Jovon Bouknight is a marked man.
The Wyoming receiver, who ranks among the nation's leaders in several statistical categories, is the focal point of Utah's defensive efforts this week. The Utes are well aware of what Bouknight brings to the table.
"When you talk about Wyoming, the first thing that comes to mind is their great receiver Bouknight," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "He has big-play capabilities. He's one of the four or five great receivers in this league."
Bouknight enters Saturday's game at Rice-Eccles Stadium as the Mountain West Conference's top receiver with 105.38 yards per game. The senior ranks second in scoring (8.25 ppg) and all-purpose yardage (147.75 ypg), and is third in receptions with 6.5 per game.
Bouknight is 11th in the nation when it comes to receiving yards and is ranked within the top 38 in the other aspects.
"He's having a great year," Whittingham said. "He's a guy we have to focus on and try not to let him go crazy on us."
Simply put, Whittingham said Bouknight is the catalyst of Wyoming's attack.
Enter Utah defensive star Eric Weddle. The junior safety may see plenty of action at cornerback to cover Bouknight.
"He's the guy that, if we have a match-up that we want to make sure we feel good about, we put him on their best guy," Whittingham said. "He's our best match-up. It's not going to be 100 percent of the time, but you'll see him on Bouknight quite a bit."
Weddle is Utah's third-leading tackler with 53 stops. He tops the Utes with four pass breakups this season, while ranking second in tackles for loss (8.5), interceptions (3) and sacks (3).
Cornerback Eugene Oates said Weddle covering Bouknight is the base of Utah's coverage. It'll ultimately be a team effort. Oates and Whittingham both acknowledged Bouknight is most dangerous after catching the ball.
"The key is first off all pursue and gang-tackle him," Whittingham said. "One guy can rarely get him down in the open field because he's so athletic and has the ability to make you miss."
Being in good position and ready to make a play, he added, is critical for a Utah defense that has been somewhat marginal defending the pass.
Shutting down Bouknight completely, however, would be a challenge for any defense.
"He's their go-to guy," Oates said. "So somehow they are going to find a way to get it to him."
The fewer the better would enhance Utah's chance in the pivotal MWC game. Both the Utes and Cowboys are in dire need of a win if they intend to remain in the running for a bowl berth. With just three weeks to go, six teams are competing for as few as three postseason invitations.
"Anybody can beat anybody on any given day," Whittingham said. "The balance in this conference . . . I don't know if you'll ever see it again."
Utes on the air
Wyoming (4-4, 2-3) at Utah (4-4, 2-3)
Saturday, 1 p.m.