The Edge: Who has the advantage?

By and

Quarterbacks

The bye week gave Brian Johnson a chance to collect himself and get ready for the important final three games. He continues to improve but will be tested against the conference’s best pass defense on Saturday. This was supposed to be the season when Corey Bramlet finally busted out, but the returns have been mixed. Bramlet has showed up in the middle of most MWC passing statistics. He’s not as dynamic as his brother Casey but is still a dangerous passer.

Edge: Utah

Running Backs

The Utes will most likely be without Quinton Ganther, so the brunt of the carries will fall to Johnson, true freshman Darrell Mack and sophomore Mike Liti. Both have performed well enough in limited action, but neither has really stuck out in practice. For the Utes to be successful, it’s important for one of them to emerge. Wyoming doesn’t often trot out a stellar running attack, but Wynel Seldon has broken the mold. The freshman has amassed 637 yards and seven touchdowns for a team that was originally slated to have a pass-only offense.

Edge: Wyoming

Receivers

John Madsen came out of hiding to scorch UNLV two weeks ago. He may be helped by the possible return of Travis LaTendresse and a healthy Brian Hernandez. Marquis Wilson and Derrek Richards have performed well in bigger roles lately, but didn’t the coaching staff say the tight end would be used more this year? For Wyoming, everything starts and ends with No. 9, Jovon Bouknight. There is not a more dynamic threat in the MWC than him, and the Utes will have their hands full no matter what they do to stop him. Of Wyoming’s 16 passing touchdowns, 12 have featured Bouknight, with the senior catching 11 and throwing for one. The good news for the Utes is that the Cowboys have only one of him.

Edge: Even

Offensive Line

With Ganther sidelined, the onus will be on the hog mollies to open up holes for the less experienced backs. They will also have to contend with a good pass rush, so hopefully the bye week cured all the nicks and pains. The Cowboys are big and young, with center Drew Severn the only senior starter. While Seldon has had individual success running the ball, as a team Wyoming ranks last in the MWC in rushing offense. Bramlet has also taken a lot of sacks, but when the QB is immobile, it’s hard to put all the blame on the line.

Edge: Utah

Defensive Line

For the most part, the Utes did well against UNLV’s running game, but still didn’t put enough pressure on the quarterback. At 235 pounds, Martail Burnett has the desire, but will have a tough time getting through the massive Cowboy line. Wyoming has the two leading sackers in the MWC, with ends Mike Groover and John Flora notching 6.5 and 5.5, respectively. Combined, that’s two more sacks than the Utes have as a team.

Edge: Wyoming

Linebackers

Thanks to the bye week, Spencer Toone is now six tackles behind SDSU’s Freddy Keiaho for the league lead. He should get some opportunities to make hits this week, as the Cowboys have several short-throw receivers who will tread into his waters. Wyoming is led by sophomore Luke Chase. He has the most tackles out of any linebacker on the team, but his 40 takedowns are still only good for 43rd in the MWC.

Edge: Utah

Secondary

If the Ute secondary plays the way it did against Jeff Webb, this will be a gross mismatch, with Bouknight having his way all night. But the unit has been looking good in practice, and Casey Evans and Eric Weddle continue to show improvement every week. Throw in Eugene Oates earning a MWC Defensive Player of the Week against UNLV, and perhaps this unit has a chance. Junior corner Derrick Martin is the anchor of a Cowboy secondary that has been downright impossible to throw on. Athlon ranked the unit third in the country during preseason, and it has not disappointed. Wyoming only allows 188.4 yards through the air per game, best in the MWC by 13 yards.

Edge: Wyoming

Special Teams

Dan Beardall continues to be nearly automatic, while Louie Sakoda’s 37.6 average doesn’t tell the whole story. Of his 41 punts, 18 have been downed inside the 20, a statistic that helps the defense much more than just booming the ball every time. Will the coaches keep Eric Weddle at punt returner? He can be good, but it’s pointless to keep him out there and risk injury if he’s going to continue to drop kicks. In theory, Deric Yaussi is a good kicker, but he has been up and down this season. He’s 2-of-3 from beyond 50 yards, but a head-scratching 0-for-4 from 40-49 yards. As with everything else he does, Bouknight is a very good kick returner.

Edge: Utah

Coaching

The gorilla is off Whittingham’s back, thanks to the win over Mike Sanford and UNLV, but it won’t be gone for long if the Utes fall out of the bowl picture. Joe Glenn has resurrected a completely stagnant Wyoming program in only two years. While this season hasn’t lived up to its lofty expectations, Glenn has injected talent and fan support into Laramie.

Edge: Wyoming

Joe Beatty