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INSIDE THE MATCHUP: NEW MEXICO BOWL -- FRESNO STATE VS. WYOMING

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THE BULLDOGS

 

RECORD: 8-4 overall, 6-2 Western Athletic Conference.

LAST TIME OUT: Fresno State concluded its regular season with a dramatic finish.

Trailing Illinois for the entire second half on Dec. 5, the Bulldogs scored a touchdown to get within one point with two seconds remaining on the clock.

Instead of kicking the extra point and playing for overtime, coach Pat Hill decided to take a chance and go for the two-point conversion.

Ryan Colburn’s pass was tipped at the goal line, but offensive lineman Devan Cunningham collected it and plowed his way in for the score, giving Fresno State a wild 53-52 victory at Illinois.

It was the Bulldogs’ 15th victory over a school from a Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying conference this decade and gave Hill his 100th career victory.

KEY STAT: 231.6.

The Bulldogs’ offense gets overlooked by conference rivals Boise State and Nevada, but Fresno State has one of the most solid rushing attacks in the country.

Fresno State runs for 231.6 yards per game, a stat that certainly bodes well against Wyoming and a defense that gives up more than 170 yards per game, ranking outside the top 90.

WHO TO WATCH: Quietly, Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews rose to the top of the Football Bowl Subdivision statistical rankings.

Mathews, who ran for more than 170 yards and three touchdowns against the Illini, leads the nation in rushing yards per game with 151.3.

The junior averages more than one touchdown per game through 25 career games and has rushed for more than 2,600 yards, the fourth-most in school history.

 

THE COWBOYS

 

RECORD: 6-6 overall, 4-4 Mountain West Conference.

LAST TIME OUT: Wyoming’s season-ending victory featured plenty of drama as well, as the Pokes met arch-rival Colorado State with a bowl game on the line.

Trailing in the fourth quarter, UW freshman quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels led the Cowboys on their fourth final-quarter comeback of the season.

The true freshman punched one early touchdown in from six yards out, scampered 49 yards for another and then led a drive deep into Rams’ territory, setting up fellow freshman Ian Watts for a 33-yard field goal as the Pokes qualified for their first postseason trip in five years with a 17-16 victory.

Wide receiver David Leonard caught six passes for 69 yards and senior defensive end John Fletcher capped off another solid regular season by blocking a decisive extra-point attempt.

KEY STAT: 1.

If the Cowboys hope to succeed in their goal of not only getting to a bowl, but winning it, they’ll need to do something they haven’t done all year -- beat a team with a winning record.

UW has scored just one touchdown against such teams this season, and that came on a gadget play at Utah.

WHO TO WATCH: If the Cowboys are going to contain Fresno State’s running attack, that mission will start up front with three seniors on the defensive line.

End Mitch Unrein and tackle John Fletcher need to provide some pressure on the outside, but it may be the big man in the middle, Fred Givens, who makes the difference.

Givens lost his starting job before the season started, but has won that job back for good reason.

 

Eric Schmoldt, Casper Star-Tribune

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