LARAMIE, Wyo. — With seven defensive starters returning, Wyoming will be relying heavily on the unit while the offense gets up to speed on its new, up-tempo, spread scheme.

When the Cowboys hit the field Saturday for the season opener against Weber State in War Memorial Stadium, the defense will be asked to hold a potent offense that has most all of its key players returning from a unit that averaged 35.2 points and 455.3 yards in total offense last season.

The key returning Weber State players are junior quarterback Cameron Higgins, senior running back Trevyn Smith and senior wide receiver Tim Toone. All put up big numbers last season for coach Ron McBride.

Higgins completed 305 of 465 passes (65.6 percent) for 4,477 yards and 36 touchdowns.

Smith carried the ball 295 times for 1,585 yards (5.4 average per carry) and 21 touchdowns. Smith also caught 62 passes for an additional 778 yards and seven scores.

Toone was on the receiving end of 84 passes for 1,525 yards (18.2 average per catch) and seven touchdowns.

"They're going to be a test," returning UW defensive back Chris Prosinski said. "They have a big running back I believe is a three-time All-Big Sky player. They have the returning Big Sky Player of the Year in the quarterback. They also have a receiver who is All-Big Sky.

"They have competed at a high level in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) and against Division I schools, and we know they are going to come in here ready to win. They won't lie down; they'll come in here with a lot of fight. So, we will have to put up a good fight, too.

Returning lineman Mitch Unrein said the defensive unit is ready.

"We have been banging each other every day, and we're ready to get out there and hit somebody else for a change," Unrein said. "We have been waiting all summer and all fall camp for this one game. I'm excited and the whole team is excited. It's going to be fun."

The other veterans on defense are lineman John Fletcher, linebackers Weston Johnson and Gabe Knapton and defensive backs Marcell Gipson and Tashaun Gipson.

They will be joined on the field by four new starters in sophomore noseguard Alex Stover, sophomore weakside linebacker Brian Hendricks, sophomore buck linebacker Josh Biezuns and true freshman free safety Shamiel Gary.

"The one thing about this defense is we have a lot of speed, something we lacked as a defense last year," Prosinski said. "We're just trying to fly around, get to the ball, and hopefully it will all work out."

"Overall, I think this defense may be the best defense I've played with since I've been here," Unrein said. "We have a lot of depth. As long as everyone takes care of his assignment, we can be one of the better defenses around."