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

MOUNTAIN DIVISION

AIR FORCE

For the second week in a row, Air Force has been practicing for an opponent unaware if the game will even take place.

Coach Troy Calhoun said the uncertainty caused by the government shutdown has not impacted his team’s preparation, just as he said it did not play a factor in last week’s 28-10 loss at Navy.
Making matters more complicated this week is the short preparation for the tentatively scheduled Thursday night game against San Diego State.

Air Force should know by Tuesday afternoon if the funding plan to play the game has been accepted by the Secretary of Defense. The hope for the academy is that all of its teams will be able to resume their seasons.

Calhoun said the cadets need the leadership opportunities provided by sports.

“That’s why we have these activities, and that’s why it shouldn’t be only for a small fraction,” he said.

Next game: vs. San Diego State, 7 p.m. MT Thursday (CBS Sports Network)

Notable: Quarterback Kale Pearson underwent successful knee surgery last week and now faces a seven-to-eight-month recovery that will keep him out of spring practice. … Freshman nose guard David Harris suffered a knee injury and is out this week.

— Brent Briggeman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs)

BOISE STATE

Boise State’s Mountain West championship hopes could be on the line Saturday at Utah State.
The Broncos are 1-1 in league play and would fall two games behind the Aggies (2-0) with a loss. The Aggies also would hold the tiebreaker.

For Boise State to get back into the race, Utah State would have to lose at least two of its five remaining conference games — vs. New Mexico, Hawaii, UNLV, Colorado State and Wyoming.

If the Broncos win, they would control their own destiny in the division race despite a September loss at Fresno State.

“Both teams will come out playing their hearts out,” Boise State senior quarterback Joe Southwick said. “We both know it’s an important game. I’m expecting both sides to scratch and claw.”

Added sophomore safety Dillon Lukehart: “We’re preparing for this game like it’s the Mountain West championship itself — just like every game for the rest of the season. We still have a chance, we see it all in front of us.”

Next game: at Utah State, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)

Notable: No. 2 tailback Aaron Baltazar (knee), a true freshman, and backup safety/key special-teamer Ebo Makinde (pectoral muscle), a senior, will miss the rest of the season. … The Broncos are 3-0 at home and 0-2 on the road. … They are 9-0 after byes under Petersen. … Boise State has finished in the top 10 in sacks allowed each of the past three seasons but has allowed nine this season. Utah State has recorded nine sacks.

— Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman

COLORADO STATE

A Colorado State football team that had last weekend off to recuperate, regroup and refresh after its five nonconference games gets a fresh start Saturday, when the Rams (2-3, 0-0 Mountain West) host San Jose State (2-3, 1-1) in the first of eight straight conference games to close out the regular season.

“It’s kind of like a new season,” second-year coach Jim McElwain said Monday at his weekly news conference.

It really is a do-over of sorts for a CSU team that blew fourth-quarter leads in losses to Colorado and Tulsa and played well in a loss at top-ranked Alabama that was sandwiched around a pair of confidence-building wins at home over Cal Poly and UTEP. CSU is the only team in the MW that has yet to play a conference game and one of just three in the six-team Mountain Division without a loss already in league play. Utah State (3-3, 2-0), which lost star quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a season-ending knee injury Friday night in a loss at BYU, is the division leader, a half-game ahead of Wyoming (3-2, 1-0). Air Force (1-5, 0-4) already is out of the race.

A favorable schedule not only gave the Rams a nice break between the end of the nonconference season and the start of MW play, it also spared them games against the top three teams right now in the West Division — Fresno State (5-0, 2-0), UNLV (3-2, 1-0) and San Diego State (2-3, 1-0). The Mountain Division champion will face the West Division champion Dec. 7 in the conference’s first championship game, and five games into the season, CSU still has a chance to be in that game.

“It’s a totally fresh start,” junior tight end Kivon Cartwright said. “Our first nonconference games, those were good warm-ups and tune-ups. But conference; that’s where it all counts.
“… We’re very excited. We look at our schedule coming up, we know it’s a tough one. But we’re excited to just attack it head-on and win the conference.”

CSU won or shared three of the first four MW titles from 1999 to 2002 but hasn’t been close since, going 25-52 in league play over the past 10 seasons.

Next game: vs. San Jose State, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network).

Notable: CB Bernard Blake, taken off the field on a backboard with a neck injury in a Sept. 28 game against UTEP, was practicing again Monday without restrictions and is expected to play this week. … WR Charles Lovett, the Rams’ leading receiver a year ago, also is due back after missing the first five games with a knee injury suffered during an Aug. 20 scrimmage. … ESPN has dropped the Nov. 9 Nevada-CSU game from its lineup and replaced it with the Fresno State-Wyoming game that day.

— Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan

NEW MEXICO

The Lobos will take their No. 1 national ranking in rushing offense and, yes, run with it.

“I think it’s a huge accomplishment,” UNM coach Bob Davie said after Monday’s practice. “To be No. 1 in the nation in rushing offense (367.8 yards per game) is, I think, a good start.

“We’ve talked about building an identity in this program. … It all does start with the running game. Once we’ve established that trademark, it’s pretty impressive.”

The Lobos (2-3, 0-1 in Mountain West play) rushed for 395 yards in a 42-35 overtime victory at UTEP; 497 in a 56-42 loss to UNLV; 541 in last Saturday’s 66-17 rout of New Mexico State. The Miners, Rebels and Aggies rank 118th, 122nd and 123rd in rush defense among the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision’s 123 teams.

Saturday, the Lobos will attack a Wyoming rush defense that ranks 114th. Last year, in a 28-23 loss to the Cowboys in Albuquerque, UNM rushed for 396 yards.

Next game: at Wyoming, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports)

Notable: Backup quarterback Clayton Mitchem has exhibited concussion symptoms this week after taking two hard shots in the victory over New Mexico State. Davie said that, as of Monday, Mitchem was doubtful for Wyoming. If Mitchem can’t play on Saturday, junior walk-on David Vega becomes the backup. True freshman Lamar Jordan would be the No. 3, though Davie would prefer to redshirt him. Mitchem actually has started four of UNM’s five games, but sophomore Cole Gautsche, when healthy, has taken far more snaps and clearly is the No. 1 quarterback.

— Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal

UTAH STATE

A week removed from boasting one of the top quarterbacks in the country, Utah State has embraced a midseason quarterback competition.

Chuckie Keeton, who entered the BYU game as the No. 18-ranked player in total offense, is done for the year after tearing his ACL and MCL against the Cougars. One of two players will assume starting duties this weekend: junior college vet Craig Harrison or talented true freshman Darell Garretson.

Only the Aggies will know who will lead Utah State’s offense before facing Boise State on Saturday, a season-defining game for the lead in the Mountain Division.

“You’ll know on game day. That’ll be about the last time I answer that,” coach Matt Wells said. “Those two guys are going to work together and we’ll see who settles in the best.”

Wells said he would spilt repetitions in Monday’s practice 50-50 before settling on a starter and designing a game plan around him.

The decision to open up the job comes on the heels of Harrison’s lackluster performance against BYU: 18-for-41, 185 yards, one touchdown and two fumbles. Both Harrison and Wells acknowledged, however, that it was difficult to pick up emotionally after Keeton’s injury in the first quarter.

Still, Garretson may offer more overall upside as the top prospect at the position once Keeton’s days at Utah State are over. He was the top quarterback prospect in Arizona as a senior, throwing for 3,065 yards and 27 touchdowns for Chandler High.

Yet Garretson is 19 and still learning the offense in his first year. Wells acknowledged he had not had many reps since training camp ended. The 24-year-old Harrison’s experience might lend him an upper hand against the Broncos, the toughest team remaining on Utah State’s schedule.
It doesn’t just come down to the quarterback, either, Wells said. The cast around whoever starts under center will have to be better as well.

“Other guys are going to have to fill in and they will have to fill in the different roles,” he said. “A quarterback has to fill in from a production standpoint. There’s got to be other guys who fill in as leaders.”

Next game: vs. Boise State, 6 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network)

Notable: Wells announced another season-ending injury Monday: running back Joe Hill is out for the year after tearing an ACL. He had surgery on Friday, leaving senior Joey DeMartino as the lead back. … Defensive end Connor Williams returned to the lineup against BYU, playing 27 snaps. Williams said his injured tendon “popped” leading into the game, but he taped up and played through discomfort. Doctors have since told him the popping isn’t unusual and could be a good sign. … Safety Brian Suite exited Friday’s game early and Wells called his unspecified injury “day-to-day.”

— Kyle Goon, The Salt Lake Tribune

WYOMING

The Cowboys (3-2 overall, 1-0 MW) gave up 256 rushing yards and five touchdowns in their last game — a 42-21 loss at Texas State on Sept. 28. They had a week off to address their run defense, which ranks 114th out of 123 FBS teams, but now must prepare for the nation’s best rushing team in New Mexico (2-3, 0-1), which visits Saturday for homecoming.

The Lobos average 367.8 rushing yards per game, and 21 of their 24 touchdowns have come on the ground.

“It nerves me up a little bit,” coach Dave Christensen said. “They have a lot of variety and show a lot of different formations. More importantly, they execute it at a very high level.

“We have to be very disciplined in what we do defensively. We are going to have to have a great game on defense to have a chance.”

New Mexico is coming off a 66-17 home win over New Mexico State last week in which it ran for 541 yards. Senior running back Kasey Carrier ranks ninth in the nation with 137 rushing yards per game and has eight touchdowns.

Wyoming allowed more than 300 rushing yards at Nebraska (37-34 loss) and Air Force (56-23 win). It is on pace to allow more than 230 rushing yards per game for the third consecutive season.

“We are tired of hearing (we can’t stop the run) but the numbers don’t lie,” junior safety Darrenn White said. “We want to improve our numbers and stop hearing the critics.”

The Cowboys also want to get their offense going. They were held to a season-low 356 yards at Texas State, and the 21 points tied for the season low generated by the offense. Junior quarterback Brett Smith was sacked three times — and hit several other times — and Wyoming ran for a season-low 64 yards.

Christensen said the offensive line struggled against Texas State, but Smith said it was more than that.

“It was a complete collapse of everybody on the offensive side of the ball, myself included,” he said.

New Mexico allows 35.6 points, 230 rushing yards and 237.8 passing yards per game.

Next game: vs. New Mexico, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (Root Sports)

Notable: Wyoming hopes to get redshirt freshman defensive end Sam Awrabi about 10 plays Saturday. Awrabi has been out with a broken foot and has yet to play a snap for the Cowboys. Awrabi will back up sophomore Eddie Yarbrough. … Sophomore running back Shaun Wick, the team rushing leader, got only four carries at Texas State because of two fumbles the week before at Air Force. Wick is listed as the starter this week, and Christensen said he and senior Brandon Miller will get equal time and get the bulk of the carries this week. … Wyoming will recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month on Saturday with pink Steamboat logos on their helmets and with pink towels, wristbands and socks.

— Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle

WEST DIVISION

FRESNO STATE

Fresno State wideout Davante Adams had a streak of 11 consecutive games with a touchdown reception snapped in the Bulldogs’ victory at Hawaii, but came back with 16 catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns in a 61-14 victory at Idaho.

Adams had seven receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter and 13 for 176 yards and three touchdowns by halftime.

One reason: the Vandals, for whatever reason, played man against Adams through most of the game.
Quarterback Derek Carr and Adams took advantage.

“I don’t have to say a word to Derek,” Adams said. “He knows before I do most of the time coming out of the sideline. That dude knows so much. He’s so smart in football that he can tell me beforehand when I’m still trying to recognize the coverage and getting lined up, he’s telling me, giving me an audible to a different route to run because of the coverage we’re seeing. I’m still looking at it thinking ‘Why’s he doing this?’ Then I see (the defense) rotates as the play is happening. I don’t have to say a word to him. I just trust him. I leave it in his hands and I just run the route he tells me to do.”

The 16 receptions tied a school record set in 1984 by Larry Willis against Montana State and matched in 1987 by Ron Jenkins at Pacific. The three touchdown receptions were a career high.

“When that happens you just got to take advantage and let them know you can’t do that type of stuff against the receivers we have here,” Adams said. “It felt good to see some single coverage, because it gets frustrating sometimes when they have guys over the top and below you inside, all over the place. At the time, you got to take it as a compliment as well.”

Next game: Oct. 19 vs. UNLV

Notable: Adams is closing in on the all-time record for touchdown receptions at Fresno State, the three he had at Idaho bringing his career total to 21 in just 18 games. The record of 25 was set by Henry Ellard (1979-’82), then matched by Charlie Jones (1992-’95) and Bernard Berrian (1999-’03), all of whom have a number of games played on Adams. … With a bye week before facing UNLV on Oct. 19 in its homecoming game, Fresno State will practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The emphasis at least early in the week will be on fundamentals and getting some reps for the players redshirting and in the developmental program. “We improved last week, which was our goal,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We need to improve this week, especially our depth, and then we need to start honing in on UNLV at the end of the week and go into next week gaining a couple days.”

— Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee

HAWAII

Hawaii’s quarterback drama extends to a third week as the Rainbow Warriors prepare for Saturday’s road game against UNLV.

Taylor Graham, who started the first three games, did not play in the past two because of an injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Although he was cleared to practice last week, he did not participate in contact drills. He was used as a spotter (in the coaches’ booth) during this past week’s loss to San Jose State.

Quarterbacks Sean Schroeder and Ikaika Woolsey were both in the starting lineup. Woolsey was the quarterback and Schroeder aligned as a wideout. After Woolsey ran the ball on a draw, he exited and Schroeder moved to quarterback. Schroeder was 28-of-50 for 342 yards and three touchdowns. But he was picked off three times and sacked twice.

Whether Graham is available or Schroeder starts, Woolsey has been told he will have a significant role against UNLV. Of the four quarterbacks on the active roster, Woolsey is the best runner (4.15-yard average on non-sack scrambles) and has the strongest arm (capable of throwing 75 yards).

Eleven players caught passes against SJSU. Freshman receiver Keith Kirkwood’s availability is iffy because of concussion-like symptoms.

The Warriors are expected to make some changes on defense. They were in nickel and dime schemes the past two games against no-huddle opponents. They would like to use more of their base (4-3) schemes this week.

Next game: at UNLV, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)

Notable: The Warriors have used two running backs recently because of injuries to Joey Iosefa (foot), Marcus Langkilde (shoulder) and Faga Wily (concussion). They’ve been creative with receivers Chris Gant and Bubba Poueu-Luna used on reverses and fly sweeps. There is some consideration to moving Poueu-Luna or slotback Samson Anguay to running back. Anguay, who caught his first collegiate pass last week, missed the past two seasons because of ACL surgeries to both knees.

— Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

NEVADA

Coach Brian Polian and his staff will be out and about looking for new Wolf Pack football players this week as Nevada has a bye ahead of the Oct. 19 game at Boise State.

Polian, whose team is 3-3, 2-1 in the Mountain West’s West Division, said the 2014 recruiting class will be about 22 to 24 players, which would replace the departing seniors as well as players who have washed out. Between January, when he took the job, and the start of fall camp, about eight players have left the program either voluntarily or through disciplinary measures.

Another, offensive lineman Darren Denucci, is injured and could not join the team this season.
Because of that, Polian said there are only 78 or 79 scholarship players this season, well below the maximum allowable (85).

“It’s going to be a big class,” he said at his weekly Quarterback Club Luncheon on Monday. “We’ve got our work cut out for us recruiting wise.”

Polian said the No. 1 recruiting priority for next season is offensive line, where six players who were either with the Wolf Pack in 2012 or set to join the team in 2013 never made it to fall camp. He said he generally wants to avoid junior college transfers, but could go after four or five JC recruits with as many as two of them being offensive linemen.

He also took the opportunity to respond to a question about the team he inherited, saying: “This is a tightrope I have to walk. Every member of our program that is doing things right, I love them as if they were my own children. You’ll never hear me say, ‘I didn’t recruit the guy.’ But there is a myth out there that I inherited a well-oiled machine. And that is a myth, because there were issues with this program when I arrived.”

Polian went on to say there isn’t a right way or a wrong way to do things, just that he would have done things differently. Former coach Chris Ault, he said, had 10 more scholarships committed to offensive players. His goal is to have a 41-40-4 ratio (offensive players, defensive players and specialists). He also felt there was a “recruiting gap,” that the team is missing an entire recruiting class on the offensive line, an issue exacerbated by the loss of the six linemen.

“Guys were character mistakes, academic problems, social problems,” he said. “… There’s tradition and there’s a history of winning, but there were some issues. So, I’m trying to walk that fine line of, I love every kid that is putting forth the effort right now, but there’s no doubt that we have to address some things. That’s what we’re trying to do moving forward, and it’s possible we could turn over this roster by a third by this time next year.”

Next game: Oct. 19 at Boise State.

Notable: Senior tight end Kolby Arendse is out for the season (foot). … A week after getting caught on camera cursing at the officials, Polian was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct during the 51-44 overtime loss at San Diego State. He said he apologized to athletic director Doug Knuth and university president Marc Johnson, but said he would not apologize for the passion he has for his team and his job. … As part of the bye, players will have this Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. … Senior offensive tackle Joel Bitonio is one of at least two players who played all 209 offensive snaps the last two weeks (100 vs. Air Force, 109 vs. SDSU).

— Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal

SAN DIEGO STATE

The 51-44 OT win over Nevada last Friday marked the first time all year that the Aztecs’ offense
has looked the way offensive coordinator Bob Toledo wants it to look.

San Diego State piled up a season-high 541 yards against Nevada. Quarterback Quinn Kaehler threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns, while running backs Adam Muema and D.J. Pumphrey combined for 246 yards and three touchdowns.

The Aztecs learned several things about their offense that day.

For one, the offensive line is finally looking cohesive. They’re buying Kaehler more time in the pocket, and doing better against the run.

On the ground, Muema is back to his pre-ankle injury self “and I hope he looks like his old self Thursday night,” Aztecs coach Rocky Long said. “With the addition of Pumphrey, I think they complement each other very, very well.”

Redshirt freshman receiver Eric Judge also had a breakout game for SDSU.

Judge earned his first career start in place of Colin Lockett (concussion) and finished with six receptions for 54 yards including the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

Lockett has been cleared to play against Air Force, so Judge will revert back to his backup role, but Long said he’s earned himself more reps going forward.

Next game: at Air Force, 7 p.m. MT Thursday (CBS Sports Network)

Notable: The Aztecs had to wait till Tuesday afternoon to find out if they would get to play Air Force on Thursday because the Air Force Academy originally suspended all athletic activities due to the partial government shutdown. As of Tuesday afternoon, no official word had been announced by the Department of Defense, but things were looking good and the Aztecs were preparing for their Wednesday morning trip to Colorado Springs. … RB Chase Price (separated shoulder) tried to practice this week, but will not play against Air Force. Long said Price likely will be back in action after the Aztecs’ Oct. 19 bye week.

— Stefanie Loh, U-T San Diego

SAN JOSE STATE

When spring football ended at San Jose State, none of the three running backs who combined to rush for 230 yards Saturday against Hawaii were on the depth chart.

But injuries to the Spartans’ top four backs and the transfer of a player once ticketed to be the future workhouse has completely changed the dynamic of SJSU’s offense.

“This is a great learning lesson for the future,” coach Ron Caragher said. “The tailbacks who contributed Saturday night, at the beginning of the year on the depth chart, were 6, 7 and 8 with a guy who wasn’t even listed on the depth chart.”

The freshman trio of Tim Crawley (21 carries for 93 yards), Jarrod Lawson (12 for 87) and Thomas Tucker (12 for 48) produced the Spartans’ best running attack of the season.

SJSU remains without starter Tyler Ervin, who was injured in the season opener. Jason Simpson started the past three games but was limited to special teams duty against Hawaii because of an injury. Osirius Burke and Alvin Jelks also missed Saturday’s game due to injury.

Jalynn McCain, the No. 5 running back in the spring who redshirted as a freshman last year, transferred to Houston over the summer. Former coach Mike MacIntyre recruited McCain and expected him to be a future star. He was even in the mix to play as a true freshman but didn’t fit in well with Caragher’s offense.

That’s opened the door for Crawley, Lawson and Tucker, a most unlikely trio.

Crawley is a former walk-on wide receiver who was awarded a scholarship just before the start of the season and then converted to running back. He’s only 5-foot-7 and 169 pounds.

Lawson is a redshirt freshman who remains a walk-on. Tucker is a true freshman who was recruited as a defensive back. He was switched to wide receiver in fall camp, impressed as a scout team running back and saw his first field action Saturday after originally being ticketed to redshirt.

Next game: at Colorado State, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)

Notable: Cornerback Bené Benwikere was cleared to travel with the team to Hawaii but didn’t play. He could be available against Colorado State, but with a bye week to follow, the Spartans may play it safe with their star corner. … Simpson, the team’s leading rusher, was cleared to play against Hawaii but was held out because of a lack of practice time. He may have some work to do to regain a prominent role after the performance of the three fill-in backs.

— Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News

UNLV

UNLV is a 9-point favorite over Hawaii on Saturday, but the Rebels know better than to overlook the Rainbow Warriors.

This is a team, after all, that ran all over the Rebels in winning 48-10 in Honolulu last season. Hawaii led 31-0 at halftime.

“I can’t imagine there would be anything but extreme motivation to go play this weekend for lots of reasons, actually,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “It was a bad performance by us. We went into that game thinking we were going to have a good chance to win it. They just went out and kicked our tails.”

The setting is so different for this meeting.

UNLV stumbled to the end last season, finishing with two victories for the third year in a row and the seventh time in nine seasons. Now the Rebels (3-2, 1-0 Mountain West) are on a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2003.

But they need to keep the momentum going, especially going into what appears to be a more difficult second half of the season. UNLV is completing a four-game stretch of games that were deemed winnable, and the Rebels are 3-0.

Last season’s game, though, is a reminder to take Hawaii (0-5, 0-3) seriously.

“I think they’re awfully good,” Hauck said. “If you guys (media) have been watching the same film I’ve been watching for the last week, you would agree with that. So we’ll have our hands full on Saturday, and we need to have a great week of preparation and get ready to go.”

Next game: vs. Hawaii, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (Mountain West Digital Network)

Notable: UNLV will try to win four games in a row for the first time since 2000. The last time the Rebels won four regular-season games in a row occurred in 1984. … UNLV has been penalized just once over the past 10 quarters and is second nationally in fewest penalties per game (2.6) and penalty yards per game (24.8). … Tim Cornett is second on the school’s career rushing chart with 2,947 yards. Mike Thomas holds the record with 3,149 yards in 1973 and 1974.

— 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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