Mountain West Football: Week 8 Winners and Losers
Who came out ahead and who left something to be desired in 2020’s first weekend of Mountain West football?
Some encouragement and some letdowns from the week that was.
It took a little longer than we all hoped it would, but the Mountain West finally kicked off its football season yesterday. While no one was flawless, you could definitely tell there were some hazards attached to the rapid re-launch process that every team had to go through, as well as the ripples left by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of the night, though, the story was the same as always: Some individuals won and others lost.
Here are the winners and losers from the first weekend of Mountain West football.
1. Nevada quarterback Carson Strong. The Wolf Pack came out swinging against the Wyoming Cowboys and, though the game was in peril of slipping away from them in the second half, the sophomore signal-caller never wavered and finally put the Battle Born boys over the top in overtime.
It took some work, though, and Nevada needed every bit of it. Strong finished with career highs in completions (39), passing yards (420), and touchdowns (four) on 52 attempts, including at least a few highlight catches and the overtime winner to Romeo Doubs that indicate a level of trust between he and his receivers that can only be an asset as the new season presses on.
2. Boise State wide receiver Khalil Shakir. If you still had questions about why our staff voted him as the best Bronco ahead of this season, hopefully he provided a few answers for you. Shakir went off for seven catches, 123 receiving yards and two scores, chipping in 34 yards on three carries, as well, in Boise State’s rout over Utah State. That Broncos offense is alive and well.
3. Hawaii safety Eugene Ford. The game that looked like the biggest shootout of the weekend never quite got there thanks to an inspiring performance from the Warriors defense, which forced four turnovers in their road win over Fresno State. No one played bigger on that side of the ball than the senior Ford, who racked up four tackles and intercepted Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener twice, the second of which gave Hawaii an 11-point lead that would keep Fresno State at arm’s length for the remainder of the evening.
1. UNLV. Let’s face it: That was bad.
The Rebels offense, which featured three different quarterbacks in the first twenty minutes of game time, mustered just 2.91 yards per play in their loss to San Diego State. That was the lowest figure since a blowout loss to New Mexico back in 2018, but 83% of their 186 yards of total offense came on just two drives and was more than offset by eight three-and-outs. The Rebels defense didn’t fare much better, allowing 6.38 yards per play before the Aztecs more or less sat on the ball for the last 30 minutes of the game.
Oh, and UNLV’s special teams missed a field goal, an extra point, and had a punt blocked. The future might still hold a lot promise, but the Rebels look a lot more likely, for the immediate future, to absorb the kind of old-school backroom Vegas beatdowns you see in the movies than they are to deliver them.
2. Utah State quarterback Jason Shelley. Speaking of shaky debuts, a 14-27-92-0-1 line is not exactly what Aggies fans wanted to see from their new import, especially when the guy he replaced ended up completing nearly 80% of his passes in an efficient victory down in west Texas. Granted, not every defense is likely to have Shelley running for his life like Boise State often did on Saturday afternoon, but there’s no doubt USU will need to get more in the weeks to come.
3. The Air Force running game. There probably isn’t one culprit for this — the Falcons were without the services of players like Nolan Laufenberg, Josh Stoner, and Kyle Krepsz on offense because of COVID contact tracing precautions — but the Falcons fell back to earth after their big win over Navy. They didn’t often get pushed backwards by San Jose State, as the Spartans had just four tackles for loss, but Air Force managed only 4.2 yards per carry, the lowest figure in any of their four games as conference foes, and were turned back four times at the goal line late in the first half.
Air Force likely remains a contender for one of the two spots in December’s championship game, but with so many new faces it now seems like they could be a potentially volatile team from week to week, too.