Dec. 16, 2011
Gildan New Mexico Bowl - Noon Saturday -- University Stadium
Who: Wyoming Cowboys vs. Temple Owls
TV: ESPN, ESPN3, ESPN Radio
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If you can forgive the Wyoming Cowboys their 31-10 beating of Lobos on Nov. 19, the fan favorite for Saturday's 2011 Gildan New Mexico Bowl is an obvious choice.
Go Cowboys. Go Mountain West.
It might have been a problem in 2010 for Lobo fans to decide who to pull for in that year's New Mexico Bowl as two old UNM enemies went at it - the Brigham Young Cougars and the UTEP Miners.
This year Lobo loyalties probably will settle on the Cowboys, a Mountain West brother. The Cowboys of the Mountain might even need some extra love from New Mexico Lobo fans planning to hit University Stadium for the first bowl of the 2011-12 postseason.
Those dreaded Temple Owls are favored to take the trophy back East.
The Owls fly into University Stadium with an 8-4 record, a nasty defense and an in-your-face running game. The Cowboys match that 8-4 mark and were a surprising 5-2 in the Mountain race. That surprise is why the Cowboys are in a bowl.
Temple isn't exactly an opponent the Mountain gets to meet very often, but Wyoming and Temple have some history. The two teams met in 1990 with Wyoming pounding out a 38-23 win.
The records of the two teams suggest an even match with Wyoming fielding a better passing team while Temple prefers to run the ball. The Owls are No. 7 in the nation in rushing.
Temple also has a statistical edge on the defensive side of the ball with a "D" that is ranked No. 3 in the nation in points against - an eye-opening 14-point yield per game.
The Cowboys have one of the more dynamic young players in the Mountain - and the nation - in freshman quarterback Brett Smith, who tossed for 18 TDs this season. If he has a game against the Owls like he had against the Lobos, the Owls might be plucked bald and flown back East without a trophy.
Smith is really no freshman when it comes to reading defenses and finding open receivers. He has completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,495 yards. He had tossed only eight picks. He also can hurt a team with his feet where he has 645 yards and 10 TDS.
Smith had 352 total yards vs. UNM. The Lobos, as a team, had 296 yards. He paced Wyoming to a 462-yard day vs. UNM. Of course, Temple's defense is made of better stuff
The Cowboys' forte is finding ways for Smith to win games. The Owls' forte hinges on Bernard Pierce breaking tackles and getting into the end zone. The big Owl comes to Albuquerque with 1,381 yards and 25 touchdowns.
There are a couple of reasons the Owls have leaned to the run this season. 1- Pierce; 2- Who's the quarterback of the week?
The Owls have used three different signal callers in 2011 and since none of the three have excelled, the play calling has been heavy toward handing the ball to Pierce and letting him do his thing behind an experienced O-line.
The Cowboys' defensive front might need this edge in knowing what to expect. They give up a lot of yards on the ground (around 250 per game), but against the Owls, the Cowboys know exactly what -- and who -- they have to stop. Temple averages 123 yards passing - 117th out of 120 teams.
Wyoming is better through the air and that gives the Owls a strong hint as to what to do on defense - get to Smith. The Owls have 31 sacks, but Wyoming does a good job in protecting Smith, who also does a good job in running out of collapsing pockets.
It's usually a mistake to simplify what needs to happen on a football field to determine a winner. We'll do it anyway.
The Cowboys need to go to the air and stop a running back. The Owls need to stay on the ground and get to a passer.