Wyoming-Ohio Preview

In the wake of their first loss of the 2007 season, the Cowboys will be on the road again Saturday—this time traveling to Athens, Ohio where they'll take on Ohio for the first time in the two schools' histories. After a similar 2-0 start, the Bobcats' young winning streak came to an abrupt end against the Hokies last week. Both squads will put their 2-1 records on the line this weekend.

Boise State and Virginia Tech turned down the music on the early-season victory dances of Ohio and Wyoming last Saturday. All four schools were left staring at 2-1 records with one game to go before conference play sweeps across much of the nation. The Bobcats and the Cowboys will look to get back on track this weekend when they face off in Athens Saturday afternoon.

"We felt real confident going there," Wyoming coach Joe Glenn told the Casper Star Tribune this week about the Boise State loss. "We were really disappointed, but it is what it is.

"We're 2-1, and win, lose or draw we'd have had to move on, and we've done that. We have a chance to go into league play 3-1, and we're going to fight real, real hard for that."

A win on Saturday would polish off a fast start to the season with another solid non-conference victory and return some much-needed momentum to the Cowboys before preparing for conference favorite TCU at home Oct. 6.

It would do much the same for the Bobcats, who will face Kent State (another currently 2-1 squad) in their conference home-opener Sept. 29.

This is a big game for us," quarterback Brad Bower told the Associated Press. "We need this one to get back on track and to be able to hit the ground running when we head into conference play."

Identical Records, Different Competition…

While both teams boast 2-1 records, Wyoming has had arguably the more difficult schedule early on. After nearly shutting out ACC foe Virginia in Week One, the Cowboys beat Utah State (WAC) by two touchdowns before losing to BSU 24-14.

Ohio opened its season against Atlantic Sun Conference member Garner-Webb, which finished with a 6-5 record in 2006 (including a 41-6 loss to this year's Cinderella squad, Appalachian State). Ohio got the victory, beating the Runnin' Bulldogs 36-14 in front of a friendly home crowd.

After Garner-Webb, the Bobcats went on to play two consecutive road games. The first was at another Sun Belt Conference team, Louisiana-Lafayette. Ohio found itself down 20-10 at halftime and needed three second-half touchdowns from senior running back Kalvin McRae to pull out the come-from-behind, 31-23 win. It was far from an impressive showing by the Bobcats; Louisiana-Lafayette has lost all three of its contests so far this season. In fact, the seven-point loss to Ohio was the closest the Ragin' Cajuns have come to a victory since a 28-13 win over Arkansas State late last season.

Week Three saw the Bobcats travel to Virginia Tech to take on the 18th-ranked Hokies, who handed Ohio its first loss of the year. The score was close until the fourth quarter, but Virginia Tech looked in control from start to finish. The Hokies gave up just 114 yards of total offense against Ohio, and the Bobcats were able to cross the 50-yard line only one time all afternoon. And while few could have expected Ohio to pull out a victory against the ACC powerhouse, Virginia Tech has looked far less impressive in the first three games of ‘07 than it did last year (a season that saw the Hokies post a 10-3 record, finish in the top 25 and earn a trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl). Virginia Tech struggled to put away conference USA lay-up East Carolina at home in its season opener and then got walloped on the road against No. 2 LSU 48-7 in Week Two.

Still, the Bobcats, like Wyoming, are 2-1, and both teams have a chance to make a statement Saturday.

Another Boise State? Close, but not quite…

The Bobcats have a very similar offensive situation to the one the Cowboys faced last week against Boise State. Fairly depleted on offense from a season ago, Ohio returns five offensive starters in 2007, and the most notable by far is the team's star running back. Kalvin McRae has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and almost single-handedly kept Ohio fourth in the MAC in rushing statistics.

Both Boise State and Ohio rely heavily on their running games and could be called relatively one-dimensional. Both squads were hit hard at the wide receiver and tight end spots at the end of last season. Ohio returns just one starting wideout from last year and no tight ends on a team that finished last in the MAC in passing in '06 with 129 yards per game.

Like BSU, the Bobcats were forced to find a replacement at the QB spot in '07, and so far three different players have seen time at the position. Most of the snaps have gone to senior Brad Bower who has completed 41 of 69 passes for 514 yards with two TDs and one interception. Last week, Bower was held to just 70 yards on 9-of-16 passing. In 2006, Bower played in 11 games but had only one start.

While Ohio may appear similar to Boise State offensively on paper, Wyoming will likely see a few glaring differences on the field, starting with the Bobcats' running game. Mcrae is by no means Ian Johnson, and Ohio's offensive line does not have the personnel of Boise State's.

Another big difference from last week will probably be felt when Wyoming takes the field on offense. As the Cowboys saw first-hand for three quarters last Saturday, Boise State has the ability to stifle the most potent offensive attacks. And while Ohio's defense is respectable—last year, the Bobcats finished 29th in the nation in total defense with 302.86 yards allowed per game—it won't pack the punch that BSU's did (which finished 14th with 284 yards allowed per game in '06).

Players to Watch

Offensively, McRae leads the way. Last year, he was voted the most valuable player in the MAC, finishing the season with 1,252 yards and 15 touchdowns. He currently ranks third in the nation in career rushing yards among active running backs with 2,964. There is nothing fancy about his game; he doesn't have blinding speed, and there will be stronger players on the field. But you can bet he will work for every inch Wyoming gives him.

On defense, Ohio returns six starters from 2006, led by junior defensive end Jameson Hartke. Hartke was a monster in the backfield last season, racking up 7.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. He is big, quick and a playmaking machine.

Complementing Hartke on the line will be experienced senior defensive tackle Landen Cohen who has played in 25 straight games. Last year, he posted 14 tackles for a loss.

Junior star cornerback Mark Parson dominates a respectable Ohio secondary. A playmaker with a knack for getting his hands on the football, Parson broke up an impressive sixteen passes in ‘06 to go along with 44 tackles and one interception. He is extremely quick and should be around the ball all afternoon.

Keys to Victory

1. Shut down the run. The Cowboys had a defensive strategy against Boise that should have worked well. The only problem was that it didn't. As much as the Pokes stuffed the box against the Broncos, they still could not find a way to put the clamps on Johnson. He did not have his best game of the season with 83 yards rushing, but he still averaged nearly 3.5 yards per carry and fellow running back D.J. Harper picked up the slack with a touchdown and 37 yards of his own. It was just enough production on the ground to give Wyoming's defense a balanced attack and make it difficult on the secondary all night. The Pokes should get another shot at the strategy tomorrow. If Wyoming can limit Mcrae's production, it will force a Bobcat passing offense that finished last in the MAC in 2006 to win through the air.

2. Thunder and Lightning need a big day. After a dismal outing last weekend, if Wynel Seldon and Devin Moore can get back on track tomorrow, it should be a long day for the Bobcats' defense. When Wyoming's running game is clicking, it takes pressure off quarterback Karsten Sween who struggled until the fourth quarter against Boise State last week.

3. Shake off those road-game nerves. Last week, Wyoming looked rattled and a little nervous. Playing on the "Smurf Turf" on homecoming will do that to a team. But the Cowboys can't afford to let it happen again tomorrow. If the estimated 16,000 Bobcat faithful start to make a few Wyoming knees shake, it could be a long trip back to Laramie.

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