WYOMING (8-4) vs TEMPLE (8-4)
NEW MEXICO BOWL | ALBUQUERQUE NM
Sat. December 17 | 12:00 pm MT | ESPN
Wyoming has been a surprise team in 2011. Not only were the Cowboys coming off a poor 3-9 campaign in 2010, but sophomore quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels transferred away from the school. "ACS," as known by his fans, had just been named the MWC Freshman of the Year the season before. With Carta-Samuels’s departure and the loss of their two best defensive players to the draft, the Cowboys seemed in trouble for 2011.
Enter Brett Smith. The freshman stepped in and lead the Cowboys to an 8-4 record this season. Smith threw for 2,495 yards, completed 61% of his passes, and posted an 18-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Smith seems to have already mastered Dave Christensen’s spread offense, adding 645 yards on the ground with 10 rushing touchdowns.
Wyoming had enjoyed a balanced rushing attack with Alvester Alexander and Ghaali Muhammad, but Muhammad suffered a season-ending injury five weeks ago. Alexander has rushed for 678 yards, and freshman Kody Sutton has been running at a 4.3 yards-per-carry clip since being put into action. Smith’s favorite passing targets have been Chris McNeill and Robert Herron, both of whom have over 40 receptions, with McNeill posting the most yards at 504. Wyoming’s defense has been average except when it comes to stopping the run—the Cowboys give up 230 rushing yards per game, close to last in the nation. A key to Wyoming's success this year is the turnover game. The Pokes average a plus-1.25 turnover margin per game, which ranks fourth in the nation.
Temple comes to New Mexico with an 8-4 record, too. The Owls finished second in the MAC-East on the legs of running back Bernard Pierce and the efforts of a stout defense. Temple’s run game ranks seventh in the nation at 257 yards per game—good news for Temple given Wyoming’s porous run defense. Pierce, a 6-foot-1 power back, has punished defenses for 1,381 yards this season and punched in 25 rushing touchdowns.
The lightning to Pierce's thunder is the diminutive Matt Brown, the 5-foot-5 back who averages 6.1 yards per carry and has piled up 867 rushing yards of his own. The Owls have switched between three quarterbacks throughout the year. Chester Stewart appears to be the current starter, whose completion percentage is the best of the three at 65%. Evan Rodriguez is Temple’s main (only real?) passing target, pulling in 33 catches for 427 yards.
The Owls’ defense is solid all around, giving them a total defensive ranking of 15th in the country in yards allowed. They fare pretty well in turnovers, too, and give up just 14 points per game, which is third-best in the country.