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2011 New Mexico Bowl Preview

Wyoming Cowboys vs Temple Owls

Wyoming and Temple kick off the 2011 bowl season with a Mountain West versus MAC matchup when the two schools meet in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the New Mexico Bowl on December 17.

Wyoming has been one of the surprise teams of 2011. After the Cowboys posted a 3-9 season in 2010, sophomore quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels left the school a season removed from his MWC Freshman of the Year campaign. With Carta-Samuels’s departure and the absence of their two best defensive players to graduation, the Cowboys had a lot of question marks. But freshman signal-caller Brett Smith stepped up and answered plenty of them, leading the Cowboys to an 8-4 mark. Smith finished the regular season throwing 2,495 yards, and completing 61 percent of his passes with an 18-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Smith has also become a master of Dave Christensen’s spread offense, adding 645 rushing yards (second on the team) and 10 rushing touchdowns (first on the team).

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 averaged 4.3 yards per carry in the stead of Muhammad. 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 is average except when it comes to stopping the run—the Cowboys give up 230 rushing yards per game, close to last in the nation. Wyoming makes a lot of its hay in the turnover game, averaging a plus-1.25 margin per game, fourth in the nation.

Temple also arrives in Albuquerque with an 8-4 record. The Owls finished second in the MAC-East on the legs of running back Bernard Pierce and a stout defense. Temple’s run game averages seventh in the nation at 257 yards per game—good news for Temple given Wyoming’s run defense. Pierce, a 6-1 power back, has rushed for 1,381 yards this season and posted 25 rushing touchdowns. He is complemented in the rushing attack by the diminutive Matt Brown, the 5-5 back who averages 6.1 yards per carry and has totaled 867 rushing yards. The Owls have switched between three quarterbacks throughout the year in their limited passing game—currently, it appears Chester Stewart is the starter, who carries the best completion percentage of the three at 65 percent. Evan Rodriguez is Temple’s biggest passing target, pulling in 33 catches for 427 yards.

The Owls’ defense is top-25 in both run and pass defense, giving them a total defensive ranking of 15th. They, too, fare well in the turnover game, and give up a meager 14 points per game—third-best in the country.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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