Mountain West Football: Week 14 Winners and Losers
Who came out ahead and who left something to be desired in the last three days of Mountain West football?
Some encouragement and some letdowns from the week that was.
Well, that was a weekend of football, wasn’t it?
The Mountain West got deeply weird throughout Saturday, from missing punters to turnovers galore to digging deep into the depth chart in order to win games. Honestly, we wouldn’t have it any other way, but there had to be some winners and losers.
Here’s who gets a thumbs up and a thumbs down from Week 14 of Mountain West football.
1. New Mexico linebacker Brandon Shook. A frustrating year can turn on a dime and perhaps no one represented that spirit better on Saturday than the Lobos’ middle linebacker, who’s been quietly racking up tackles in 2020 like they’re going out of style but was in the right place to finally help the team break through against Wyoming. Not only did the senior collect another 13 takedowns, his third game with double-digit tackles, he forced the Trey Smith fumble that denied the Cowboys inside the New Mexico five-yard line late in the fourth quarter and hauled in the interception that broke UNM’s long losing streak.
2. Nevada wide receiver Tory Horton. Just when Mountain West defenses thought they might have solved the Wolf Pack’s Air Raid offense, another young talent stepped up. Horton torched hometown Fresno State to the tune of 148 yards and three touchdowns on just five catches, helping Nevada to stay in the hunt for the conference title game.
3. San Jose State running backs Tyler Nevens and Kairee Robinson. Nick Starkel wasn’t at his best on Saturday afternoon against Hawaii, so the Spartan’s dynamic backfield duo decided to take it upon themselves and ensure the Warriors wouldn’t spoil another unblemished record. The two combined for 263 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries, the kind of performance we haven’t seen in the South Bay since the days of Tyler Ervin, and it kept San Jose State in control of its own destiny for the last stretch of the Mountain West’s title game chase.
1. Wyoming quarterback Levi Williams. Man, what happened? Before getting knocked out late in the Cowboys’ loss to New Mexico, the redshirt freshman had perhaps the worst overall performance of his young career by completing just 4-of-12 passes for 73 yards, 54 of which came on one play, and an interception (though there was at least one other pass that should’ve been picked, as well) while contributing just 29 yards on the ground. It represented something of a “one step forward, two steps back” outcome for Wyoming, who certainly aspired to more before the season began, and another point of conflicting evidence in a quarterback quandry that’s not likely to resolve itself until, well, next August.
2. Colorado State’s special teams. You know the old saying from Ian Fleming, “once is happenstance, twice is a coincidence”? The fact that the Rams doomed themselves a second time against San Diego State with multiple blown special teams coverages, happily exploited by Jordan Byrd and BJ Busbee, suggests that there’s something more sinister at play. And considering that the Aztecs averaged just three yards per play on offense, the fact that those special teams failures were basically the entire difference between winning and losing has to be particularly galling.
Just make sure you don’t put this on Ryan Stonehouse, though. In averaging 48.6 yards per punt, with three kicks pinning the Aztecs inside the 20, he’s still a punting god and hardly the problem here.
3. Fresno State. In the “what might have been” department, you can’t help but wonder how the Bulldogs’ game against Nevada would’ve unfolded had the team been at full strength. Returning to the field from COVID-related concerns meant playing with one proverbial hand behind the back, though, since two starting offensive linemen, the long snapper, the punter, the kicker, one starting safety, and more were still out of commission.
That meant Jake Haener was running for his life, against a Wolf Pack front that was without Dom Peterson, more often than not while attempting a career-high 65 passes; a freshman wide receiver lined up to take an extra point attempt at one point (he missed); the backup punter messed up so badly twice that Fresno State ended up turning to Haener for pooch kicks and then to convert fourth downs at every turn; and the Bulldogs lost the game and their chances at the Mountain West championship game. Deeply weird and deeply unsatisfying.