Mountain West Football Report: News and notes from around the league

MOUNTAIN DIVISION

AIR FORCE

The Falcons athletic teams will not be allowed to travel during the government shutdown that began Tuesday. That means the football team won’t be able to play Saturday at Navy — a game that was scheduled for broadcast on CBS.

“The Air Force Academy Falcons will attempt to play all home intercollegiate athletic contests but those may be canceled, as well,” according to a statement on the school’s website. “Academy officials are working with Mountain West Conference officials, those teams the Falcons were scheduled to play and officials at The Department of the Air Force to make up as many games as possible.”

Air Force’s next three games are at home, vs. San Diego State (Oct. 10), Notre Dame (Oct. 26) and Army (Nov. 2). It has two remaining road games other than Navy — at New Mexico (Nov. 8) and Colorado State (Nov. 30).

Notable: Wide receiver Myles Barnes was out this week following a knee injury at Nevada. Coach Troy Calhoun said it hasn’t been determined if the injury is to the ACL, meniscus or both. … Defensive back Chris Miller and wide receiver Ty MacArthur were doubtful with concussions. MacArthur has already missed two games with his injury.

BOISE STATE

Boise State experienced a topsy-turvy first five weeks of the season.

Now the Broncos get a break to try to fix some of the youthful errors that have plagued them and heal a long list of injured players, particularly on offense.

They also think they need to get some quality work done to prepare for what might be their most important game of the season. The Broncos return to action Oct. 12 at Utah State — a game they probably have to win to keep their Mountain West Mountain Division title hopes alive.

“We’ve definitely got to get better,” coach Chris Petersen said. “We’ve got a really good team in Utah State that’s going to be staring at us. If we don’t play our best football of the year, we won’t win.”

The Utah State game is the start of a tough four-week stretch leading into the second bye. The Broncos also play Nevada on Oct. 19 in Boise, at BYU on Oct. 25 and at Colorado State on Nov. 2.
Two of those games are in the division (Utah State, Colorado State), one is against a longtime rival (Nevada) and one is against a budding rival (BYU). Three are on the road.

“October is going to be a big month for us,” senior quarterback Joe Southwick said. “We’ve got some big games coming up for us. … This bye week, we have to practice and get better.”

The Broncos have hit their stride offensively, scoring 40-plus points in each of the past four games, and showed some improvement on defense last week with a 60-7 win against Southern Miss.

Still, Petersen isn’t sure what he has with so many youngsters in the lineup and an injury list that now includes two key receivers, the top two tight ends, the No. 2 tailback and the starting right tackle.

“We’re making progress, I think that,” Petersen said. “If we can get some guys back healthy, we can take another step. … Because we’re so young and inexperienced, I’m still not exactly sure, but I do like them. They work hard, they go hard, they care about what they’re doing.”

Next game: Oct. 12 at Utah State

Notable: DE Demarcus Lawrence blocked two field goals last week against Southern Miss. … The Broncos have scored at least 60 points twice this season — a first for the team since 2004. … WRs Kirby Moore and Aaron Burks, TEs Gabe Linehan and Holden Huff and DT Tyler Horn missed the Southern Miss game with injuries. RB Aaron Baltazar and RT Rees Odhiambo left with injuries.

— Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman

COLORADO STATE

Colorado State’s team sack total ranks middle of the pack nationally, and one player is doing most of the work.

Of Colorado State’s eight sacks this season, linebacker Shaquil Barrett has been credited with 6 1/2 of them, tied for the NCAA FBS lead with Western Kentucky’s Xavius Boyd. Barrett had three in Saturday’s 59-42 victory over UTEP, helping to make him the Mountain West’s defensive player of the week.

He’s the only Ram with more than one sack this season, leading coach Jim McElwain to believe a lot of Barrett’s plays come from other defensive linemen collapsing the pocket. The senior linebacker agreed, but did take half of the credit for his performance this year.

“I think it’s about 50-50. (Nose guard Calvin) Tonga, I didn’t recognize how good he was out there. He was at the line getting double-, triple-teamed and that leaves it open for me to get one on one on the edge,” Barrett said. “Other times, my teammates flush (the quarterback) over to me, I’ll be there to make a play and I have to take advantage of my opportunities.”

The eight team sacks rank 62nd in the country.

Next game: Oct. 12 vs. San Jose State

— Matthew Stephens, Fort Collins Coloradoan

NEW MEXICO

There will be no major overhaul of the UNM defensive scheme, coach Bob Davie said Monday, in the aftermath of the Lobos’ 56-42 loss to UNLV last Saturday.

The defensive scheme that gave up eight touchdowns and 581 yards to the Rebels, he said, is every bit as good as the offensive scheme that produced 568 yards and six TDs.

The problems: UNM’s defense is much younger than its offense, and defense is not offense.

“You can do some things schematically on offense that can take advantage of things,” Davie said. “You can run the ball every down if you’re not that good throwing the ball, or you can put the ball out on the perimeter if all of a sudden you’re not that strong physically inside.

“On defense, your scheme can be as good as it can be, but the ball doesn’t always go where you want it to go or where your strengths or weaknesses (are). And that’s the reality on defense. It takes longer to build it. It takes longer to develop players.”

The only change in the defense going forward, Davie said, will involve even more young players getting even more snaps. That’s already the trend; true freshman inside linebacker Dakota Cox, Davie noted, got his first career start against UNLV and led the team in tackles with eight.

“We’ve got to keep developing guys,” Davie said.

Next game: vs. New Mexico State, 5 p.m. MT Saturday, Root Sports

Notable: The Lobos’ 497 yards rushing against UNLV vaulted them to third nationally with an average of 324.5 yards rushing per game. Running back Kasey Carrier ranks seventh nationally with 139.8 yards per game after going for 192 yards on 25 carries vs. UNLV. … UNM ranks 110th of 123 FBS teams nationally in total defense with an average of 472 yards allowed per game. They can take some solace, perhaps, in the identity of defense No. 123: the Lobos’ next opponent, New Mexico State (572 allowed per game). … Davie, offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse and sophomore outside linebacker Richard Winston all celebrated birthdays on Monday. Davie is 59, DeBesse 54, Winston 20.

— Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal

WYOMING

Many of Wyoming’s struggles last season showed up in its 42-21 loss at Texas State last Saturday night.

The Cowboys allowed 256 rushing yards and five of the Bobcats’ six touchdowns were scored via the run. Wyoming is 113th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing defense (236.2 yards per game). It was among the worst in the nation last season at 232.3 per game.

Wyoming also didn’t tackle well, another issue last season when it finished 4-8.

“You are only as good as your last game,” defensive coordinator Chris Tormey said. “We did some good things (against Texas State). We had six three-and-outs. But we have to get better against the run. It all starts up front. We have to have great knock-back, control the line of scrimmage and have great leverage in the secondary.”

Tormey added that the defense gave up too many big plays. Texas State scored touchdowns on plays of 26 (pass), 22 (run) and 19 yards (run). It also had a 38-yard run and pass plays of 49, 33 and 25 yards. Tormey said that was as many big plays as the defense had allowed in its previous four games.

Offensively, the line struggled in most aspects. The Cowboys had a season-low 64 yards rushing. Junior quarterback Brett Smith was sacked three times and hurried three times.

“It was probably our worst performance (this season),” coach Dave Christensen said. “As a coaching staff we have to do a better job of putting them in better positions to be successful.”

The game was delayed 3 hours, 28 minutes due to lightning. It was the third time in five games Wyoming has had a weather delay, but the others were only about an hour.

The Cowboys are off this week before they play their first home game in four weeks when they host New Mexico for homecoming.

Christensen said the starters will get some work early in the week, but also will get some rest. He hopes to get more of the backups reps and see who can help as the midway point of the season approaches.

Next game: Oct. 12 vs. New Mexico

Notable: Smith is ranked in the top 10 nationally in six statistical categories. He is second in total offense (377.8 ypg, behind only Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion at 390.2), third in passing yards (1,607), tied for third in touchdown passes (14), fifth in points responsible for (90), sixth in completions (28.2 per game) and ninth in passing yards per game (321.4). … Junior receiver Dominic Rufran, who leads the team with 36 catches and six touchdowns and is second with 415 receiving yards, left the Texas State game in the first half with a left shoulder injury and was in a sling after the game. However, Christensen said he will play against New Mexico and was not in a sling Monday.

— Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle

UTAH STATE

Matt Wells had trouble hiding his feelings on Monday as he let the bad news slip.

Utah State’s head coach choked up as he talked about a season-ending injury to senior guard Kyle Whimpey, one of the team’s more affable and experienced players.

“Senior year and for it to happen going into this week, it stings for him,” Wells said. “It’s real life and it’s real emotions for us. We’re not going to hide it. It’s part of the game.”

Whimpey, who tore his patellar tendon, was one of the five returning starters on Utah State’s offensive line this season, one of the team’s most cohesive groups. Kevin Whimpey, Kyle’s twin brother, starts at left tackle, and together, the unit had 135 starts after playing last Friday.

The injury would be troubling in any circumstance, but this week is particularly tough with BYU headed into Logan. The deep-rooted rivalry will be that much tougher without a senior lineman available and All-American linebacker Kyle Van Noy prepared to pounce across the line of scrimmage.

The Aggies are set on putting on a better showing than last year’s 6-3 loss in Provo, their last game without a touchdown. It will be no small feat with a defense that is again one of the nation’s tougher units and features Van Noy, who some have pinned as a high NFL Draft pick next year.

“He’s a really good pass-rusher against running backs and O-linemen, it doesn’t matter,” Wells said. “He causes major match-up problems. I’ll be happy to shake his hand Friday night and be done facing him.”

Whimpey exited midway through the game against San Jose State, replaced by Sini Tauauve’a. Backup Bill Vavau is also likely to see a share of snaps.

Senior tackle Eric Schultz expressed confidence in Utah State’s depth.

“Right after it happened, if you came to our O-line huddle, we were quiet — it almost felt like we lost the game,” Schultz said. “But we all knew that means we need to step our game up. With Sini coming in, we’ve practiced with Sini, he knows what he’s doing, he’s a good player. We didn’t really lose a beat.”

Next game: vs. BYU, 6 p.m. Friday (CBS Sports Network)

Notable: Defensive end Connor Williams and running back Joe Hill are two of Utah State’s more notable injured players this week, and Wells called both day-to-day. Williams has missed four games, while Hill has left early in each of the last two. … BYU has one of the nation’s fastest-paced offenses, running an average of 92.5 plays per game for the second-highest tempo in the country. Junior defensive end B.J. Larsen compared the tempo to facing Louisiana Tech last season in the WAC and said he believes Utah State will be able to keep up. Utah State is the 11th-fastest offense with 83.2 plays per game.

— Kyle Goon, The Salt Lake Tribune

WEST DIVISION

FRESNO STATE

Fresno State appeared to get its run game going a bit in its victory at Hawaii, with Marteze Waller gaining 95 yards on 22 plays and Josh Quezada adding 78 on just 13 carries.

But given an opportunity to finish Hawaii with 3 minutes to go, having forced the Rainbow Warriors to punt on what should have been their last possession, the Bulldogs couldn’t gain control. They took over at their 41-yard line and gained 8 yards on first down, a run by Waller. But on second-and-2, a run was stuffed for no gain. And on third-and-2, quarterback Derek Carr was hit for a loss of one yard when another run broke down amid some assignment mishaps.

Rather than pound out the final 3:01 that was on the clock, the Bulldogs had to sweat it out – they punted the ball back to Hawaii, having taken only 1:04 off the clock, and the Rainbow Warriors got all the way to the Fresno State 40 before L.J. Jones picked off a last-gasp throw toward the end zone.

That failure didn’t negate the Bulldogs’ progress, but it took something away from it.

“At that point, you’d like to be able to finish the game off by running the football,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “And I think we had a nice run on first down, second down we had a minimal gain, but we had third-and-short and we didn’t execute the play. There were some busted assignments on the play that, if we execute the assignment, we should have had a first down easy.

“It’s inexcusable. We didn’t coach it well, the player didn’t execute it well and we have to get that fixed because we had a good enough push, we had the right play called, but we didn’t block the right guy.’’

Next game: at Idaho, 3 p.m. MT Saturday (local TV only)

Notable: The Bulldogs’ Carr had a streak of 180 consecutive passes without an interception snapped in the third quarter at Hawaii, when he had a pass tipped at the line and carom to inside linebacker Art Laurel. Carr was three passes shy of tying the conference record of 183 set by Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, a streak that ended in a loss at Nebraska in week one. … There was some discussion whether the Bulldogs should carry an extra defensive back or two to road games, given the possibility of an ejection for a targeting penalty. But Fresno State had slot receiver Isaiah Burse ejected on its second series at Hawaii for a hit near the sidelines. It was an odd call, and DeRuyter said he would seek clarification. “We’re obviously going to send it in to the conference’s supervisor of officials, Ken Rivera, and ask for his interpretation because this is the type of play I feared in the summer that would get someone thrown out in what appeared to us on the sideline to be an innocuous play,’’ he said. “In fact, I think Isaiah got the worst of it. To throw somebody out for something like that, I think they interpreted the rule the way it’s written in the books, but I don’t think this is the intent of the rule.”

— Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee

HAWAII

After nearly engineering the greatest comeback in NCAA history, quarterback Sean Schroeder still does not know if he will start in Saturday’s game against San Jose State.

Third-year freshman Ikaika Woolsey started in place of quarterback Taylor Graham, who was recovering from an injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder, in this past Saturday’s game against Fresno State.

Woolsey departed with the Rainbow Warriors trailing 42-3 with 6 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Schroeder then threw three scoring passes and directed two other touchdown drives in a 34-0 surge over the next 13:24. Schroeder was 10 of 14 for 256 yards during that span. But the Rainbow Warriors failed to score on their final two drives, with Schroeder’s desperation heave intercepted as time expired in a 42-37 loss.

Coach Norm Chow said he will decide on a starting quarterback later this week. Graham is expected to resume practicing on Wednesday. If Graham is healthy, he will retain his starting job, Chow said. If Graham is unavailable, Chow will decide whether Schroeder is better suited as a starter or reliever. Chow described Schroeder as UH’s “Mariano Rivera.”

Schroeder started 11 games in 2012 after transferring from Duke. But he was hit more than 120 times that season, and underwent back surgery this past April 1. He did not participate in spring training. By the time Schroeder was deemed healthy at the start of training camp, Graham was the No. 1 quarterback. Woolsey is a third-year freshman who grayshirted in 2011 and redshirted last year.

Next game: vs. San Jose State, 10 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)

Notable: UH long snapper Brodie Nakama is the son of San Jose State head baseball coach Dave Nakama. The elder Nakama will travel on the Spartans’ charter flight to Honolulu on Thursday. Per an agreement with the Mountain West Conference, UH will pay for the Spartans’ charter flight. Brodie Nakama’s older brother, Kirk Nakama, is Western Michigan’s long snapper. … Tight end Jordan Pu’u-Robinson will miss at least two games after suffering a partially torn MCL in his left knee.

— Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

NEVADA

The Nevada football team might be something this week that it hasn’t been all season: healthy.

First-year coach Brian Polian said Monday at his weekly Quarterbacks Club Luncheon that he expects offensive linemen Connor Talbott (ankle) and Zach Brickell (pneumonia) to be able to play when the Wolf Pack plays at San Diego State. Cornerback Tere Calloway (knee) is getting close to coming back and might just need the bye week following Friday’s San Diego State game to get healthy enough to return.

“The injury report is getting better,” Polian said. “… I don’t think we’re going to be missing anybody this week, which would be the first time all season.”

That does not include second-team quarterback Devin Combs, who is out for the season with a knee injury, or reserve tight end Stephen Jeffers (foot), who is still being held out of practice.
The Wolf Pack also dodged a bullet with middle linebacker Jordan Dobrich, whom Polian thought was seriously injured when a teammate fell into his knee during pregame warm-ups Saturday against Air Force. Dobrich played only a few series before giving way to Jonathon McNeal, who moved over from his outside linebacker spot to quarterback the defense. Dobrich was healthy enough, though, to play on punt coverage teams.

Polian sounded most happy about getting Talbott, a sophomore guard, back. Talbott started in the New Mexico Bowl last season but has been limited twice by an ankle sprain, which has forced the Wolf Pack to go with the inexperienced Fred Lavulo (who began the season as a defensive lineman) and redshirt freshman Jeremy Macauley at the guards.

“We need to get Connor Talbott back,” Polian said.

Polian took a moment at the end of his question-and-answer session Monday to praise his players and fans. The Wolf Pack players remained on the field as Air Force players joined their band to sing the alma mater. Nevada players also engaged with seriously ill children before the game as part of Special Spectators, a national program that gives access to sporting events to seriously ill children.

“It was a pretty emotional win, and they acted like tremendous sportsmen,” Polian said of his players. “They stood at attention while Air Force played its alma mater.”

The luncheon crowd of about 75 applauded the effort.

“They were outstanding,” Polian added. “I can’t tell you what our record is going to be, but I can tell you I really enjoy coaching this team. There’s a lot of great young men.”

Next game: at San Diego State, 7 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN)

Notable: Friday’s game will be a reunion of four offensive linemen who played together at Reed High in nearby Sparks, Nev. Garrett Corbett is a second-team tackle for San Diego State. Kyle Roberts (tackle) and Jeremy Macauley (guard) are starters for Nevada. Austin Corbett is redshirting for the Wolf Pack. … Polian said after Nevada’s 45-42 victory over Air Force on Saturday that he wasn’t happy with the rushing performance and said, “We have to get that figured out.” After reviewing game tape he changed his tune. Nevada rushed for 210 yards and 4.8 yards per carry. … Starting left tackle Joel Bitonio played in all 100 offensive plays against Air Force.

— Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal

SAN DIEGO STATE

The Aztecs will be without their best defensive player when they open Mountain West play against Nevada on Friday night.

Middle linebacker Jake Fely, a preseason All-Mountain West first-team selection, broke a bone in his right foot in the Aztecs’ 26-16 win over New Mexico State last Saturday.

Fely will need surgery to have pins inserted and he will be out for at least eight weeks, so it’s unlikely that he will play again this season.

It’s a significant loss for the Aztecs.

“He’s an emotional leader on the team,” defensive end Cody Galea said. “It’s a huge blow.”
Fely led the Aztecs with 11.5 tackles for loss in 2012 and is fourth on the team in tackles (17) this season.

As the middle linebacker, he makes the calls for the defense and is known for his sideline-to-sideline speed and high-motor play.

Without him, the Aztecs will now slide junior Josh Gavert into the middle linebacker spot. Gavert was a backup outside linebacker in 2012, but he moved inside this past spring to be Fely’s primary backup.

He finished out the New Mexico State game after Fely was injured right before halftime and finished tied with Nat Berhe for the lead in tackles (7). Gavert also added one sack and one tackle for loss.

Still, it’s turning out to be a rough year for the Aztecs’ linebackers. SDSU lost backup LB and special teams star Scott Graves to a torn bicep tendon in fall camp, then had to do without starting OLB Derek Largent for two games after Largent sprained his knee in the season opener.

With Fely out for the year, the depth takes another hit, and true freshman Calvin Munson is now the primary backup at middle linebacker.

Next game: vs. Nevada, 7 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN)

Notable: RB Chase Price missed the NMSU game with a separated shoulder but could be back in time for this week’s game… The Nevada game marks the first time since 1998 that ESPN will be in San Diego for an Aztecs regular-season game. … SDSU’s win over NMSU marked the first game since the win over Nevada in October 2012 in which the Aztecs quarterbacks did not throw an interception.

— Stefanie Loh, U-T San Diego

SAN JOSE STATE

San Jose State is struggling because of poor execution, something coach Ron Caragher says is on him to fix.

“I say lack of execution, but I’m 100 percent responsible for execution,” Caragher said.
The first-year coach likes what the team is doing from a scheme and play-calling aspect, now it’s just up to the coaching staff and players to get it done on the field.

“I like what we’re doing schematically,” Caragher said. “I like what we’re doing across the board. We just need to be able to execute.”

The red zone seems to be the biggest problem area for the Spartans. They’ve scored just three touchdowns on their 12 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, tied for worst in the nation.

“To be successful, we need to have higher percentages than that,” Caragher said. “You need to punch it in and come away with touchdowns. I think we’ve had some moments where it’s there and for whatever reason it’s not executed. That’s definitely an area we need to improve.”

Red zone issues in last week’s 40-12 loss to Utah State included a dropped wide-open pass at the goal line and a bad snap over the head of quarterback David Fales that resulted in a turnover.

Next game: vs. Hawaii, 10 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: Wide receiver Jabari Carr is doubtful to play this week after suffering a separated left shoulder against Utah State. With Noel Grigsby (knee) also out, the Spartans will be without two receivers who have combined for 355 career catches, 4,386 yards and 25 touchdowns. … Cornerback Bené Benwikere (concussion) is questionable after being carted off the field against Utah State. As of Monday, he was symptom-free but still has several tests to pass to be cleared.

— Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News

UNLV

UNLV is rolling, which probably isn’t the best time for a bye week.

But that’s what the Rebels have after winning three in a row for the first time since 2003.

Coach Bobby Hauck said the team will use the time off to concentrate more on fundamentals, get healthier and work on academics.

“You can’t worry about that (the timing) so much just because you don’t have control over it,” Hauck said. “The schedule comes out, and it is what it is. You make the most of it, and that’s what we’ll do.”

UNLV (3-2, 1-0 Mountain West) is coming off several milestones in its 56-42 victory at New Mexico on Saturday.

The Rebels ended their 23-game road losing streak, the second-longest in school history. UNLV lost 26 consecutive games from 1994 to 1998.

Its 56-point output against New Mexico was the school’s highest total since beating New Mexico State 58-42 on Nov. 15, 1986.

UNLV also is over .500 for the first time since beginning the 2009 season 2-1.

The victory at New Mexico was emotional and important, with players dousing Hauck with water with about 35 seconds left. They also gave him the game ball.

So in some ways it might be good to have a week off and come down a little emotionally before hosting Hawaii on Oct. 12.

“I think to a degree, and the other part of it is Hawaii’s doing some things that are difficult,” Hauck said. “We’ve got an extra week to get ready for that, which should help.”

Next game: Oct. 12 vs. Hawaii

Notable: Wide receiver Devante Davis was named Mountain West offensive player of the week, and punter Logan Yunker received the special teams honor. It is the first time UNLV has had two conference players of the week since defensive lineman James Dunlap and kick returner Deante’ Purvis earned league honors on Oct. 31, 2011. Davis caught 10 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner. Yunker averaged 51.7 yards per punt.

— Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal

Chadd Cripe has spent the past 12 years as the Boise State football beat writer. You can follow him on Twitter @IDS_BroncoBeat.

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