In coach Joe Glenn's first two seasons at Wyoming, the Cowboys surpassed expectations.
Glenn inherited a program in 2003 that had won one conference game in three years. The 'Pokes earned two league victories in his first season, then, a year ago, posted a 7-5 overall record, including an impressive victory over UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Most observers picked Wyoming, heading into Glenn's third year, to finish near the top of the Mountain West Conference. Sports Illustrated ranked the Cowboys at No. 25 in its preseason poll.
However, Wyoming hasn't lived up to those expectations. After an impressive 4-1 start, the Cowboys (4-5, 2-4) have lost four straight games, including 43-13 at Utah last week.
"I'm basically in shock," Glenn said after falling to the Utes. "We've got some soul-searching to do. We've got to figure out where we're at or what's going on with our team."
The 'Pokes will try to figure it out Saturday (4 p.m., Ch. 5) against a BYU team that has won four consecutive MWC games, has scored 117 points in its past two games and is looking to become bowl-eligible this week.
"We're in a big-time search to find a way to win a ballgame," Glenn said, who added that his team is healthy physically, but it is struggling emotionally. "I went down to my trainer to see what he could do for broken hearts. We're wounded. But it's mostly just our spirit. We're going to have to fight hard and muster some spirit. The guys have a chance for a winning season, and that's huge to my way of thinking. I believe the kids will show up and play hard."
Indeed, Wyoming has no shortage of motivation when it faces BYU.
The Cougars are one of the Cowboys' biggest rivals; it will be Senior Day at War Memorial Stadium; it will mark Wyoming's first home game since Oct. 15 and its final home game of the season; and the 'Pokes can still finish with a winning season by getting victories in their final two games.
"If our kids can't get excited about playing against BYU and playing in their last home game . . . and trying to find a way to win a game, we're hurting," Glenn said. "My stomach has been sour for five weeks. We're going to coach hard and give it everything we've got. We're excited about playing the game."
All week long, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has been saying the Cowboys are still a very good team, despite their record. The difference, he said, is turnovers. Wyoming has coughed up the ball 17 times in its past four games. From what Mendenhall has seen on film, many of the turnovers have been the result of quarterback Corey Bramlet trying to make plays.
"It appears to me that there have been decisions made at the quarterback position in terms of desperation, scrambling, getting ready to get rid of the ball, or forcing something late in the play that have led to a number of turnovers," Mendenhall said. "Without the turnovers . . . , and the volume with which they've had them, I don't think they have the same record at this point. I think all facets of their team are playing the same as they were, other than that one element."
One emphasis for Wyoming's offense is to involve senior wide receiver Jovon Bouknight, who is No. 2 in MWC history in career receiving yards, with 3,396, and No. 3 in career receptions, with 229. This season, he has caught 56 passes for 886 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bouknight is also one of the league's top kick-return specialists.
"We've got to get Jovon the ball, no question," Glenn said.
Last week against Utah, the Utes limited Bouknight to four receptions for 43 yards. Mendenhall knows Bouknight, who is adept at picking up yardage after the catch, will be a tough challenge for his defensive secondary.
"He's most dangerous when the ball is delivered to him on the screen play, and he does a very good job as he does when he's returning kicks, just making people miss and running with passion," he said. "He just has an excellent open-field feel for the football game and for vision. As most great players, which I consider him, he wants the football and you can tell he wants it, and he feels like he can change the game when he has it in his hands. Wyoming does a nice job of using him in a lot of different areas, whether it be through faking a punt with him being a featured player, whether it be through giving him the ball in a return situation or throwing it to him frequently. I'm very impressed with him."
Cougars on the air
BYU (5-4, 4-2) at Wyoming (4-5, 2-4)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
War Memorial Stadium
TV: Ch. 5