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Watson - Wofford

Wofford cornerback Devin Watson prepares for a play in a game last year in Spartanburg, S.C.

LARAMIE — It wasn’t that long ago that Wyoming was in these same shoes. Well, sort of.

The Cowboys are 1-2 on the season after consecutive losses to Washington State and Missouri. That’s not all that different from last season, when Wyoming also lost both of its Power Five games in non-conference play. And, like the year before that, Wyoming went 2-2 in non-conference play in 2017. In both of those years, Wyoming wound up winning eight games and reaching a bowl game. In the former, they hosted the Mountain West Football Conference Championship, even though one of those two non-con losses came at Eastern Michigan, not exactly a traditional power.

So, yes, the Cowboys are in familiar territory, and they should be well-aware there is more to play for this season.

“The younger guys, I guess you could say, it lets them know that we’re never out of the fight and we’ll be in it all the way up until the last game,” senior tight end Tyree Mayfield said.

Still, the Cowboys haven’t been in this exact situation for a little while now. None of those non-conference losses in ‘16 or ‘17 came back to back. And these two most recent losses weren’t exactly nail-biters. The Cowboys lost to the Cougars and Tigers by a combined 49 points — the worst combined deficit in consecutive Wyoming losses since 2015, the Pokes’ last losing season.

“Quite frankly, I’m more concerned about having two tough losses back to back,” head coach Craig Bohl said, “and the resiliency of our football team to lick our wounds and get back in the fight.”

That’s the biggest psychological challenge Bohl sees for his team as it prepares to host Wofford on Saturday (2 p.m., Mountain West Network). More than the fact that the Terriers play in the Football Championship Subdivision, one notch below the Football Bowl Subdivision in which Wyoming plays. More than the fact that a bye week awaits the Cowboys following this game.

“We not only were beat emotionally after the (Missouri) game,” Bohl said. “We got beat up.”

Nevertheless, the refrain remains the same for Wyoming as it approaches its yearly FCS game. The coaches — most of whom know the dangers of overlooking an FCS team firsthand, having coached at North Dakota State — will emphasize that their players can’t take this game lightly.

That’s true regardless of the FCS foe; just three years ago Wyoming began its season with a loss to North Dakota, which tied for fourth in the Big Sky that season.

But it’s especially important for Wyoming to take Wofford seriously. The Terriers have reached the FCS quarterfinals each of the past two seasons, ultimately losing to eventual champion NDSU last year and runner-up Youngstown State the year before. Wofford might have just one FBS win to its name (2000, Louisiana-Monroe), but it also is ranked No. 7 in the FCS coaches poll. For context, fellow Southern Conference team Samford, ranked No. 9, nearly beat Florida State of the Atlantic Coast Conference last week.

“We’re making points of that,” Bohl said. “I’d like to think that our players have enough confidence in our coaching staff when we say (the Terriers) have good players and they have really good coaches that we need to be bringing our A-game to give us a chance to win. We’ll address that. I don’t think we can overstate it, because that almost undersells what type of football program they have.”

Though Wofford has a better resume than the Cowboys’ FCS opponent last year, Gardner-Webb, the two share some similarities. Both run a 3-4 on defense, and both use a variation of the triple option on offense.

The Cowboys’ 27-0 win over the Runnin’ Bulldogs was significant if only because the Cowboys smothered their option, a style of offense that had given Wyoming fits the year before at New Mexico. The Cowboys wound up performing well against all three option teams they faced last year — GWU, Air Force and New Mexico — under first-year defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton.

“We have played Air Force,” Bohl said. “We have played New Mexico. While those two offenses have some similarities, there are some differences, but they’re certainly more similar. So it’s not like with some of our older players they have not seen those type of schemes. Where when you are maybe operating in another league like the Big Ten, you never get attacked like that on an ongoing basis. We think that’s going to be helpful.”

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Follow University of Wyoming athletics reporter Brandon Foster on Twitter @BFoster91


College Sports Reporter

Brandon Foster reports on University of Wyoming athletics. He joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 after graduating from the University of Missouri and covering Mizzou athletics for two years. A St. Louis native, he lives in Laramie.

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