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Behind Enemy Lines: Talking Oregon/Wyoming with Mountain West Connection

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ATQ talks with SB Nation's resident Mountain West expert, Jeremy Mauss, to discuss Oregon's matchup with the Wyoming Cowboys.

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon takes on Wyoming for an early 11 a.m. kickoff on Saturday. Jeremy Mauss of the Mountain West Connectionwas kind enough to join us and answer some questions about the Cowboys.

ATQ: It's still early, but what has the Craig Bohl effect been in Laramie? What is his football philosophy?

MWC:He is a tough guy who wants his players to show that same toughness and physicality on the field. So far it has shown to be effective. Just look at what they did to Air Force's ground game last week in shutting that down. Typically, Air Force can put up yards against even the best defenses in the nation and Wyoming was able to hold that potent run-option attack to just 2.9 yard per carry and 151 overall.

The simple answer is Bohl wants his team to be tough and he has shown that so far in just two games.

ATQ: Through two games, Wyoming's defense has been very good, giving up just 2.7 yards per carry. They haven't played world beating opponents (Montana and Air Force), but what has made them effective?

MWC: Holding Air Force to under three yards per carry is a good achievement since most teams, even very good defenses, have a tough time slowing down the Falcons vaunted running attack. The Wyoming front seven is fairly stout and that makes sense that they have so successful so far because playing a FCS team and an Air Force team that has a size limit on its players. So, Wyoming being more physical than those two teams and being successful makes sense due to its size advantage. The Cowboys have players on its front seven who are solid players and potential all-conference players led by defensive end Eddie Yarbrough who has a pair of tackles for loss. Overall, there are four defenders who have more than two tackles for a loss, so this defense is versatile in getting to the backfield and making plays, and that comes again with being physical play that Bohl has installed in this 4-3 defense.

ATQ: The offense, however, hasn't been great, averaging only 3.6 ypc themselves. Is there any reason not to expect them to be dominated by Oregon's defense?

MWC: The quarterback situation was a mess when Dave Christensen was let go and that led to Brett Smith leaving early for the NFL and backup Jason Thompson following Christensen to Utah. That left Colby Kirkegaard as next in line to play quarterback, and that has forced the offense to not play all that well. Not much should be expected when Wyoming lines up against Oregon Saturday morning, but if there is an area where the Cowboys can move the ball is in the running game. They have a reasonably good running back duo in D.J. May and Shaun Wick, and the duo is averaging a reasonable 4.5 yards per carry. Wyoming will likely get behind early and be forced to pass with Kirkegaard and he hasn't shown the ability to throw the ball well against poor secondaries, so look for him to struggle against Oregon to move the ball.

ATQ: Give us a player on offense and one on defense that need to be outstanding for Wyoming to keep this even marginally close.

MWC: Running back Shaun Wick has just one touchdown and just 108 yards on the ground all season. He is reasonably effective when he gets carries, but this Wyoming team is led by its defense. There are a few players on defense that could make some plays to help keep Wyoming close for at least part of the game. Defensive back Blair Burns is a very good defensive back sand he has a knack for interceptions and knocking down passes with 22 career pass break ups and six career interceptions.

ATQ: Given the geographic and demographic limitations of Wyoming, what is a realistic ceiling long-term for the Cowboys?

MWC: Craig Bohl seems to be the right fit since he had extremely good success at North Dakota State. Not only did he win three straight FCS teams but he beat multiple FBS teams and took the Bison from Division II to FCS and was competitve right away. The have won conference titles way back in the day when in the WAC, so winning the Mountain West is an attainable goal. However, being a constant power is tough mainly due to the extreme difficulty in getting to Laramie, Wyoming, and also getting a high school kid to want to play in that small town. Recruiting is tough since there is so little talent in that region but Bohl should be able to get talent to come from Colorado, Utah and maybe a few Midwest kids once he proves that Wyoming is a winner. The Cowboys also have had up and down seasons where they have been competitive and awful and if Bohl can level those peaks and valleys to more peaks, then a bowl game every year and competing for a division or conference title a handful of times per decade is a real possibility. However, I am an optimist so I might shooting a bit too high on the Cowboys ceiling.