BOZEMAN — The Montana State Bobcats kickoff their season at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Laramie, Wyoming to take the University of Wyoming Cowboys. To get an in-depth look at the Cowboys football team, MTN Sports interviewed Wyoming football beat writer Ryan Thorburn from the Casper Star-Tribune.
Wyoming went 2-4 in 2020, but returns a lot of experience.
“I know it’s like that for a lot of schools around the country, but Wyoming is really up there in experience," Thorburn said. "They thought 2020 was going was going to be a big year for them and it turned out to be a disaster with COVID and everything. This is definitely Craig Bohl's most experienced team in 18 years as head coach.”
Wyoming was one of the worst passing teams in the nation last year. Starting at quarterback for the Cowboys is junior Sean Chambers. The past three seasons he’s suffered a season ending injury. Thorburn has thrown for 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions in his career. He can hurt teams rushing the ball. Chambers has a career average of six yards per carry and has ran for 12 rushing touchdowns. Wyoming ranked No. 113 in passing yards per last year.
“He’s a dual threat guy who can house it 70 yards against Missouri in the 2019 opener on a run," Thorburn said. "I know the big emphasis for this year is to improve the passing game. He is under 50% career passer. I wouldn’t expect the offense to change dramatically, other than improving those passing percentages.”
The Cowboys had the No.14 ranked rushing offense last year. The backfield is led by senior Xazavian Valladay who has been near the top of the Mountain West for rushing the past few years and behind him is senior Trey Smith.
“They’re both between the tackles tough runners," Thorburn said. "I think Valladay has the shake to make the first guy miss in the hole. Trey Smith is more of a power runner. Wyoming just doesn’t disguise what they’re going to do -- at least last year, just right between the tackles and our offensive line is going to wear your defensive line down.”
Wyoming started their 2020 season with a new defensive coordinator in Jay Sawvel and he turned the Cowboys defense into one of the best in the FBS in almost every category. Linebacker Chad Muma anchors their defense. Muma was sixth in the nation averaging 11.8 tackles per game in 2020. With some transfers and injuries, Wyoming lacks depth at cornerback and linebacker, according to Thorburn.
“I wouldn’t expect a lot of exotic stuff," Thorburn said of Wyoming's defense under Sawvel. "They can send a corner blitz or movement can come, but I think they’re going to see if their front four can create the pressure.”
As for how Montana State can get the upset victory on Saturday. Thorburn thinks it all comes down to Bobcats quarterback Matthew McKay.
“Vigen was criticized heavily for the passing game, despite the fact he didn’t have a healthy quarterback (with Wyoming in 2020)," he said. "It would be a interesting if he were to air the ball out and he would try to let Wyoming fans know that when he has a healthy quarterback like the Josh Allen days, he’s still got the play calling touch. I think McKay outplaying Wyoming’s defense would be the key there.”
Montana State is currently 17.5 to 18 point underdogs, depending on the sports betting website, and Thorburn thinks that line is about right for his final score prediction.
“31-14. Somewhere in that spread neighborhood. But we will see. I think the fact that Vigen knows Wyoming so well and Coach Bohl knows Vigen so well could make it a closer game,” he said.