Wyoming kicks-off the season in just a few days with a home contest versus a lower division school in Weber State of the FCS. To help preview this match-up 7220 Report was able to have a Q&A session with Weber State beat writer Roy Burton. Roy works for the Ogden based Standard-Examiner newspaper and you can follow all his work in the Examiner sports section and on twitter (@RoyBurton). What does he have to say about this weeks Wyoming-WSU match-up? Read on to find out!
7220 Report: Wyoming fans are familiar with WSU head coach from his days at Utah. What kind of offensive and defensive systems does he run now, are they similar to what he ran at Utah?
Roy Burton: Defensively, the Wildcats are very similar to what the Utes ran under Ron McBride “with a few wrinkles,” he says. On offense, the Wildcats are more quarterback-oriented than the tailback-focused Utes were during his tenure. Mac says he’s had better quarterbacks at Weber State, so this is a matter of tailoring the game plan to the personnel. That being said, Mac is old-school enough to love “three yards and a cloud of dust” when the game calls for it.
7220 Report: Coming off a 6-5 season, what are the expectations for this years Wildcat team?
Roy Burton: After finishing tied for third in the Big Sky Conference a year ago, the Wildcats aren’t a preseason favorite in the league, especially with Eastern Washington returning as the defending FCS national champion. Weber State was picked fifth by the media and sixth by the coaches, so expectations aren’t high outside the program. However, McBride is very confident in junior quarterback Mike Hoke, who is taking over for a four-year starter in Cameron Higgins. McBride is also very high on his five returning starters on the offensive line, including guard J.C. Oram, an FCS All-American. If Hoke plays at the level McBride believes he will, the Wildcats could exceed the expectations of preseason prognosticators and be in the mix at the top of the Big Sky.
Read the rest of the Q&A after the jump…
7220 Report: Who are some of the standout Weber State players that Wyoming fans should look for?
Roy Burton: Hoke stepped in for an injured Higgins and led the Wildcats to a win late last year at Northern Arizona. WSU offensive coordinator Matt Hammer also had a Wildcat-style package of plays designed for him as a change-of-pace QB. Though Hoke is just getting his first chance to start, he’s a junior who is familiar with the system. He’s got plenty of arm strength to go downfield, but he’s also mobile and able to pick up a first down on the ground if necessary. Hoke is someone for Wyoming fans to watch because the offense starts with him. Oram and left tackle Caleb Turner will be a key for WSU in both the running game and the passing game, while senior linebacker Nick Webb is the cornerstone of the defense.
7220 Report: Weber State has great depth at RB with five players listed on the depth chart. Should we expect a lot of running plays from the visitors in Laramie?
Roy Burton: The Wildcats will pound the ball on the ground as long as it’s working and to set up the passing game. McBride hasn’t gone completely away from his tailbacks; this is a team that almost totally abandoned the passing game for the better part of three games last year despite having a former all-conference quarterback who finished with multiple Big Sky Conference career records. As for which of the five running backs gets the start, my guess is Josh Booker gets the first carry, but they’ll all get the ball in situations that play to their strengths until one or two of them establish themselves as go-to guys. Kris Parham and Barrinton Collins have big play potential, while Tanner Hinds and C.J. Tuckett will get chances in the red zone and short yardage situations.
7220 Report: Weber State can win this game if…
Roy Burton: … they dominate the turnover margin stat. If Weber State can force some momentum-changing turnovers and protect the ball much better than they did last year — or even last time in Laramie. Weber State has lost 21 straight games and is 3-44 all-time against FBS opponents, but a lot of Wildcats fans believe Dave Christensen’s first win as a Cowboys head coach should have been a WSU breakthrough against an upper division school. Higgins threw five interceptions in that game and WSU still only lost to Wyoming by a touchdown, 29-22.