams buckled down and gave up only one touchdown the rest of the game. Knocking Lobos QB B.R. Holbrook out of the game didn't hurt. What Colorado State did well was stop the run and not let the Lobos break tackles and get big plays. New Mexico had only 96 yards rushing and its longest gain was 17 yards -- the only gain longer than 11 yards all day. The Rams' defense will be tested next week by San Diego State freshman back Ronnie Hillman, who is masterful at making people miss.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Just because the Rams got a big victory over New Mexico doesn't mean everything is right for the team. The Lobos are getting pounded by just about every team on their schedule. There were great signs of progress by Colorado State, but what it needs to do to take the next step for the program is beat a good team. This week's game against San Diego State provides an opportunity to get a strong victory before the end of the season.

ROSTER REPORT:

--RB Tony Drake found himself at running back and wide receiver against New Mexico. The team is loaded at tailback and wants to find a way to get the ball to the speedy freshman.

--TE Eric Peitz has a lingering shoulder injury and came out of Saturday's game briefly, but returned later and should be fine going forward.

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UNLV
==== INSIDE SLANT

Normally losing a home game by the score of 48-6 isn't cause for a moral victory. But that isn't the case for rebuilding Nevada-Las Vegas (1-7 overall, 1-3 in the Mountain West Conference.

Especially when the victor is fourth-ranked TCU (9-0, 5-0).

The injury-ravaged Rebels, who at times played seven freshmen on defense including all four line spots, more than held their own in the trenches against the big, physical and veteran Horned Frogs, who have their sights set on the BCS national championship game.

And despite having to reshuffle its starting offensive line hours before kickoff because of to an appendicitis suffered by starting center Andrew Mack, the Rebels put together several sustained drives in the first half.

That was against a TCU defense that ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring and No. 2 in total defense.

In fact, UNLV had more first downs (10) and points (6) in the first half against the Horned Frogs than in the game last year, when TCU claimed a 41-0 victory.

The Rebels had only seven first downs in that game and appeared to quit.

UNLV's hard-hitting defense also forced three fumbles, recovering two, in this game.

So although the final score was a blowout, there were some signs that the program is moving in the right direction under first-year coach Bobby Hauck.

"We have a long way to go," Hauck said. "We know that. But there are some signs that show we have a good football program. It's obviously going to take some work and some time, and we are working from the ground up. (But) I liked our effort tonight."

Perhaps the best endorsement about UNLV's improvement came from TCU coach Gary Patterson.

"I thought UNLV was very physical in this ballgame coming off a week of rest," Patterson said. "They knocked us around a little bit."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Following a holding penalty on a successful extra point, freshman K Nolan Kohurst missed the retry after UNLV's second quarter touchdown. That marked the first missed extra-point by a Rebel kicker since Oct. 20, 2007, snapping a streak of 97 successful attempts.

--Despite having to shuffle its starting lineup hours before kickoff after C Andrew Mack suffered an appendicitis, the Rebel offensive line allowed zero quarterback sacks for the first time all season. UNLV came into the game ranked 113th in the nation with 25 quarterback sacks allowed, including six in its previous game at Colorado State.

--Junior WR Phillip Payne returned to the lineup after missing two games for disciplinary reasons and had two catches for 27 yards.

GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Michael Johnson -- The junior had a game-high seven receptions for 67 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter for UNLV's only points of the game.

KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Nate Carter -- The junior MLB, who has been a special teams standout this season, had seven tackles in the second half after taking over for injured starter Ronnie Paulo.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "TCU is a great team. We did what we could do against them. They're No. 4 for a reason." -- UNLV senior LB Starr Fuimaono, to RebelNation.Net.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: The Rebel offensive line, despite having to shuffle new starters into three positions right before kickoff due to the emergency appendectomy of starting C Andrew Mack, didn't allow a sack for the first time this season. The Rebels were solid in the first half, picking up 10 first downs and controlling the ball for 15:25 against the nation's No. 1-ranked scoring defense.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Recruiting. The Rebels made big strides with coach Bobby Hauck's first class, with 23 freshmen already seeing significant playing time. Despite playing a veteran and physical TCU squad with a defense that at times featured seven freshmen, UNLV held its own physically up front against one of the nation's premier teams. If Hauck can follow up with another top-notch recruiting class, UNLV might finally have the foundation set for a winning football program.

ROSTER REPORT:

--RB Tim Cornett, who leads the team in rushing and has started two of the last three games, left the game because of a knee injury in the third quarter and did not return. UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said he didn't believe the injury was serious.

--LB Ronnie Paulo, who leads the team in tackles, left the game in the second quarter because of an ankle injury and did not return.

--C Andrew Mack, who started UNLV's first seven games, could be lost for the season after suffering an appendicitis just before to the start of the TCU game.

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

Another winnable game ends up in another lopsided defeat.

The Lobos had no answer for Colorado State's running attack, yielding 345 rushing yards in a 38-14 loss Saturday night in Fort Collins, Colo.

The Lobos (0-8 overall and 0-4 in the Mountain West Conference) have started 0-8 for consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. New Mexico is tied with Akron for the nation's longest losing streak at nine games.

This latest defeat saddled New Mexico with some more sobering thoughts about

the state of its program. The Lobos were routed despite having zero turnovers, being penalized only four times for 30 yards and making no egregious errors on special teams.

The Rams (3-6, 2-3), the only team the Lobos have beaten in coach Mike Locksley's two-year tenure, simply dominated New Mexico physically.

"It was a very disappointing game for us," Locksley said. "This was one of the few games that I've coached in that I felt our team just got out-manned. We were physically beaten at the point of attack. They ran the ball very effectively against our defense."

And once again, injury played a major role in the New Mexico offense's inability to keep pace. Defensive lineman Guy Miller knocked out Lobos quarterback B.R. Holbrook in the second quarter with a big hit that injured Holbrook's throwing shoulder.

That left true freshman Stump Godfrey -- New Mexico's only remaining healthy quarterback -- to finish the game.

Godfrey performed bravely in his third game of the season, leading the Lobos with 72 rushing yards on 18 carries. Godfrey also completed 8-of-16 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown.

In keeping with a season-long trend, New Mexico got little production from its running backs. James Wright had 27 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries as the Lobos gained only 96 yards rushing yards, the fifth time in eight games the they have failed to reach 100 yards on the ground.

"Offensively, we didn't do a good job of protecting our quarterback," Locksley said. "We got our quarterback knocked out. All I know is that we've got to find a way to come back to work on Monday and continue to develop our players."

The Lobos began to play much more competitive football in the last half of the 2009 season. Saturday's game indicated that this team isn't showing similar signs of life.

At this point, keeping the team from regressing would be an improvement.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Lobos have had leads in each of their last five games and have scored first in four of those games. They have recorded touchdowns as the first score in three games, Colorado State included. Colorado State needed 8:23 to seize the lead against New Mexico, the longest time it's taken an opponent to put the Lobos at a deficit. The only game in that span that New Mexico didn't score first, against New Mexico State, it held a 14-6 lead in the second quarter. That represents the Lobos' largest lead this season.

--The Lobos recorded 83 tackles against the Rams, marking the third consecutive game New Mexico has amassed 80 tackles. You know it's a rough season when the media relations department uses that statistic among its post-game notes in trying to accentuate the positives, because the stat means only that the Lobo defense has been on the field for a long time.

--Freshman QB Stump Godfrey became the seventh Lobo to lead the team in rushing, thanks to his 72-yard effort against Colorado State. New Mexico, however, has not produced a 100-yard rusher in any game this season. WR Chris Hernandez is one of the seven Lobos to lead the team in rushing. His 45 yards against Texas Tech came on a fumble he picked up and ran for a touchdown.

GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Ty Kirk was New Mexico's designated big-play threat entering the season, but had been quieted by the Lobos' injury problems at quarterback. The sophomore finally emerged against Colorado State, recording five catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. He helped New Mexico start strong, getting behind the Colorado State defense for a 41-reception that set up James Wright's one-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead. Kirk's best play, however, came on his 10-yard touchdown pass from QB Stump Godfrey. Godfrey threw a pass intended for Hernandez, who was running a route just short of the goal line. The ball bounced off Hernandez's hands and Kirk grabbed the rebound in the end zone.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Injuries and/or wear from an emotionally scarring season seem to be catching up with the Lobos. They played their least competitive game in five weeks against the Rams. Colorado State might have scored 40 points, but the Rams missed a field goal attempt and a had kneel-down inside the New Mexico 10-yard-line late in the game. The coaching staff's job this week is to somehow rejuvenate its bunch for a home game against Wyoming -- the best remaining chance New Mexico has to for a victory this season. The other games on the Lobos' schedule are road games at Air Force and BYU, followed by a season-ending home game against powerful TCU.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Obviously we always want to go in with a plan for (QB Stump Godfrey), but again, our offense gets watered down some when we do play the freshmen because of all of the pressures we typically see because of the freshman back there. When we kept B.R. (Holbrook) upright, he was able to make a couple of plays earlier in the game. We didn't protect very well and we got our quarterback knocked out of the game and we've got to do a better job of protecting him." -- New Mexico coach Mike Locksley, on the effect of injuries on the quarterback position.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: Dante Caro's 48-yard kickoff return to open the game helped set up the Lobos' touchdown on their opening possession. New Mexico had a respectable 115 yards on four kickoff returns and that remains the most consistent part of its game. The Lobos rank 20th in the nation in kickoff return average at 24.3 yards. New Mexico has 997 return yards, the most among teams that have played eight games. MLB Carmen Messina had 1.5 sacks, to help the team record a season-high-tying two sacks. The Lobos have six sacks this season.

STILL NEEDS WORK: New Mexico's run defense had done such an impressive job against San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman, the MWC's leading rusher, a week earlier, so Saturday's poor effort against Colorado State was especially disappointing. The Rams nearly had two rushers with 100 yards, as Chris Nwoke's 98 yard complemented Leonard Mason's game-high 124 rushing yards. New Mexico was able to stay competitive against the Aztecs because of its ability to limit San Diego State to 135 yards rushing. The Rams had 397 yards of total offense in the first half Saturday night.

ROSTER REPORT:

--QB B.R. Holbrook left the game in the second quarter because of a shoulder injury to his throwing arm against Colorado State. The sophomore suffered the injury after getting rid of a pass and absorbing a hit by Rams DT Guy Miller.

--Backup QB Brad Gruner sliced his hand carving a pumpkin earlier in the week and is out for the season.

--RB Demond Dennis, who recently returned from academic suspension and played the previous weekend against San Diego State, was dismissed from the team earlier in the week for academic reasons.

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

Another collapse? Not this time. Not this team. San Diego State watched a 41-24 fourth quarter lead shrink to 41-38 against Wyoming on Saturday in Laramie, Wyo. The turn of events evoked memories of last season's fourth-quarter collapse against the Cowboys at Qualcomm Stadium, where Wyoming scored 24 unanswered points to defeat the Aztecs, 30-27.

These aren't last year's Aztecs. Ryan Lindley's 59-yard touchdown pass to DeMarco Sampson with 4:56 left in the game capped a five-play, 80-yard drive that helped San Diego State escape with a 48-38 victory.

The Aztecs (6-2 overall, 3-1 Mountain West Conference) became bowl eligible for the first time since 1998, when they were still members of the Western Athletic Conference. The six victories match San Diego State's highest total in the new millennium -- it was 6-6 in 2003, but a winning record was required then to become bowl-eligible.

"It feels good to be bowl-eligible, but we have bigger goals," Lindley told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "If we can take care of those (winning the conference) then everything else will fall into place. We're still on a mission."

The Aztecs have not played their best football the last two weeks but still have two victories on their ledger. Saturday's game had the feel early that it was not San Diego State's day. Its special teams play contributed to putting the visitors in a hole early against the Cowboys (2-7, 0-5).

San Diego State dominated the early play but managed only two field goals on three penetrations into Wyoming territory for a 6-0 lead. The Cowboys took the lead, thanks to an unfortunate bounce on a punt that caromed of Aztec Leon McFadden's leg and was recovered by Wyoming at the San Diego State 13.

Austyn Carta-Samuels' 11-yard pass to Zach Bolger gave the Cowboys a 7-6 advantage. The Aztecs then suffered a blocked punt that led to a Wyoming field goal and a 10-6 lead.

San Diego State answered with a 56-yard touchdown pass from Lindley to Sampson, but Wyoming's Marcell Gipson returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards, and the Cowboys went back ahead on Carta-Samuels' 13-yard touchdown pass to David Leonard. Wyoming also recovered an onside kick during the game, but the Aztecs escaped harm.

San Diego State reestablished control, outscoring Wyoming, 28-7, for a 41-24 lead with 12:26 left in the game. The Cowboys cut it to 41-31 on Carta-Samuels' 20-yard touchdown run with 9:59 left, and Lindley's interception led to Alvester Alexander's 17-yard scoring run with 7:32 remaining.

"There was no panic at all," Sampson, whose touchdown catch secured the victory, told the Union-Tribune. "Last year, you could tell we were shocked. This year, we took care of our business."

NOTES, QUOTES

-- The adjective "unsung" can be removed from FB Brandon Sullivan's resume. The senior, who led the Aztecs in rushing with 69 yards a week earlier against New Mexico, added three one-yard touchdown runs against Wyoming. He finished with 15 rushing yards on six carries.

--P Brian Stahovich might have wrapped up a first-team All-Mountain West Conference designation, thanks to his school-record 89-yard punt in the third quarter against the Cowboys. With the Aztecs clinging to a 20-17 lead and punting from their own three-yard-line, Stahovich sent the ball sailing over the head of returner David Leonard. The ball rolled to the Wyoming eight. The Aztecs forced a punt and got a 22-yard return from Larry Parker to the Wyoming 20. That led to one of Sullivan's one-yard TD plunges and a 27-17 lead.

--QB Ryan Lindley's 14-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Shields with 20 seconds left before halftime marked the sixth game the Aztecs have scored in the final two minutes of the first half this season. San Diego State has five touchdowns and one field goal to gain momentum heading into halftime.

GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Ryan Lindley gutted out a 365-yard passing performance on Saturday, despite playing the second half on a sprained ankle. He continues to struggle with his completion percentage -- he was 16-of-32 on Saturday, and had two costly interceptions. The first helped prevent San Diego State from taking control of the game early, and the second helped Wyoming put pressure on the Aztecs in the fourth quarter. Lindley's most impressive play came on San Diego State touchdown late in the first half. On third-and-10 from the Wyoming 14, Lindley moved around in the pocket and had a bit of open field in the middle of the field. Lindley began running for daylight when he spotted TE D.J. Shields wide open to his left, and he flipped the ball to Shields for the touchdown and a 20-17 lead at halftime.

KEEP AN EYE ON: The Aztecs need one victory in their last four games to secure a bowl bid, most likely the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego. With home games against UNLV and Colorado State, the Aztecs should prevail. But it's the two games against MWC stalwarts TCU and Utah in which San Diego State wants to measure itself to determine how far it is from competing for a conference title. The Aztecs must play better against Colorado State than they have the last two weeks against New Mexico and Wyoming. But a victory should give them a feeling of confidence going to TCU that they haven't had since the Horned Frogs joined the league in 2005.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There was definitely a different feeling in the huddle this year (in the fourth quarter). "I'm not sure what it is. But this team has that killer instinct. We've grown up a lot and we're a better team for it." -- QB Ryan Lindley, comparing his team's fourth-quarter poise this season to last year's team that lost a 27-6 lead to Wyoming, to the San Diego Union Tribune.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: WRs DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown helped show how potent the Aztecs' offense can be when both have big games. Sampson had seven receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Brown had five receptions for 144 yards. Their big-play capacity helped San Diego State have an answer for every rally Wyoming tried to make. The Aztecs scored more than 40 points for the fourth game this season. The production of Sampson and Brown might become more important if the Aztecs, who have rushed for only 105.5 yards per game their last times out, continue to struggle on the ground.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The Aztecs showed the importance of consistent special teams play by not performing against Wyoming. The Aztecs had 103 more total yards and should have dominated the game. The bad bounce of a punt that hit Leon McFadden that Wyoming recovered to set up a score was unfortunate. But San Diego State also allowed a blocked punt, a 59-yard kickoff return and lost the ball on an onside kick. Thanks to the San Diego State defense, Wyoming put up only 10 points, but the Cowboys also were able to keep the Aztecs' offense on the sidelines at times.

ROSTER REPORT:

--QB Ryan Lindley twisted an ankle at the end of the first half, but played the entire game. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Lindley was limping after the game.

--WR Vincent Brown also was limping because of an ankle injury. Coach Brady Hoke told the Union-Tribune he didn't think either injury is significant.

--RB Ronnie Hillman was limited to 44 rushing yards on 21 carries. Hoke said he thought Hillman still was bothered by a hip-pointer injury he suffered the previous week against New Mexico.

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

No trap game here. With a Nov. 6 road showdown against Utah on the horizon, a game that probably will determine the Mountain West Conference championship and secure an invite to a BCS bowl game, the Horned Frogs hardly got caught looking ahead.

TCU improved to 9-0 and 5-0 in MWC play with a 48-6 victory over UNLV, a game in which the Frogs out-gained the home team, 530-197, and won the battle of first downs, 30-12.

Coach Gary Patterson, knowing most post-UNLV game questions would be about Utah and not the game just played, sent his team back to the hotel without being allowed to talk to the media.

Peterson, however, managed to downplay how dominant his team played.

"I didn't think we played that well on both sides of the ball, but we did what we needed to do," Patterson said in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

TCU has not lost a regular season game since a 2008 loss at Utah, and Patterson is well aware that this game likely is for a league title, but he wouldn't go as far as to say it's for a BCS bowl berth.

"They know us," Patterson said in the Star-Telegram. "We've been playing them for years. There's no hiding in this game coming up. It's two good football teams playing for a championship. Each of us needs to win a few ballgames besides this one to get there."

TCU has been holding steady in the polls and actually closing ground on fellow non-automatic qualifying school Boise State.

The three non-automatic qualifying teams left in the BCS conversation -- Boise State, TCU and Utah -- still have quality opponents left, but no game for those three schools will be bigger than the TCU-Utah game in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

NOTES, QUOTES

--WR Bart Johnson's 29-yard reception in the second quarter Saturday at UNLV extended to 31 his streak of consecutive games with a reception. It's a streak that began in 2008 and one he never saw coming back then. "I wouldn't have believed you," Johnson said in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when asked about whether he'd believe he'd have such a streak if told about it in 2008. "I wouldn't have thought so. I think it's a pretty neat deal. I think it shows the kind of player I am. I'm not real flashy, just kind of a workhorse and I give 110 percent effort all the time and help the team win."

--TCU holding UNLV to 197 yards of total offense wasn't rare. The Horned Frogs have held five opponents under 200 yards this season, including four of five Mountain West Conference opponents.

GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Andy Dalton -- The senior quarterback completed 16-of-23 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns with no sacks, no interceptions and no lost fumbles. He did fumble once, but recovered it. Dalton added 30 rushing yards and another touchdown.

--In the battle of the non-automatic qualifying teams near the top of the rankings, TCU closed ground this week on Boise State. The Broncos played a nationally-televised WAC game against Louisiana Tech, winning 49-20, but doing so in as unspectacular fashion as a 29-point game can be, allowing nearly 400 yards of offense to the Bulldogs. TCU, meanwhile, had another dominating one-sided win of a lowly Mountain West Conference team.

In the AP poll, TCU shaved 12 points of Boise State's lead. Boise State is ranked No. 2 with 1,403 points to 1,350 for No. 4 TCU. The Broncos also lost four of the 11 first place votes they had last week and have seven in the AP poll to two for TCU.

In the USA Today coaches poll, TCU inched six points closer as Boise State dropped from No. 2 to No. 3 in the poll and has 1,361 points to 1,292 for TCU. Boise State lost two first place votes in the coaches poll, falling from five to three, while TCU has one.

Of course TCU's game Nov. 6 against Utah could prove to be the non-automatic qualifying championship, as both teams are ranked in the top six of both polls and a win for either team will be more impressive than anything left on Boise State's schedule. Boise still plays nationally-ranked Nevada and Hawaii, which is the first team out of both the AP and coaches polls.

KEEP AN EYE ON: DE Wayne Daniels -- The defensive end had 3 1/2 sacks in his first two games and two more in TCU's first two Mountian West games (one each vs. Colorado State and Wyoming). But the 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior has been held without a sack for three consecutive games and has fallen to 54th in the nation with 0.61 sacks per game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "As a general rule, I'm just not happy during the games." -- TCU coach Gary Patterson, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: The Frogs again were balanced with 273 rushing yards and 257 passing yards. Nine players had carries for TCU and eight Frogs caught passes in the blowout victory. The offensive line continued playing as well as any in the west, paving the way for the 273 rushing yards and once again protecting QB Andy Dalton, who wasn't sacked and has been dropped only five times all season. The TCU defense somehow keeps improving on its national-best total defense, allowing only 197 yards and dropping their per game average to 217.3 yards per game, nearly 17 yards better than No. 2 Ohio State.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Ball security has to be a concern for TCU. At UNLV, despite a 48-6 victory, the seemingly always grumpy Gary Patterson had good reason to groan about his team's three fumbles (two lost) against the overmatched Rebels. RBs Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker each lost a fumble and starting QB Andy Dalton put the ball on the carpet during a late third quarter drive, but recovered it. And while UNLV managed only 69 rushing yards on 24 carries, Patterson also said his defense's reaction to play-action plays led to too many long runs for UNLV QB Omar Clayton.

ROSTER REPORT:

--CB Greg McCoy sustained a leg injury in the second quarter at UNLV and did not return to the game. His availability for the Nov. 6 showdown with Utah is uncertain.

--Sophomore DT D.J. Yendrey made his first start of the season and the second of his career. He is helping out a defensive line still trying to see what the best combination is to replace injured NT Kelly Griffin.

====
UTAH
==== INSIDE SLANT

Immediately after Utah's game against Air Force on Saturday at Falcon Stadium, the Utes said their minds already had turned to next week's showdown against TCU.

Perhaps they actually started thinking about the Horned Frogs before the Air Force game ended. Utah had to survive a 13-point fourth-quarter rally by the Falcons to escape with a 28-23 victory.

The Utes (8-0 overall, 5-0 in the Mountain West Conference) allowed the Falcons (5-4, 3-3) to out gain them, 411-327. Only five forced turnovers and two fourth-quarter defensive stands helped Utah escape defeat.

"It was a little frustrating because we had a chance to put the opponent away," coach Kyle Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune. "But the bottom line is when you are playing Air Force, you take a win any way, shape or form it comes. It's never perfect, but we are 8-0 -- that is the bottom line."

The Utes were humming along with a 28-10 lead and a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter, having intercepted a pass by quarterback Tim Jefferson at the Air Force 43.

Utah faced a fourth-and-two at the Falcons 35 when Jordan Wynn's pass to Matt Asiata fell incomplete. The rejuvenated Falcons responded with Jefferson's 59-yard run for a touchdown with 11:34 left in the game and a 28-17 Utes lead.

On Air Force's next possession, Jefferson completed a 49-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Harderman on a one-play drive to cut the Utah lead to 28-23.

Meanwhile, the Falcons' defense clamped down on the Utes, forcing three three-and-outs to start the fourth quarter.

After Air Force cut the deficit to five points, it forced a Utah punt and took possession at the Utes' 48. The Utah defense forced a fourth-and-three at its 41 and stuffed Asher Clark of Air Force on a two-yard loss.

The Utes held again on Air Force's next possession, stopping Jefferson one yard short of the first down at the Falcons' 35. Utah punter Sean Sellwood helped seal the victory with a 31-yard punt to the Air Force one with 19 seconds left. "That was a vintage Air Force game," Whittingham told the Tribune. "It was typical of what we have had the last eight, 10 years. The defense had just enough in the tank to make the plays and get the win."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Kyle Whittingham had lamented his defensive inability to create takeaways. The Utes came into the game having forced eight turnovers in seven games. The unit forced three fumbles and two interceptions against the Falcons, which were key in the victory. Utah has forced seven turnovers in the last two games after collecting only six in the first six.

--K Joe Phillips picked an inopportune time for his first missed field goal attempts of the season. The Utes were clinging to a 28-23 lead in the fourth quarter when he missed from 42 yards. Phillips hit the right upright, ending his streak of consecutive field goals at 18. He is 9-of-10 this season. Phillips did have a seven-yard run on a fake field goal attempt on a fourth-and-four that helped the Utes keep a drive alive for their final touchdown of the game and a 28-10 lead late in the third quarter.

--The Utes probably played their last game against the Falcons for years as Utah moves to what will become the Pac-12 next season. Air Force leads the all-time series 14-13, and nine of the last 10 games have been decided by eight points or fewer. "I am glad they are not on our schedule," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I am telling Chris Hill he is a dead man if he ever puts these guys on our schedule."

GAME BALL GOES TO: True freshman S Brian Blechen helped the defense quell Air Force's fourth-quarter rally when he combined with DB Greg Bird to stuff Air Force's Asher Clark for a two-yard loss on fourth-and-three at the Utah 41. Blechen also intercepted Tim Jefferson's pass in the third quarter, returning it 14 yards to the Air Force 18. That led to Eddie Wide's one-yard touchdown run and a 28-10 third-quarter lead. Blechen, whose interception in overtime against Pittsburgh in the opener helped the Utes win by a field goal, led the team with nine tackles and had a first-half fumble recovery.

KEEP AN EYE ON: The Utes avoided stumbling before the Mountain West Conference game of the year next week against TCU in Salt Lake City. But Utah isn't going into that game with the swagger it might've had before Saturday's game against Air Force. The Utes appeared to be headed for a convincing victory, holding a 28-10 lead with the ball in Falcons territory in the fourth quarter before the wheels came off. The 28-23 nail-biter wasn't the statement Utah wanted to make in comparison to the Horned Frogs' 38-7 victory over Air Force the previous week. The Utes are 2-0 against TCU at Rice-Eccles Stadium since the Frogs joined the league in 2005, but they better concentrate better for 60 minutes on the Frogs than they did on the Falcons on Saturday.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Honestly, you never need close (wins). But you've got to be able to win the close ones. That's what makes a great team. We came out of this one today. Plays happen and you just have to grind it out. (Utah's failed fourth down pass) was a gusty play call. I thought we executed it well, but we just didn't make the play. Hats off to them for making a big play and making it close." -- Utah QB Jordan Wynn.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: RBs Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide combined for 49 carries, 177 yards and three touchdowns against Air Force. They helped the Utes keep the ball for 36:30 and control the game through the first three quarters. Utah made a curious call on fourth-and-two at the Air Force 35 in the fourth quarter by trying a pass that fell incomplete, which started the Falcons' comeback. The Utes have to let their line and running backs pound the ball and establish their physical dominance for the team to have a chance to remain unbeaten the rest of the way.

STILL NEEDS WORK: KR Shaky Smithson did not return a punt against the Falcons. That, coupled with the absence of injured WR DeVonte Christopher crippled the Utes' big-play capacity. Smithson had two receptions for 20 yards, but the offense wasn't consistently able to gain big chunks of yardage. WR Luke Matthews' 36-yard reception was the team's longest play from scrimmage, followed by a 23-yard reception by TE Kendrick Moeai. The Utes won't be able to physically dominate very many teams on the rest of their schedule, and if Christopher's injury lingers, they need to find a threat that can get them downfield in a hurry -- especially against TCU next week.

ROSTER REPORT:

--WR DeVonte Christopher, Utah's second-leading receiver with 26 catches for 499 yards and five touchdowns, did not make the trip because of a knee injury.

--LB Chad Manis suffered an ankle injury and was on crutches when the game ended.

--S Brian Blechen suffered an ankle injury but stayed in the game.

=======
WYOMING
======= INSIDE SLANT

Wyoming's last chance to mimic its late-game magic in 2009 passed in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game against San Diego State at War Memorial Stadium. With it went the fleeting hopes of a second consecutive bowl berth.

The Aztecs (6-2 overall and 3-1 in the Mountain West Conference) play-actioned Wyoming to death, putting up 365 passing yards in a 48-38 victory over the Cowboys.

Wyoming (2-7, 0-5) lost its fourth straight and seventh in eight games to fall out of bowl contention.

Wyoming was hoping to somehow sweep its last four games with wins against the four conference teams it defeated last season en route to a 7-6 record and a victory in the New Mexico Bowl.

That season featured some impressive comebacks, most notably a 24-point fourth quarter at San Diego State that helped Wyoming escape with a 30-27 victory.

Wyoming, which hadn't recorded more than 300 yards on offense since its season-opening win against Southern Utah, put up 338 yards and a season-high in points.

Two fourth-quarter touchdowns helped the Cowboys cut a 41-24 deficit to 41-38 midway through the fourth quarter. But the Aztecs answered with a 59-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Lindley to DeMarco Sampson, ending Wyoming's hopes.

"We moved the football, which is always exciting," quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels told the Casper Star-Tribune. "But we just lost bowl eligibility. You leave the field with a sour taste in your mouth."

The Wyoming defense held San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman, the MWC's leading rusher, to 44 yards on 21 carries. But the Aztecs had four passing plays of 40 yards or longer.

San Diego State wide receivers DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown combined to catch 12 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns.

"It wasn't anything that they did, it was all errors on our part," Wyoming cornerback Tashaun Gipson told the Star-Tribune. "They've got some OK wide receivers, but it wasn't nothing spectacular, nothing that blew us away."

The 48 points and 441 yards of total offense the Cowboys surrendered suggest otherwise, and -- other than trying to create some momentum toward 2011 in their final three games -- Wyoming's 2010 season has been blown away.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Cowboys' 338 yards of offense against San Diego State was their most since recording 355 in the opener against Southern Utah. Austyn Carta-Samuels had 186 passing yards and three touchdowns. Wyoming reverted exclusively to its spread attack after experimenting with Wing-T and Pistol formations to move the ball earlier in the season.

--WR David Leonard had his best game of the season with seven receptions (tying a season high) for 75 yards (a season high) and two touchdowns (a season high). It was the senior's first touchdown since a 37-13 victory over New Mexico last season.

--The Cowboys have lost four consecutive games for the first time in coach Dave Christensen's two-year tenure. They've also lost four consecutive games at home for the first time since 2001. Wyoming finishes its season with games at New Mexico, at UNLV and at home against Colorado State. The combined record of those three teams is 4-21.

GAME BALL GOES TO: Once again, QB Austyn Carta-Samuels was the team's best offensive weapon. He passed for 186 yards, his best game against a Football Bowl Subdivision school this season (he had 319 against Southern Utah). His three touchdown passes matched his effort in the opener. Carta-Samuels also had 51 net rushing yards. He actually gained 104, but lost 53 on five sacks against San Diego State's blitz pressure. Now that Wyoming seems ready to re-commit to the spread, watch Carta-Samuels' production go up and the offense begin to make improvement.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Wyoming's emotional makeup will be a determining factor in how the team finishes. It has face a brutal schedule to this point and still is recovering from the death of freshman LB Ruben Narcisse. Now that the Cowboys have been eliminated from bowl contention, they have every reason to throw in the towel. The perfect elixir could be a trip to Albuquerque, N.M. to face lowly New Mexico. The Cowboys could begin to repair their psyche and start to gather momentum for 2011. A loss to the winless Lobos, however, could be a sign that Wyoming has checked out emotionally.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't execute against (the play-action) very well. We had guys in position, we worked on the plays all week long, we're good enough to make the plays and we didn't make the plays when we were put in that position. The frustrating thing is, every single time we give up a big play, it's one guy. We've got to really check ourselves from an accountability standpoint." -- Coach Dave Christensen, to the Casper Star-Tribune.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: Wyoming's special forces were spectacular against the Aztecs.

Oliver Schobel recovered a punt that deflected off the leg of San Diego State's Leon McFadden at the Aztecs 13 and led to QB Austyn Carta-Samuels' 11-yard touchdown pass to Zach Bolger. Luke Ruff blocked a San Diego State punt that led to a field goal and a 10-6 lead. Marcell Gipson added a 59-yard kickoff return that led to a 13-yard touchdown pass from Carta-Samuels to David Leonard and a 17-13 Cowboys lead. Finally, Wyoming executed an onside kick to start the second half and take possession of the football.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The Cowboy secondary is the most experienced unit on the team -- other than the linebackers who moved to defensive end this season. Each of the defensive backs is a returning starter, and yet Wyoming allowed San Diego State's talented wide receivers to consistently get open for huge gains. The performance was especially maddening because Wyoming's maligned rushing defense held the Mountain West Conference's leading rusher, Ronnie Hillman, to 44 yards on 21 carries. The Cowboys have to respond with better efforts in the last three games to give Wyoming a chance to win down the stretch and put a bandage on the season.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Sophomore LB Ghaali Muhammad did not play Saturday because of an undisclosed injury. The school's policy is not to talk about the specifics of injuries.

--Senior FS Chris Prosinski moved into fifth place on Wyoming's all-time tackles list with six against San Diego State. He has 346 tackles in his career and moved ahead of Ward Dobbs, who had 343 tackles between 2005-08. Prosinski needs six tackles to climb to No. 4 on the all-time list.

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