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Michigan State Spartans Football vs. Wyoming Cowboys Preview

The Spartans close the nonconference portion of the season by welcoming the Wyoming Cowboys.

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

After a thumping of Eastern Michigan last week, Michigan State ends its regular season nonconference season tomorrow against the Wyoming Cowboys. The Cowboys are currently 3-1, and like the Spartans, their only loss is to Oregon in Eugene. Let's take a closer look at MSU's homecoming opponent:

Wyoming: The Story so Far

The Cowboys began the season with a 17-12 win at home over FCS team Montana, a game in which the Cowboys allowed only 42 rushing yards and gained 209 yards on the ground. Wyoming then hosted in-conference foe Air Force and beat the Falcons 17-13, thanks to a 75 yard touchdown drive with less than three minutes left in the game. In this game Wyoming's passing attack flourished, as QB Colby Kirkegaard passed for 282 yards on 23 of 37 passing.

The Cowboys then traveled to Eugene, and just as MSU did, Wyoming led for parts of the first half! Also like MSU, they gave up many, many points to the Ducks to the second half, and lost 48-14. Wyoming then faced Florida Atlantic in Laramie, the same FAU team that got annihilated by Nebraska this year. The Cowboys needed a field goal with less than two minutes left to edge the Owls 20-19.

The Cowboys on Offense

The Wyoming passing attack is led by the aforementioned QB Kirkegaard. He ranks 81st in the FBS in passing efficiency, and is 65-114 (57.0%) for the season with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Three Wyoming players have more than ten receptions this season, led by Dominic Rufran, who has an 88 yard reception on his resume in the first four games.

The Cowboys rushers are fronted by junior running back Shaun Wick. Wick leads Wyoming in both total yards (404) and yards per rush (6.1). D.J. May is the other back who gets the share of the carries, averaging 4.7 yards a rush. Not counting yards lost to sacks, the Cowboys are averaging around 4.3 yards a carry.

The Cowboys on Defense

Wyoming ranks almost smack dab in the middle in the FBS on defense, ranking 60th allowing 5.2 yards a play.  The Cowboys are better at defending the pass, ranking 34th in FBS allowing 6.1 yards an attempt, then they are at defending the run, ranking 83rd in the FBS allowing 4.38 yards a carry. The Cowboys are just about neutral in turnovers this season, with a turnover margin of -1.

The Cowboys' premier defender hails from Neusitz, Germany, Mark Nzeocha. The linebacker leads the Cowboys in tackles (37), pass breakups (4), and has a forced fumble and interception on the season. Devyn Harris will be another defender to watch, he is second on the Cowboys in tackles (36) and is tied for the team lead in tackles for a loss (3.0).

Keys to the Game

  • RUN THE DANG BALL. The Spartans don't have much to fear in regards to getting trapped behind the line of scrimmage: the Cowboys average 4.0 tackles for a loss a game, in the bottom 20 of FBS. They also have recorded three sacks...on the season. Even though MSU has had their issues on the offensive line with injuries this season, this should be a good game for some of the backups to get playing time.
  • Keep the Cowboys out of field goal range. While kicker Stuart Williams was a bit inconsistent last season (4-7 on field goals), he has a leg. He's hit all four of the field goals he's attempted this season, including a game winner with less than a minute left and one from 50 yards. Williams is the best kicker the Spartans have faced this season, and if the defense wants to have a banner day, they'll need to keep the Cowboy offense outside the Spartan 35 yard line.
  • Start preparing for Nebraska by focusing on the rushing defense. Save the performance against Oregon, the Spartans have had excellent rushing defense this season. Ameer Abdullah was the best running back the Spartans faced last season, and Nebraska could've beat MSU if the Huskers didn't turn the ball over five times.
It's strange for homecoming to be against a nonconference opponent, but it makes sense: Nebraska, Michigan, and Ohio State are all huge opponents that would attract a big crowd regardless, and Rutgers falls too late in the schedule. Here's to a good performance before the conference kick-off against Nebraska next Saturday night.