Here’s the second installment of the weekly Mountain West Notebook, compiled by Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman with contributions from beat writers who cover the 12 conference teams.
For the second consecutive week, Air Force will be breaking in a first-time starter at quarterback.
Kale Pearson injured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee just two quarters into his starting debut in a 38-13 victory over Colgate and likely will miss “a while,” according to coach Troy Calhoun.
The Falcons will turn to sophomore Jaleel Awini, a native of nearby Aurora, Colo., who had battled Pearson for the position through the spring and fall. Awini threw just three times against Colgate, completing two passes for 26 yards. He lost 18 yards on a sack, leading to a line of minus-3 yards rushing.
At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, the strong-armed Awini is significantly taller than Pearson.
“He’s a good leader,” receiver Ty MacArthur said. “I think he’ll assimilate fine into the starting position. We’re all pumped up for him.”
Sophomore Karson Roberts slides into the backup spot behind Awini.
Next game: vs. Utah State, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Aside from Pearson, Air Force emerged from the opener without a significant injury. … This week’s opposing quarterback, Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton, decommitted after initially deciding to attend Air Force. … The Falcons trailed Colgate 7-0 after the first quarter before scoring 38 straight points.
— Brent Briggeman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs)
The Broncos failed to score an offensive touchdown in the season opener for the second straight year, losing 38-6 at Washington.
It was the Broncos’ worst loss since 2005 and their first game without a touchdown of any kind since 1997.
The loss came in the program’s fifth straight high-profile season opener. The Broncos beat Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia before losing to Michigan State and Washington.
“You open up every year like we open up, you’re going to get your nose bloodied,” coach Chris Petersen said. “It’s just a matter of time. I know that. Nobody else seems to, but I know that. … Did I think the game was going to be closer and we were going to be right there battling? Absolutely. Am I shocked it went like it did? Well, I knew it could if we didn’t make some plays on offense to score some points because we’ve got a lot of guys on the other side of the ball who hadn’t been in that arena before.”
The Broncos moved the ball fairly well with their new up-tempo, pistol-based offense — holding it for at least 12 plays four times. But they were unable to hit big plays (long of 18) or convert in the red zone, where they failed to get into the end zone on three trips.
“It’s similar to opening against Michigan State (last year), where they’re not going to give you much,” Petersen said. “When you’ve got a chance, you’ve got to strike.”
Next game: vs. Tennessee-Martin, 1:04 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN3)
Notable: Co-starting strong-side linebacker Jonathan Brown will miss about six weeks with a knee injury. … True freshman Aaron Baltazar has emerged as the No. 2 tailback. … Boise State will unveil its new HD video board — about 37 feet by 59 feet — at Bronco Stadium on Saturday.
— Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
Colorado State doesn’t have time to look back on its season-opening loss Sunday evening to Colorado, not with a road game Saturday at Tulsa.
“There’s no time to dwell on it now,” junior quarterback Garrett Grayson said Monday. “It’s crunch time. We’ve got three days to really prepare, and then Friday we’re traveling. We need to focus in, big time.”
The Rams had to take a day off Monday under NCAA rules and haven’t really had a chance yet to look at a Tulsa team coming off a disappointing 34-7 loss of its own Thursday at Bowling Green.
CSU coach Jim McElwain reiterated his disappointment in Sunday’s loss, particularly the defensive breakdowns that left Colorado receiver Paul Richardson wide open twice for long touchdown passes and an ineffective third-down offense. But he also saw a lot of positives he believes his team can build upon for the remainder of the season.
Sophomore running back Kapri Bibbs, getting extra playing time after starter Donnell Alexander injured his hand early in the game, ran for 70 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. And receiver Joe Hansley, also a sophomore, reminded his coach and teammates of the playmaking ability he first displayed a year ago by catching eight passes for 91 yards and returning three punts for 92 yards, including one for a 74-yard touchdown.
Grayson completed 22 of 39 passes for 201 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions, but seven of the incomplete passes were dropped by receivers, McElwain said, including three that would have gone for first downs to improve the Rams’ 2-of-14 success rate on third downs.
Redshirt freshman Hayden Hunt punted seven times for an average of 49.7 yards a kick. And other than giving up those two long pass plays, McElwain felt like his defense played relatively well against what he felt was a pretty formidable CU offense. Richardson caught touchdown passes of 82 and 75 yards for the Buffs’ first and last touchdowns of the game that were responsible for 162 of their 513 yards of total offense.
“I’m disappointed; what competitor wouldn’t be?” McElwain said. “But I guess it’s how you handle that disappointment and how it fuels your energy to move forward, and I’m ready to move forward.”
Next game: at Tulsa, 5 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Alexander suffered a hand injury in the opener that might require surgery. WR Joe Hansley twisted an ankle late in the game but isn’t expected to miss any playing time. … McElwain said he generally was pleased with the play of Grayson, who won a three-man competition for the starting job just two days before the opening game, and that he never considered a change during the game. True freshman Nick Stevens, he said, won the backup job over sophomore Conner Smith.
— Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
Last winter, New Mexico coach Bob Davie and his staff made it a priority to sign a junior-college quarterback as a backup to sophomore Cole Gautsche. They sought an early graduate who could participate in spring practice, a run-pass QB who would be a good fit for offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse’s system.
They’ll find out Saturday, sooner than expected or hoped, how well they did in that regard. Clayton Mitchem, a transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, will be at the controls when the Lobos play UTEP in El Paso.
Mitchem will start in place of Gautsche, who left last week’s 21-13 loss to UTSA in the fourth quarter with concussion symptoms.
In relief against UTSA, on the Lobos’ final possession of the game, Mitchem completed his first two passes and scrambled for 9 yards. But he misfired on his final three pass attempts and turned the ball over on downs.
“You do see a spark there,” Davie said, “whether he takes off with the ball, his running ability, and certainly his passing ability with a quick release and a strong arm. I’m anxious to watch him.”
Next game: at UTEP, 6 p.m. MT (Fox College Sports)
Notable: Davie said he hopes Gautsche will return in time for the Lobos’ game at Pittsburgh on Sept. 14. … Wide receiver/kick returner Chase Clayton injured a knee against UTSA and likely will be out two weeks. … Much has been said and written about the Lobos’ experience on the offensive line, but Davie said the blocking skills of two departed tight ends, Lucas Reed and Chris Biren, were sorely missed in the loss to UTSA.
— Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal
Utah State’s biggest area of need coming into fall camp seems to be settled one week into the season.
Going into the year, the team was looking to replace its top five receiving leaders in 2012. There haven’t been a lot of questions about the wide receiver position since the Aggies managed to put 314 passing yards on Utah in a 30-26 loss last week.
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton didn’t have a lot of trouble finding his targets in a 31-of-40 performance. Jojo Natson had nine receptions, while Brandon Swindall had a pair of touchdown catches. Travis Van Leeuwen led the team with 107 yards Thursday evening.
Van Leeuwen, a senior, said he always felt the group had potential.
“There were a lot of question marks about us going into the season, but I knew my guys in that room,” he said. “We’ve got a tough group of receivers and we’ve been working all off-season, putting in a lot of extra work, and I feel like this is one of the best receiving corps Utah State has had because we have so many weapons.”
The Aggies will have to prove they can keep the passing game consistent as they move on to their first Mountain West game against Air Force. Watching the team’s matchup against Colgate, Van Leeuwen was impressed by the adjustments the Falcons made in the second half.
The discipline of Air Force’s defense could limit Utah State’s potential for big plays. The Aggies will be scheming this week to figure out ways to get by them and take an early lead — something they didn’t do against Utah.
“They have really good corners,” Van Leeuwen said. “They’re disciplined, they play assignment football and they’re not going to give up anything deep in my opinion.”
Next game: at Air Force, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: The Aggies could be missing senior defensive end Connor Williams for Saturday’s game. He has a foot injury and Matt Wells said Monday the team was still evaluating it. … Wells will be in his first game against Air Force as a head coach, but he previously coached against the Falcons as an assistant at Navy and New Mexico.
— Kyle Goon, The Salt Lake Tribune
There were a lot of positives from the Cowboys’ 37-34 loss at No. 18 Nebraska on Saturday.
Wyoming rolled up 602 yards of total offense, the eighth most against a Nebraska team at home. It rallied from a 37-21 fourth-quarter deficit and had the ball late with a chance to tie or win the game. The defense gave up 375 yards rushing, but forced two fourth-quarter turnovers and recorded eight tackles for loss.
But coming close against a nationally ranked team isn’t enough. Wyoming hosts Idaho (0-1) in its home opener Saturday.
“We haven’t won yet,” junior starting quarterback Brett Smith said. “That in itself motivates everybody.”
Smith threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for 92 yards against Nebraska. The team rushed for 219 yards after averaging only 125.2 yards per game last season.
Coach Dave Christensen liked what his offense did in the first game with him calling the plays. But the thing that impressed him the most was the offensive line that featured a new center in Albert Perez and two new tackles — a pair of junior-college transfers who redshirted last year — in Walker Madden and Connor Rains.
Smith was sacked only once and the team lost only four yards on 30 rushing attempts. Sophomore Shaun Wick recorded his first 100-yard game with 101 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.
“I never was able to coach an offensive line to play at the level those guys played on Saturday,” Christensen said. “It was unbelievable line play. It was physical. They performed at a much higher level than any line I ever had perform against Nebraska.”
Christensen took several teams into Nebraska when he was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Missouri from 2001 to 2008.
“I thought going in this could be the best line we’ve had here. Without a doubt, it isn’t even close. These guys are special,” Christensen added.
But there are improvements that need to be made. Wyoming threw two interceptions in the red zone. The defense, with only six players healthy and ready to play along the line, allowed Nebraska to go 9 for 17 on third-down conversions. And Christensen wants to see better play from his kickoff coverage and punt return squads.
Idaho lost its opener Saturday at North Texas 40-6 in the debut of coach Paul Petrino. Wyoming beat Idaho 40-37 last season in overtime in Moscow, Idaho.
“We can’t be complacent,” sophomore defensive end Eddie Yarbrough said. “Who are we to say anything because we haven’t won. If you give (Idaho) an opportunity, they will expose you.”
Up next: vs. Idaho, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (ROOT Sports)
Notable: First-year quarterbacks coach Jason Gesser was the running backs coach and interim head coach at Idaho last season. … Junior cornerback Tyran Finley is questionable after he suffered a leg injury late against Nebraska. If he doesn’t play, true freshman Tim Hayes likely will get the start. … Senior safety Marqueston Huff, the Mountain West’s Defensive Player of the Week, had 18 tackles against Nebraska, which tied him for the most in the country last week. … True freshman walk-on Ethan Wood averaged 52.2 yards on four punts, and a net average of 42.2.
— Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle
The Bulldogs allowed 543 yards of total offense in their overtime victory over Rutgers. That is more than they allowed in any game last season including a loss at No. 4 Oregon, which obviously can get up and down the field.
Of that total, 311 yards came on just eight plays — covering 69, 65, 55, 30, 28, 23, 21 and 20 yards.
The other 232 yards came on 65 plays, 3.6 per play.
Coach Tim DeRuyter said the Bulldogs were lucky to win the game — it was 52-51, Rutgers blowing a two-point pass play in the overtime — and he hasn’t been shy about reminding the team.
Playing on Thursday last week, the team took Friday as its day off and on Saturday had position meetings and went through a brief practice in preparation for the triple-option offense run by Cal Poly, a Football Championship Subdivision program.
“I wanted everybody to enjoy the win, but then it was over,” DeRuyter said. “It was, ‘Guys, we’re dangling, and we’re going to show you on tape all the things that we have got to get corrected if we want to do all the things we want to do this year.’ It was very stark to them. Some of those guys didn’t have a real fun meeting on Saturday, but that’s the reality of it. We talk to our players all the time about our core values in this program are truth and love and the truth hurts sometimes and so they got a little bit of that.’’
More from DeRuyter: “We’ve got to get stops on defense and not give up cheap ones. Of the 73 plays we played the other night on defense, 63 went for 230 yards. That’s pretty good defense. But when you give up 10 explosive plays for 300-something yards, you can’t do that and play good defense. Our charge is to make sure we find out exactly why technique-wise or fundamentally we weren’t playing those plays right and get it corrected.”
Next game: vs. Cal Poly, 8 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN3)
Notable: Fresno State has three of the top five receivers in the Bowl Subdivision (receptions per game) – Davante Adams and Josh Harper are tied for second with 14 and Isaiah Burse is tied for fourth with 13. … Adams has caught a touchdown pass in nine consecutive games, a school record. He also holds the MW record. The NCAA mark is 18 in a row, set by Larry Fitzgerald (Pittsburgh). … Safety Derron Smith had a pick against Rutgers, extending the Bulldogs’ streak with at least one interception to 12 games. That is the longest active streak in the nation.
— Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee
Quarterback Taylor Graham had a difficult debut in his first start since his senior year at Wheaton (Ill.) North High in 2009. He attended Ohio State for three semesters and redshirted at UH in 2012.
Against USC, Graham was 16 of 41 for 208 yards, with his one touchdown pass — a 60-yarder to freshman Keith Kirkwood — coming on the Rainbow Warriors’ final offensive play of the game. Graham was intercepted four times and sacked seven times.
The Warriors expanded their pro-set offense, opening with a five-wide formation. Graham also called several plays without a huddle and, a few times, the Warriors were aligned in a pistol formation. Still, the Warriors struggled for rhythm. There were six dropped passes. Two of the interceptions occurred when receivers ran incorrect routes.
The Warriors are hopeful running back Joey Iosefa, who missed training camp because of a foot fracture, will be available for Saturday’s road game against Oregon State. The Warriors netted 23 rushing yards on 31 carries. Receiver Bubba Poueu-Luna, who gained 19 yards on a reverse, was the leading rusher.
David Griffin, a transfer from Mesa Community College, and Leo Koloamatangi, who redshirted in 2012, are expected to have expanded roles on the offensive line this week. Both are regarded as tackles, although Koloamatangi also can play guard.
The UH defense played well, with senior Brenden Daley leading the way with 10 tackles, including four in the USC backfield.
Next game: at Oregon State, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (Pac-12 Networks)
Notable: Left tackle Sean Shigematsu, who departed in the second half because of a bone bruise in his right ankle, is expected to play. … Safety Marrell Jackson, who has an undisclosed injury, also should be included on the 64-player travel squad. … Linebacker Lance Williams and tight end Jordan Pu‘u-Robinson will miss their second consecutive game because of injuries. … The Warriors will take four quarterbacks to Corvallis. Ikaika Woolsey, the fourth-string QB, doubles as the holder. … Scott Harding, a 27-year-old former Aussie rules player, was used as a receiver, punt returner and punter against USC. He did not begin playing American football until he signed with UH in 2011. In Aussie football, the players do not wear pads or helmets.
— Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Nevada played two very different halves of football against No. 21 UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, and while coach Brian Polian is focused on getting better in key areas, he’s also choosing to look at the good that came out of the game.
The Wolf Pack trailed 17-13 before giving up two quick touchdowns to start the second half, the second on a 4-yard return of a blocked punt, and the rout was on. The Bruins outscored the Pack 41-7 in the second half and won 58-20.
“My gut feeling coming off of the field (at halftime) was what it was. We were in great position at halftime,” said Polian, who was named Chris Ault’s successor in January and coached his first game. “We were going toe to toe with a team that I think is better than No. 21 in the country.
“We had that blocked punt and the air came out of us. And quite frankly the most disappointing thing to me was we couldn’t rally. We couldn’t rally emotionally. We let it deflate us. And we’re not going to let that happen.”
Nevada moved the ball fairly well, gaining 353 total yards, but had no answer on defense. The Bruins did not punt and scored on nine of their first 10 possessions (eight touchdowns), excluding a short, end-of-half possession.
“Look, it’s one bad game. It’s a long season,” Polian said. “We’re upset about what we saw on tape and we know what needs to get fixed, but we’re not going to let it put us in the tank for the whole season. It’s one bad game. This game could be an afterthought at the end of year. You don’t know how things are going to go.”
Next game: vs. UC Davis, 7:05 p.m. MT Saturday (Mountain West Digital Network)
Notable: The Wolf Pack came away from the UCLA game unscathed. The only injury among the two-deep remains backup TE Stephen Jeffers, who could be cleared this week. … Bryan Lane Jr., who has gone from safety to linebacker, is practicing more at safety again. True freshman linebacker Travis Wilson is getting looks in the two-deep after a strong game on special teams.
— Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal
SAN DIEGO STATE
The Aztecs’ 40-19 defeat to FCS Eastern Illinois highlighted some glaring errors in all three phases of their game.
Coach Rocky Long said the defense committed more than 43 assignment errors, while the offense struggled in both the rushing and passing game.
Receivers dropped passes, quarterback Adam Dingwell looked shaky and the Aztecs couldn’t penetrate on the ground after starting running back Adam Muema went down with an ankle injury in the second quarter.
This week, the Aztecs have the daunting task of going into Columbus, Ohio, to take on the No. 3 Buckeyes.
Long said one of the reasons the Aztecs struggled in their opener was that they were trying to do too much. The defense was tasked with making its own calls, and on offense Dingwell was granted the autonomy to change the play liberally at the line of scrimmage.
In hindsight, the coaches think they overestimated the players.
“We hope to trim the offense down a little bit so we can do things the right way, and hopefully if we don’t give (Dingwell) too much to think about, he’ll execute to his ability,” Long said, adding that the coaches also will go back to directing the defense from the sidelines.
Next game: at Ohio State, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2/ABC)
Notable: LB Derek Largent will miss two to four weeks with a knee sprain. … Muema is in a walking boot with a low ankle sprain, but is expected back at practice Tuesday and should be able to play against Ohio State.
— Stefanie Loh, U-T San Diego
SAN JOSE STATE
There were several kinks in San Jose State’s season opener, but they didn’t prevent a 24-0 win over FCS foe Sacramento State.
Quarterback David Fales, the nation’s most accurate passer last year at 72.5 percent, completed a career-worst 50 percent and the Spartans’ offense didn’t dominate the way it would have hoped to.
As coach Ron Caragher and Fales pointed out, they were inches away from connecting on a few more big pass plays. Chalk that up to first-game jitters, Fales said.
“You look at last year, we had a couple drops in our first game,” Fales said. “I think it’s just getting into that first game environment. Everyone gets a little amped up. We’ve just got to relax.”
It’ll be tough to relax this week against No. 5 Stanford. The Spartans took the eventual Rose Bowl champions to the wire in last season’s opener, losing 20-17. If Stanford overlooked SJSU last year, the Spartans should have their full attention now.
Fales said he knows it’s a chance for the team to make a national statement. A win could put them on the cusp of a national ranking.
“We understand they’re a really good team and it’s a big game for us,” Fales said. “But we take it week by week and we’re excited to play them.”
Next game: at Stanford, 9 p.m. MT Saturday (Pac-12 Networks)
Notable: Running back Tyler Ervin suffered an undisclosed right foot injury after only two carries against Sacramento State. He has not practiced since and is wearing a boot on his foot. Caragher doesn’t disclose injuries unless they are season-ending, but it appears Ervin will be sidelined at least for this week.
If UNLV coach Bobby Hauck is making changes to special teams, he isn’t letting on. Not completely anyway.
“We don’t have to tell Arizona that, so we’re not gonna,” Hauck said. “But we’ve got some guys that we have high hopes are going to be good football players for us. We’re going to hang with them.”
Hauck has overseen special teams since taking over the Rebels following the 2009 season, and it’s a unit that often has struggled. But Hauck has remained committed to coaching that part of the team, an area of the game he has overseen most of his career.
Breakdowns on special teams broke open what was a close game Thursday at Minnesota. The Rebels trailed 16-13 at halftime, but gave up a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half and a 51-yard return of a blocked field goal midway through the third quarter. Minnesota went on to win 51-23.
Hauck said after the game he didn’t use live tackling in training camp to avoid injuries and he played reserves rather than starters to keep the front-line players healthy.
“We’re not at the point where we want to play all our starters in the kicking game,” Hauck said Monday.
Even with the special teams blunders, the Rebels nearly clawed their way back into the game, driving to Minnesota’s 14-yard line early in the fourth quarter to try to cut the deficit to a one-score game. But a poor read by quarterback Nick Sherry turned into an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown to end all doubts.
Hauck, though, was encouraged UNLV even was in the position to make a run at the Golden Gophers.
“I don’t think our former teams would’ve held up,” Hauck said. “It would’ve been like, ‘Here we go again.’ This group fought its way right back into that. They’re competitive.”
Next game: vs. Arizona, 8:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: The Rebels are expected to face the nation’s leading rusher from last season in Ka’Deem Carey. He was suspended for Arizona’s opener Friday, a 35-0 victory over Northern Arizona. Carey rushed for 1,929 yards in 2012. “Ka’Deem Carey’s the best running back in the country,” Hauck said. “I don’t know if we can tackle him. No one tackled him very well last year.” … UNLV’s loss to Minnesota was its 23rd in a row on the road. That is three short of the school record, set from 1994 to 1998. … Junior wide receiver Marcus Sullivan is out indefinitely to deal with a personal matter. He was second on the team last season with 55 catches for 659 yards and four touchdowns. Sullivan also handles kickoff and punt returns.
— Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal