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Back in the saddle

For the first time in more than a month, Tyler Vander Waal will get the start at quarterback for Wyoming in a game with postseason implications. Vander Waal came on for the injured Sean Chambers last week and engineered a frenetic fourth-quarter comeback against Air Force to keep the Cowboys’ bowl hopes alive. He finished the game 14 of 26 for a career-high 225 yards passing and four total touchdowns. Vander Waal has started eight games this season with his last coming Oct. 20 against Utah State.

Tackling a record

Andrew Wingard could be the Mountain West’s all-time leading tackler by the time Saturday is over. Wyoming’s senior safety comes into the regular-season finale with 449 career tackles, leaving him six shy of the record. Ironically, it’s held by former New Mexico standout Carmen Messina, who racked up 454 stops from 2008-11. Wingard is also chasing the Wyoming record for career tackles but may need a bowl game to have a realistic shot at that. He needs 19 tackles to best Galand Thaxton’s record of 467 career tackles from 1984-87.

Backs down

Wyoming’s running back depth was thin this week with Nico Evans (ankle) and Jevon Bigelow (ribs) both nursing injuries. Neither of the Cowboys’ top two backs practiced until Thursday, leaving them questionable at best for Saturday’s game. When healthy, Evans has been the primary weapon for Wyoming’s offense all season as the nation’s third-leading rusher on a per-game basis. If neither is able to go, that would leave redshirt freshmen Xazavian Valladay to fill in. Valladay has just 49 carries this season, but one of them went for a 27-yard touchdown last week.

Playing for (possibly) more

If Wyoming beats New Mexico, the Cowboys will be bowl eligible thanks to a three-game winning streak they’re bringing into this week. Whether the Cowboys actually do play in a bowl game with a win is still up in the air with the number of available bowl slots shrinking. But Wyoming is shooting for a third straight bowl game, something that’s never happened in the program’s 122-year history. The closest the Cowboys have come was going to three bowls in a four-year span from 1987-90.

Going streaking

Wyoming is also trying for a four-game winning streak this weekend, something that hasn’t happened in a couple years. The Cowboys haven’t won four consecutive games since winning five in a row during their Mountain Division championship season in 2016. The current streak started with a 34-21 win at Colorado State on Oct. 26 that snapped a four-game losing streak. The Cowboys beat San Jose State 24-9 the following week before pulling off the comeback against Air Force for a 35-27 victory a week ago.

History

Wyoming-New Mexico has been one of the more tightly contested series in the Mountain West dating back to 1930 when the teams first met. The Cowboys hold a slight 36-34 lead in the all-time series. Wyoming has won four of the last seven meetings, including a 42-3 win in Laramie last season that ended New Mexico’s three-game winning streak in the series. The longest winning streak in the series for either side is seven. Wyoming was the team to do it most recently from 1986-92.

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College Sports Reporter

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