This is a team that is starting to really build their program and their culture. They’re a bunch of tough, hard-nosed guys on both sides of the ball, and the staff coaches them that way. —Utah State coach Matt Wells, on Wyoming
LOGAN — He wasn’t exactly being lazy, but the last time the Wyoming Cowboys visited Utah State, junior Aaron Dalton sure didn’t do a whole lot for the Aggies.
“That’s right,” Dalton responded when reminded that he only punted once during USU’s 58-27 rout of the Cowboys. “And it wasn’t until the fourth quarter or something. It was a cold game, too. I was just sitting there, trying to keep warm and waiting to go in. But it’s a great thing when I never go out there.”
Now a junior, Dalton punted four times during Utah State’s game at Laramie last season as the Cowboys flipped the script and roughed up the Aggies, 52-28.
So, what should Utah State fans expect when the Aggies (3-3 overall, 1-1 in the Mountain West) play host to Wyoming (3-2, 1-0) for its Homecoming game Saturday afternoon at Maverik Stadium? Another lopsided victory for Utah State?
Count USU head coach Matt Wells as being surprised if that happened again against Craig Bohl’s much-improved program.
“They had a good year last year, obviously, and won the division and represented the Mountain Division in the championship game. This is a team that is starting to really build their program and their culture,” Wells said of the Cowboys. “They’re a bunch of tough, hard-nosed guys on both sides of the ball, and the staff coaches them that way.
“This program has a lot of respect for Wyoming. It’s been a good rivalry at Utah State throughout the years. I know it’s the fourth most-played rivalry and Bridger’s Battle for the rifle. That’s a neat deal. It’ll be a good game, and we look forward to it.”
While the Aggies are trying to rebound from a humbling, 27-14 loss to Colorado State last week at Maverik Stadium, Wyoming is coming off a bye week following back-to-back home victories over Hawai’i (28-21 in OT) and Texas State (45-10).
The Cowboys come into this year’s “Bridger’s Battle” ranked second in the Mountain West in scoring defense (20.8 ppg) and fourth in total defense (345.6 ypg), which isn’t surprising coming off of last season’s 8-6 campaign which ended with back-to-back, three-point losses to San Diego State in the Mountain West Championship game and BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl.
However, Wyoming has struggled mightily this season on offense, despite the return of junior quarterback Josh Allen, who emerged during the offseason as a top NFL Draft prospect. The Cowboys are currently ranked 10th in the league in scoring offense (23.2 ppg) and last in total offense (282.2 ypg), primarily because off a dismal running attack (last in the MW at 100.4 ypg) that no longer features standout back Brian Hill.
In addition, wideout Tanner Gentry also graduated, leaving Bohl without his top running back (Hill rushed for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns) and leading receiver (Gentry caught 72 passes for 1,326 and 14 TDs) from last year’s breakout team.
Allen, who completed 56 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,203 yards, 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, is around the middle of the quarterback pack in the Mountain West so far this season. His passing average of 175.4 ypg is fourth in the league, right behind USU quarterback Kent Myers (184.2 ypg), and his pass efficiency is seventh at 118.3, also just behind Myers at 124.1.
But that doesn’t mean Wells still isn’t nervous heading into Saturday’s game.
“I think he’s really good,” Wells said of Allen, who has six touchdowns and three interceptions this year. “We’re at the halfway point and they’ve played five games. Last year, we got them later in the year. I think he’s a better quarterback than I’m sure he was last year.
“I haven’t studied him completely. just the things he does physically, there is no drop-off. The guy is going to be a first-round draft pick. He’s a first-rounder coming into Logan. The last time we saw one like this, it was Mr. (Derek) Carr in Fresno in the championship game my first year as a head coach. That guy has had a really good NFL career. I think Josh is a very similar quarterback.”
Prior to last season, the Aggies had won four straight games against the Cowboys after losing four in a row. Overall, USU is 25-10-1 against Wyoming in Logan.