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Wyoming heads to Washington State with an 0-2 record, losing big to Eastern Michigan and North Dakota

IT'S SURE A different feeling than a week ago, no? Instead of thinking unspeakably bad things about the Cougars following the Portland State loss, there's an atmosphere of optimism heading into Saturday's game against Wyoming following the gutsy win over Rutgers.

All is not forgiven, to be sure. The Portland State loss is going to sting for a while. But now we know this Washington State squad is capable of good things, with better days ahead if the Cougars can repair some of the defensive and special teams problems.

But if ever a team and a fan base ought to take a one-game-at-a-time mentality, it's Washington State this week. The Cougars are 1-1, not great, not terrible. But if WSU beats Wyoming, it heads into Pacific-12 Conference play with a 2-1 record, which is OK. You wanted 3-0, but 2-1 keeps most of the goals alive.

The record aside, even more important is the fact that this is the home game following the PSU debacle. If the Cougars want to keep this fan base interested and engaged, it cannot lay another egg at home. Saturday's performance has to be an improved extension of what took place at Rutgers. Nothing less is acceptable.

Wyoming is a made-to-order rout, provided Portland State got WSU's attention. If the Cowboys aren't the country's worst FBS team, they're close. In fact, USA Today's 1-to-128 weekly college rankings has Wyoming checking in a No. 125, only ahead of Idaho, Kansas and New Mexico State. (For the record, the Cougars are No. 87).

The Cowboys can't get out of Laramie fast enough, as they're 0-2, with home field losses to FCS North Dakota (not North Dakota State, the really good FCS team) and Eastern Michigan, both by double digits.

It's possible the Cougars could see Wyoming's third-string quarterback in second-year freshman Nick Smith. Starter Cameron Coffman (pictured above) strained knee ligaments against North Dakota and didn't play last week, and back-up Josh Allen suffered a shoulder injury against Eastern Michigan. Smith completed 3 of 13 passes for zero yards during his stint last week. In beating Wyoming 48-29, Eastern Michigan scored its first non-conference road win since 1988.

This is the worst team Washington State plays this season. The heavily-favored Cougars (no line available because of the status of Coffman's status) should continue the healing and head into the Pac-12 play with a 2-1 record.

About Wyoming: The Cowboys head to Pullman with a couple of puzzling offensive stat lines, and Coffman's status only adds to the mystery of Wyoming's offense.

Week 1 vs. North Dakota: With Coffman and Allen, Wyoming passes for 301 yards and runs for 29.

Week 2 vs. Eastern Michigan: With Allen and Smith at quarterback, the Cowboys pass for 32 yards, but run for 430, the Cowboys' highest rushing total since 1988.

Following last Saturday's game, Wyoming coach Craig Bohl told reporters he thought Coffman would play against Washington State. But even with Coffman behind center, who knows? Coffman is a senior, but with only one start at Wyoming. Coffman transferred from Indiana following the 2013 season. In 2012, Coffman completed 247 of 407 passes for 2,734 yards and 15 touchdowns.

If the Cowboys choose to air it out, their most reliable receiver is junior Tanner Gentry, who caught 39 and 32 passes during his first two Wyoming seasons. Gentry was Coffman's favorite target against North Dakota, catching 10 passes for 182 yards.

But perhaps the Cowboys found a little something with the running game against Eastern Michigan, and will try to build on it. Brian Hill was last week's workhorse, running 21 times for 242 yards and two touchdowns. Last year as a freshman, Hill ran for 796 yards and seven touchdowns.

On the other hand, it may not matter which offense Wyoming brings to Pullman, because it's the Cowboys' defense has killed all chances. Eastern Michigan had a stretch where it scored touchdowns on seven consecutive drives. Playing with its backup quarterback, EMU piled up 330 yards through the air, and 506 yards total. If the Cougars' offense is in sync, those might be the halftime numbers.

Against EMU, the Cowboys started two freshmen at safety, one a walk-on, though the other, true freshman Andrew Wingard, led Wyoming with 12 tackles. The Cowboys' defensive front didn't get a sack last week, despite facing a backup quarterback. Through two games, Wyoming has yet to force a turnover. Nationally, the Cowboys rank 106th in total defense and 113th in run defense.

The series: This is sixth game of the Wyoming-WSU series, but the first since 1990, when the Cowboys scored a 34-13 win in Pullman. The Cougars lead the series 3-2, but both Wyoming wins have come in Pullman.

Familiar faces: Wyoming has four Washingtonians on its roster, including two Federal Way juniors in linebacker D.J. May and defensive tackle Uso Olive. The Cowboys have two freshmen receivers from Southwest Washington in Justice Murphy (Evergreen-Vancouver) and James Price (Camas). There are no Cougars on Wyoming's coaching staff.

Notable notes

  • Cougars coach Mike Leach grew up in Wyoming and graduated from Cody High.
  • Washington State will induct 25 members into its Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend. The class includes football greats Steve Broussard, Jerome Harrison, Lamont Thompson, Keith Millard and Marcus Trufant.

 

Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

 

RELATED: THE INORDINATE IMPORTANCE OF RUTGERS AND WYOMING

 


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