NCAA Football: Wyoming vs Ball State

Wyoming's Xazavian Valladay runs for yardage in the Cowboys' game against Ball State on Sept. 18 at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie. Content Exchange

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Just like most actors in Hollywood can eventually be connected to Kevin Bacon in a six degrees of separation parlor game, there are ties that bind many longtime college football coaches.

Craig Bohl and Troy Calhoun have more in common than you might think.

Bohl dug deep into his background during preparations to help Wyoming slow down Calhoun’s version of the triple-option in the Cowboys’ Mountain West opener against Air Force on Saturday at Falcon Stadium (5 p.m., CBS Sports Network).

The Cowboys’ head coach played defensive back and was later a defensive assistant at Nebraska for Tom Osborne. That meant Bohl experienced countless practice reps against one of the most successful option attacks in the sport’s history.

Bohl was also Fred Goldsmith’s defensive coordinator at Rice from 1989-1993. Goldsmith also ran the option and was previously Ken Hatfield’s defensive coordinator at Air Force when Fisher DeBerry was the offensive coordinator.

Calhoun played for DeBerry and succeeded the Falcons’ legendary head coach in 2007 with a modernized version of the offense.

“The lineage and the connection between triple-option and what Air Force has done offensively has evolved, but a lot of common themes there,” Bohl said. “Some weeks I get more engaged in coaching, I hate to say it, than others. But this is somewhat within my wheelhouse. A lot of young coaches these days really are never confronted with option football.

“So our coaching staff has worked hard, our players have worked hard. We know there’s going to be a challenge and we’re excited about playing.”

The Cowboys (4-0) used last week’s open date to heal their bodies and get an early start on preparing for the Falcons (4-1, 1-1), who lead the FBS in rushing (367.4 yards per game) and are currently tied for first place in the Mountain Division with Boise State (2-3, 1-1) and Utah State (3-2, 1-1).

A road win over Air Force would be a big first step for UW on the path to a conference championship.

Remaining unbeaten won’t be easy for the Pokes, who are 6-point underdogs after being favored in all four non-conference games.

“It’s always intense because of what they do and how well they do it,” defensive line coach Pete Kaligis said of preparing for Air Force. “You’re living on the razor’s edge. Because if your eyes are wrong or if you’re one step late and they get an angle on you and lose a guy, that’s when seams open up in the alley … all 11 guys have to be right with their eyes in this game.”

There will be a lot to keep an eye on for UW’s defense.

Elusive quarterback Haaziq Daniels has rushed for 384 yards and eight touchdowns and completed 15 passes for 384 yards with one touchdown and an interception this season. Bruising fullback Brad Roberts has rushed for 540 yards and five touchdowns. Speedy wide receiver Micah Davis has added 449 total yards of offense and five touchdowns.

The Cowboys know they will have to play nearly flawless assignment football to get the Falcons, who are second nationally in time of possession (37:31), off the field.

Air Force scored on its first four possessions, was 9-for-15 on third-down conversions, 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions and had the ball for 41:53 during last week’s 38-10 razing of New Mexico.

“Everybody has got a job to do, and we always try to hone in on that as much as we can,” linebacker Easton Gibbs said. “I mean, there’s so many moving parts to that offense. Everybody has got to do their job because one slipup could let something out the gate.”

The Cowboys lost the previous meeting against the Falcons, 20-6, in the 2019 regular-season finale. The defense held Air Force to 162 rushing yards, but Levi Williams and Tyler Vander Waal combined for 111 passing yards and two interceptions, and Xazavian Valladay finished with just 38 yards rushing and averaged 2.7 yards per carry.

A healthy Sean Chambers, who improved to 13-3 as UW’s starting quarterback with the 24-22 comeback win at UConn two weeks ago, has led the program to its best start since 1996.

“Sean is going to be Sean. He’s a leader, and that’s what he does,” wide receiver Isaiah Neyor said. “He brings that energy that we need for this team, and we’ve built around him. So we’re going to go out there and believe in him and have him just do what he does best.”

Air Force ranks 13th in rushing yards allowed (89.4 per game) and 14th in total yards allowed (285.6 per game), but Utah State piled up 628 total yards of offense in a 49-45 win on Sept. 18 at Falcon Stadium.

Aggies quarterbacks Logan Bonner and Andrew Peasley were a combined 31-for-49 passing for 448 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. Calvin Tyler finished with 132 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including the 61-yard game-winning score.

Chambers was itching to get back on the field after throwing two interceptions during UW’s latest last-minute escape.

“The bottom line is it’s unacceptable,” Chambers said of the Pokes having to dig out of an early 13-0 deficit and trailing 16-6 in the fourth quarter against winless UConn. “If we want to be considered one of the best football teams in the nation or in our conference, then we’ve got to start fast every single game. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that. …

“The only way we can go is up and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re a good, talented football team and we know how to play. That’s just what we need to do.”

Chambers, a national comeback player of the year candidate, was injured in the first quarter of the Cowboys’ 2018 win over Air Force and was out with another injury for the 2019 matchup.

The Falcons did not make the 2020 trip to Laramie due to COVID-19 issues within their program. Chambers would not have been available due to a third season-ending injury.

UW’s balanced offense, which has 750 passing yards and 722 rushing yards through four games, will have to be efficient and productive to finish 1-0 this week, which has been the mantra of the Cardiac Cowboys this season.

“There was no big pep talk to say, ‘Hey, you guys have to get ready to play Air Force,’” Bohl said. “Everybody understands how critical this game is and what kind of quality opponent they are.”

Air Force leads the all-time series 29-26-3, including a 20-19 edge in conference games.

Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn

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