While weather conditions improve in Laramie, it still doesn't mean the Utes need to really open up the offense all too much this weekend. Instead of airing it out and risking turning the ball over, which killed them two years ago there, they should stick to the ground. Relying on Mack and Asiata appears to be the safest way to victory Saturday afternoon, especially with how poor the Cowboy run defense looks at the moment.
Nationally, Wyoming ranks near the bottom in stopping the run, as they give up 163 yards on the ground a game. To compare, Utah averages just a bit more a game at 170. Which does not bode well for that Wyoming defense, especially if the conditions are wet and they struggle making the needed tackles at the line.
But let's examine this further by breaking down Wyoming's run defense in each of their first six games.
Against the Lobos, Wyoming gave up 317 yards on the ground. Yes, the New Mexico ground game accounted for nearly all of the Lobo yards in Saturday's 24-0 victory over the Cowboys. That was by far their worst performance defending the run this season, but it's not just isolated to that game.
In their 45-16 loss to Bowling Green, the Falcons, not known for their running game, reached 101 yards on the ground. That's pretty surprising, since Bowling Green manages only 98 yards per game on the ground and in their lost to Eastern Michigan last week, only rushed for 94. Right now, Bowling Green ranks 12th from the bottom there, while Utah is around 45th nationally. It wasn't much better against BYU, as the Cougars rushed for 163 yards, more than their season average of 134.
The only two teams that managed to not run for 100 or more yards on Wyoming were Ohio and North Dakota State, both victories for the Cowboys. Ohio only managed 38 yards on the ground and North Dakota State came up 3 yards short of breaking the century mark. Ohio has done a bit better since their loss in Laramie, but it's clear the Cowboys run defense has regressed as the season progresses and I expect that to benefit the Utes Saturday.
This is all about finding the easiest path to victory and staying on the ground, while fairly conservative, should give Utah a near perfect path to that victory. Of course, if they can find movement through the air and Brian Johnson doesn't turn the ball over, then they should take that route to victory, but right now it seems the safe approach is to keep it on the ground.