Cowboys hit trail seeking upset of ninth-ranked Spartans

East Lansing, MI ( – The ninth-ranked Michigan State
Spartans try to follow up an epic performance as they clash with the Wyoming
Cowboys in non-conference action at home on Saturday afternoon.

Coming off a 2013 campaign in which they finished 13-1 and triumphed over
Stanford in the Rose Bowl, 24-20, the Spartans already have as many defeats
after three games in 2014 as they did all of last season. That one setback
came against nationally-ranked Oregon back on Sept. 6 by a score of 46-27 in

After taking off a week to lick their wounds, the Spartans were back at it
last weekend and completely dominated visiting Eastern Michigan by a whopping
73-14 score. The onslaught marked the third-highest point total in a single
game for MSU since 1931, but it should also be noted that EMU lost to Florida
just two weeks earlier by a 65-0 score as well.

“We came out and played very well,” MSU head coach Mark Dantonio declared
after the rout. “We asked our players to come game ready today and that was
our theme for this week in terms of what we needed to do. We were sort of
stuck in neutral for two weeks with where we were at and who is who. We needed
to make a statement and were able to do that.”

While the Spartans were making their statement against an overmatched Eagles
squad, Wyoming was also coming off a loss against Oregon on the road back on
Sept. 13 by a margin of 48-14. The Cowboys also bounced back following the
crushing blow by the Ducks, but their meeting with Florida Atlantic was not
nearly as decisive, squeaking by in a 20-19 final in Laramie as kicker Stuart
Williams made good on an 18-yard field goal with just 15 seconds remaining in

“This was a huge win for us,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. “You couldn’t
come up with a better script than this, especially the way we moved the ball
down the field. Certainly it was exciting.”

Wyoming, which is tied with Boise State atop the Mountain Division of the
Mountain West Conference, thanks to a 17-13 triumph over Air Force earlier
this month, is now 3-1 on the campaign but has been held to fewer than three
touchdowns in all three victories.

Michigan State has won both of the previous meetings in the series with the
Cowboys, the most recent of those coming in 1977 when the Spartans captured a
34-16 victory.

While FAU kicker Greg Joseph managed to knock through four field goals for the
Owls at War Memorial Stadium last Saturday, it was Williams who stole the show
for the Cowboys. Not only did he convert the game-winning field goal in the
waning moments, but he also booted a career-best 50-yard effort to begin the
second quarter, contributions that went a long way in him being named the
Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday.

Running back Shaun Wick was again instrumental in a win for the Cowboys as he
posted a game-high 111 yards and a score on 14 attempts, while D.J. May added
71 yards and a TD of his own on the ground. Quarterback Colby Kirkegaard
converted just 10 of his 23 pass attempts for 161 yards and was sacked five

Receiver Dominic Rufran turned his four catches into a game-high 110 yards for
the hosts, while Patrick Mertens led the Wyoming defense with a pair of fumble
recoveries in the close call.

Rufran continues to be a focal point of the passing offense for the Cowboys,
leading the team with 17 receptions for 291 yards, but even with an average of
17.1 yards per catch he has yet to make his way into the end zone. Kirkegaard,
who is 57.0 percent accurate through four games, is averaging 204.8 ypg
through the air, but he also has almost as many INTs (three) as TDs (four).

Wick and May appear to be more reliable sources in terms of scoring, with each
having a pair of rushing TDs, while combining for more than 600 yards on the
ground. But even with the running backs putting in more than their fair share
of the work, this is a Wyoming program that ranks 118th in the country in
scoring with only 17.0 ppg.

Unfortunately for Wick and May, Michigan State owns one of the toughest run
defenses in the country, ranking fifth with a mere 71.7 ypg allowed. However,
while it is true that MSU is quite aggressive on the defensive side of the
ball, keep in mind that both Eastern Michigan and Jacksonville State, which
lost in the opener, 45-7, could not simply sit back and try to keep up with
the Spartans by running the ball.

Given plenty of time to dwell on their loss to Oregon, the Spartans left no
doubt last weekend as they ran the ball 60 times for 336 yards and seven
touchdowns, three of those scores belonging to Delton Williams who also ran
for a game-high 103 yards. Quarterbacks Damion Terry, Connor Cook and Tyler
O’Connor divided up 19 pass attempts, completing all but five and accounting
for three aerial scores. Cook, who tossed two TDs, also had one score on the
ground during the rout.

“With the game going in the direction it was, I didn’t want to play just
Connor Cook in the first half,” Dantonio said of playing multiple QBs. “I
wanted those guys to run the offense when it was a little more open in terms
of passing and running the football.”

Defensively, MSU recovered five fumbles and logged an interception by RJ
Williamson, which goes a long way in explaining how this group has gotten to
plus-2.0 turnovers per game, tied for fourth in the nation. Oddly enough,
those were the first fumble recoveries of the season for the Spartans.

In addition to a very strong defense and an offense that can put up
considerable points against lesser foes, Michigan State is ranked fourth in
the country in penalty yards with a mere 25.3 per contest, and first in time
of possession, controlling the action for slightly more than 38 minutes per