Confident Cowboys host Ducks on home turf
Three years after Wyoming played at Oregon, and led after one quarter against Marcus Mariota & Co., the Cowboys will play host to the Ducks in Laramie.
The teams are different. In 2014, Craig Bohl had just taken over at Wyoming, having guided North Dakota State to three consecutive FCS titles, and he would lead the Cowboys to a bowl game in 2016. The Mariota-led Ducks were en route to a national championship game berth, before falling (hard) by the end of 2016 to 4-8 and into a rebuilding job under Willie Taggart.
A confident and motivated group of Cowboys will take the field in Saturday's 4 p.m. PT Pac-12 vs. Mountain West matchup at 7,220-foot War Memorial Stadium (the highest elevation in FBS ranks).
The Cowboys sport an NFL prospect at quarterback in Josh Allen and what Bohl calls an experienced defense. Could there be an upset?
"Oregon enjoys a great national reputation. It's a power program," Bohl says. "When we play at home at 7,200 feet with our fans, there's an X factor. We're going to leverage that.
"We'll be prepared, we'll play with poise and composure. We have a seasoned coaching staff. We've been in big games before. It'll be great to play at War Memorial Stadium. ... We're emerging and improving. We need to have a good week of practice."
The Cowboys (1-1) lost 24-3 at Iowa, as Allen struggled (throwing two interceptions), but the defense was decent. Wyoming then beat FCS Gardner-Webb, 27-0, with everybody playing better.
The Cowboys probably circled the Oregon game on their schedule many months ago. Are they motivated? "Absolutely. The whole team should be feeling that," Allen says. "It's an opportunity to show everybody that we're a real team.
"We're 7-0 in the past seven regular-season home games (but lost at home in the 2016 league title game). It's difficult to play here. It should be a good atmosphere with the crowd. Obviously, the elevation helps. I'm sure Oregon will be prepared for that."
• Bohl says Taggart has "a great reputation as a builder and changer of cultures" from his time at Western Kentucky and South Florida. "I've always admired his work."
• The Cowboys have rushed for only 124 yards on 58 carries in the first two games, and Allen has not lit it up, yet. He went a modest 22 of 32 for 328 yards and two scores against Gardner-Webb. Austin Conway has 19 catches for 186 yards.
• Quarterback Justin Herbert "is an excellent quarterback," Bohl says. "He can make all the throws. He takes care of the football, and he's mobile. Anytime you have that combination it presents a problem.
"They found a good one there. He has great promise."
And, "(running back) Royce Freeman is a recognized name around the country. Big, strong guy, strong presence."
Overall, "we certainly are pleased with our performance on defense, the experience, we're bigger. ... This will be a big test for us" defensively, Bohl says. "You see a team that's really balanced; they'll throw the ball vertically downfield, making you cover the whole field, and you combine that with an excellent running attack.
"But, we're in a different place than the last time we played Oregon. We'll need to play well, but I know our guys are excited about this opportunity."
• The 6-5, 240-pound Allen is a senior from Firebaugh, California, who played one season at Reedley Community College. He led Wyoming to the Mountain West's Mountain Division title last year, but the Cowboys lost to San Diego State in the league title game and fell in the Poinsettia Bowl to BYU. Allen threw for 28 touchdowns, ran for seven and actually received one. He had five games of 300 yards or more.
"He's a big-time player," Taggart says. "He has a live arm."
Bohl says Allen has handled the pressure of being talked about as the No. 1 NFL draft pick, or at least the top QB to be chosen in the June 2018 draft.
"He's doing what he needs to do to win for the Cowboys," Bohl says. "Between the national media and hoopla you hear, he's done a great job staying focused."
Allen believes he still has to prove himself. "I really haven't played well," he says. "I understand that's not good enough. If I put my team in position to win, that's what I care about. I'm going on the field playing for teammates. I got their back, they got mine."