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UConn football opponent preview: Wyoming

The Mountain West contenders will be visiting Rentschler Field in the Huskies’ fifth game of the season.

NCAA Football: Boise State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

UConn football will open the 2021 season on the road against Fresno State before its home opener against FCS Holy Cross. The Huskies have another home game next against Purdue before hitting the road to take on Army.

Hopefully, the Huskies have one win at this point. Two would be impressive.

On September 25th at 3:30 p.m., they’ll be hosting a balanced Wyoming team that will likely be favored. The oddsmakers set the Cowboys over/under for wins at eight and for good reason, as the team returns a lot of talent on both sides of the ball.

Head Coach & Recent History

Craig Bohl is entering his eighth season as Wyoming’s head coach, posting an 82-38 record in the last seven years including three eight-win seasons. The Cowboys went 2-4 in 2020’s pandemic-shortened season, but Bohl recently signed a contract extension through 2024 and probably has decent job security given how well he’s done overall.

Before COVID-19, Wyoming had been on a run of bowl-eligible seasons, winning eight games in 2016 and 2017 for the first bowl appearances of the Bohl era. Josh Allen, now starring for the Buffalo Bills, led them to their first bowl victory in 2017, a 37-14 triumph over Central Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

NCAA Football: Potato Bowl-Central Michigan vs Wyoming Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

2020 season

Wyoming’s two wins came over Hawaii and UNLV. They lost by three in their season opener at Nevada and took a one-point loss at New Mexico, basically games that could have gone either way. Their losses to Boise State and Colorado State, the class of the conference that year, were both within 10 points. Despite the 2-4 record, they finished a solid 77th in F+ overall — 108th offensively and 60th defensively.

Starting quarterback Sean Chambers got injured in the first game, leaving backup Levi Williams to start all six games. He completed just under 50% of his passes and only threw one touchdown to go along with 877 yards and three interceptions. The 6-foot-5, 224-pound Williams also ran for six touchdowns.

Running back Xazavian Valladay earned first-team all-conference honors for the second time, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and 110 ground yards per game while also tallying 112 receiving yards in five games. Offensive lineman Keegan Cryder also made the first team as did linebacker Chad Muma. Freshman kicker John Hoyland made the second team.

2021 outlook

Athlon says at least nine starters are returning for a Wyoming defense that was pretty good last year and notes that the defense will benefit from the return of a handful of players who opted out of the 2020 season.

Offensively Wyoming is counting on new offensive coordinator Tim Polasek, hired away from Iowa, to invigorate a unit that has plenty of talent to work with. Chambers is the likely starter at quarterback and has a strong running game to work with that should help take pressure off of him as he learns a new scheme. Valladay returns as does second-leading rusher Trey Smith, who ran for 488 yards and five touchdowns in six games last season.

Last year’s top two pass-catchers, wide receivers Ayden Eberhardt (252 yards) and Isaiah Neyor (248 yards) are also returning. Valladay was their third-leading receiver in 2020.

Prediction

UConn’s starting quarterback, whoever it is, will need to be wise beyond his years to succeed in this game. This being their fifth game of the season and at home, it’s certainly possible. The Huskies may also feature a run-heavy attack that eases the playmaking duties of the quarterback, a familiar formula for Randy Edsall and this program.

At any rate this will be a challenging contest for UConn. Wyoming has an overall edge given the maturity of the program under Bohl and the impressive array of returning talent, especially defensively. It may be a lower-scoring game than some of the others, and UConn could keep this one close but I see the Cowboys winning this one. Wyoming 24, UConn 16