If the Wyoming Cowboys are going to compete with No. 14 BYU on Saturday when they visit LaVell Edwards Stadium, they will have to avoid two things that have plagued them this season turnovers and slow starts.
The Cowboys (2-1 overall, 0-1 MWC) have committed eight turnovers this season and their offense was sluggish early in a 21-20 win over Ohio, a 23-3 loss to Air Force, and a 16-13 victory against North Dakota State.
The Cougars' last opponent, UCLA, had trouble with a slow start and turnovers. The result? A 59-0 thrashing by BYU.
In three games combined, Wyoming has scored just five more points (40) than the Cougars scored in the second quarter (35) against the Bruins.
"We have to hang on to the ball and protect our defense," said Wyoming coach Joe Glenn, whose team is going on the road for the first time this season. "We have to be good at field position and make them look at a long field. You can never give BYU a short field."
The Cougars built a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter against UCLA when BYU defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen caused a fumble on a sack. The Cougars scored one play later. It was one of three Bruin turnovers that BYU cashed in on in that quarter.
"That's when everything really started clicking," quarterback Max Hall said of Jorgensen's forced fumble. "We had a great opening drive, we had a lot of confidence. But it really started rolling after that first turnover and us capitalizing off that turnover. We just kept getting more and we kept getting into the end zone. It was phenomenal."
The 'Pokes are hoping to avoid a similar scenario.
"As far as defending their offense, you have to do the best you can to hold up against the run and you can't give them a lot of big plays in the passing game," Glenn said. "They are a juggernaut.
"I've seen UCLA play, and to beat them 59-0, that's crazy. Not only was BYU excellent, but also UCLA helped them out a bit. Certainly, BYU took advantage of every opportunity that was given them. The Cougars can roll it up on you in a hurry.
"We are going to have to play good football in all three phases of the game, and we anticipate doing that," Glenn said. "We are putting together a game plan that will force those guys to adjust. We're scheming against a team that is pretty hot right now."
Wyoming had to rally last week in the fourth quarter to defeat the top-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision, North Dakota State.
"We struggled out of the blocks on offense," Glenn said. "Our defense was pretty darn good, but we were down 10-0 at half."
The Cowboy offense relies heavily on running back Devin Moore, who ranks second in the Mountain West Conference in rushing (99 ypg). Moore fumbled in the first half against North Dakota State but bounced back to gain 122 yards in the second half. He has rushed 61 times for 297 yards this season and is a big part of the Cowboys' offense.
"Their running back is probably one of the featured backs in the league," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "They're making a more specific attempt this year to get the ball to him in more ways, in creative ways, to carry the load."
The Cowboys average only 91 passing yards per game. Quarterback Dax Crum, a transfer from Mesa Community College in Arizona, and BYU's Hall played against each other in high school. Like Hall, Crum started his collegiate career at Arizona State.
"He's a very, very talented kid. He can wing it around," Hall said of the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Crum. "He's struggled with getting used to the college speed and the reads, but the offensive staff has done a good job of preparing him and maturing as a young quarterback. He'll keep getting better."
In nine games last year at Mesa, Crum completed 129-of-218 passes for 2,048 yards, 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. While Crum gave up four turnovers against Air Force, he did not have any turnovers last week.
The strength of Wyoming's team is its defense, but the offense needs to get going against BYU and hopes to keep the game close.
"If (Wyoming) were to choose what kind of game plan they would like," Mendenhall said, "it would be to hold on to the ball on offense and run it, giving the ball to, and featuring, their running back, and then disrupt defensively through pressure," Mendenhall said.He added that the Cowboys would like to "have the game be close at the end and see what happens."
BYU vs. Wyoming
Scoring by quarters comparison
1st ... 2nd ... 3rd ... 4th ... Total
BYU ... 28 ... 55 ... 24 ... 21 ... 128