BYU will try to do today what no WAC team has done since Paul Roach became head football coach at Wyoming:
Beat the Cowboys in Laramie.The 'Pokes aren't planning to be BYU's next WAC patsy. They are well aware that the Cougs have trashed league foes by an average score of 51-18, but they are convinced they can change BYU's Holiday Bowl plans.
Here's what they're counting on:
- Local support from the first sellout crowd in War Memorial Coliseum history. The stadium seats 33,500, and most of them would give their best pair of boots for a chance to see BYU roped, tied, branded and sent packing back to Provo.
- A pass rush led by the chief Cowboy, the coverboy on this year's Wyoming media guide and WAC sack leader, Mitch Donahue. This season Donahue and his defensive partners have knocked QBs out of the saddle 39 times. They know that beating BYU depends on getting to that not-so-tall Texan, Ty Detmer, before Detmer can get his gun out of the holster. Given time, Detmer may find the 'Pokes useful secondary - with 2 freshmen and a sophomore - to be hospitable targets.
The last time BYU made a visit to Laramie, in 1988, Detmer was called off the bench to replace Sean Covey, who had been knocked silly. Detmer wasn't as lucky. Making his first appearance for BYU, Detmer completed 9 of 26 passes, was intercepted 4 times and sacked 5 times.
Donahue would like to see Detmer have a similar line of stats after this game, and the BYU offensive line knows it. The main responsibility for blocking Donahue will go to tackle Mike Keim, and linemate Jim Balmforth doesn't envy Keim's assignment.
"I've never seen anyone block Donahue successfully," Balmforth said.
"Overall their defensive line is probably the best we'll face this year, and that includes Miami."
- A desire for national respect. The Cowboys were irked a week ago when they were 9-0 and ranked only 19th in the country, and then they lost to Colorado State, giving the media types who said they were overrated an opportunity to nod knowingly.
The pokes know that a defeat of BYU, on national TV (ESPN), would restore a great deal of their wounded pride.
"People don't have a lot of faith in us," said Donahue. "They don't put much stock in Wyoming as a contender to beat BYU, but I've been on teams that have beaten them twice before, and I know they can be beaten."
Within the community here, the feeling is that this game IS the Cowboy season. On Friday the Wyoming student newspaper offered headines such as "Holiday Bowl on line for Cowboys in fierce rivalry" and "Wyoming season hinging on game." That latter statement is hardly true considering the 'Pokes reportedly have a standing offer to play in the Copper Bowl, but it underscores the local approach to this game. Beating BYU means a successful season; losing to the hated Cougs means the team failed.
- The knowledge that this is their last chance for the WAC title. A loss for BYU would not be fatal to the Cougars' chances; a Wyoming loss effectively knocks the Cowboys out of contention.
- Roach's 14-0 record against WAC teams in Laramie. As impressive as that mark is, it should be noted that it has come dangerously close to ending in the Cowboys' last two WAC home games. Wyoming edged San Diego State in a shootout on October 6th, 52-51, then came back the next week and narrowly beat New Mexico 25-22.
The most significant of those scores for the Cougars is the San Diego State result. Of the ten teams Wyoming has played this season, the Aztec offense most closely resembles BYU's, at least in terms of potency, and the Cowboys were incapable of stopping the Aztec passing attack, and only managed to edge SDSU because the Aztec defense is the worst in the WAC.
But while BYU coach Lavell Edwards knows all about the Cowboys many narrow wins this season, he's against thinking this it a team that has been lucky. Saying they look better on film than their scores would indicate, Edwards noted: "They could have, and probably should have, won the game against Colorado State but for a couple of turnovers."
BYU hopes to stop the Cowboy offense with what has become their standard plan: stop the run and pressure the quarterback. The Wyoming running attack has faltered of late, which may be a factor in QB Tom Corontzos throwing eight interceptions in the 'Pokes last four games.
Don't expect any offensive surprises from the Cougars, either. Their goal is simply to give Detmer enough time to throw, which means keeping Donahue off his back. And that's easier to say than do.
The Cougars will play the Cowboys without third-string halfback Eric Mortensen, who was injured against Air Force. Mortensen underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee Monday and will be out for three.