HENDERSON, Nev. — It’s hard for any of them to forget about the weather.
San Diego State, UNLV and Nevada are back on Wyoming’s schedule this fall as part of the Mountain West’s unbalanced schedule, making it the first time since 2016 the three West Division teams will square off against the Cowboys. SDSU senior running back Juwan Washington was relieved earlier this year when he saw Wyoming would be making the trip to San Diego on Oct. 12 for this year’s meeting.
“When I was checking the schedule, we don’t really have too many cold places we’ve got to go this year,” Washington said during the first day of Mountain West Media Days on Tuesday. “That was fun just seeing they get to come to us.”
Washington was a freshman for the Aztecs the last time they played Wyoming in the 2016 MW championship game — one played at War Memorial Stadium in December when freezing temperatures and heavy snow are the norm in Wyoming. UNLV senior linebacker Javin White was in the midst of a redshirt year when the Rebels made the trip to Wyoming in November 2015.
“I just don’t want to it to be cold,” White said.
Yet what the coaches and players still around for San Diego State, UNLV and Nevada at Mountain West Media Days on Tuesday remember the most is a bruising style of play that has become almost as synonymous with Wyoming as the elements the Cowboys play in. Wyoming has finished in the top 40 nationally in rushing in two of the past three years and yards allowed in each of the last two.
“I expect a hard-nosed game, especially with their defense,” Nevada senior receiver Kaleb Fossum said. “They like to hit. They’re very physical. We’re excited for the challenge.”
Wyoming still has some contributors back from a defense that forced more turnovers than anybody in the country two seasons ago and allowed the 19th-fewest yards nationally last season. They include defensive end Josiah Hall and cornerbacks Antonio Hull and Tyler Hall as well as linebacker Logan Wilson, who enters his senior season second among all Football Bowl Subdivision players in career tackles (316).
The unit is under new leadership with former safeties coach Jake Dickert taking over as defensive coordinator following Scottie Hazelton’s departure, but the Cowboys’ opponents don’t expect much to change in terms of how they pursue the ball.
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“(Bohl) just believes in that physical product,” said UNLV coach Tony Sanchez, whose team will return to War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 28 for both teams’ league opener. “They’re going to get downhill, they’re going to run the ball, and they’re going to play good, solid defense.”
Offensively, Wyoming is one of the few teams that still prefers to primarily play in a phone booth when most are trying to spread opposing defenses sideline to sideline with their hurry-up spread schemes. As odd of a sight as it may be for the 4-2-5 defenses the Cowboys normally line up against nowadays, multiple-tight end sets aren’t unusual to see as part of Wyoming’s pro-style offense.
“It’s different. It takes some preparation,” said Nevada’s third-year coach, Jay Norvell, who will lead his team into War Memorial Stadium on Oct. 26. “You don’t see it as often. But I think as a program, every program has to have their niche, and they definitely have theirs.”
Said Sanchez, “Wyoming, there’s no mystery about it. They’re going to run power and they’re going to get downhill, and you’ve got to be able to fit.”
SDSU may be the closest team in the league to matching the way the Cowboys go about it schematically. A team that prefers to wear teams down with a methodical ground-and-pound approach, the Aztecs have finished in the top 30 nationally in rushing four of the last five seasons and the top 40 in time of possession five of the last six.
“I think it’s two teams with the same philosophy,” SDSU coach Rocky Long said. “If they’ve got a first-round draft choice at quarterback, then they want to throw it a little bit more. But they still want to control the clock, control the time of possession, and they want to make it a close game. That’s what we do. We want to make it a close game and then try to win it at the end.”
To Long’s point, Wyoming and SDSU played a pair of one-possession games at War Memorial Stadium during that 2016 season. The Cowboys squeaked out a 34-33 win in the first meeting before SDSU avenged that loss with a 27-24 win two weeks later to claim its latest league championship.
The Aztecs — nor anybody else back on Wyoming’s schedule this fall — expects anything different this time around.
“It’s kind of personal at the end of the day because we do the same things,” Washington said. “They want to assert their dominance, and we want to do the same thing.”