ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Here's my final thoughts for Saturday's Gildan New Mexico Bowl featuring Temple and Wyoming.
The Owls (8-4) are looking to win their first bowl game in 32 seasons. The Cowboys (8-4), on the other hand, hope to win their second New Mexico Bowl game in three seasons. Judging by all the Wyoming fans out here, this will definitely be a home-game atmosphere for the Cowboys. But will that be an advantage?
I think Temple will pull it out based on Wyoming's inability to stop the run. But at the same time, the Owls must contain Cowboys quarterback Brett Smith.
Here are a few keys to the game.
Establish the run game. Temple needs to run tailbacks Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown like head coach Steve Addazio's job depends on it. Of course, the Owls will have to occasionally pass on early downs to keep Wyoming from loading the box. But the Cowboys are yielding an average of 230 rushing yards per game, which ranks 115th in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Owls need to take advantage of that.
Harass Brett Smith. Brett Smith is the reason why the Cowboys won eight games a season after finishing, 3-9. The true freshman quarterback keeps plays alive with his scrambling ability. Temple needs to put pressure on the signal caller and make things uncomfortable for him. If they are successful doing that, Smith's confidence might take a hit.
Dominate special teams. Whether it was a long return or a blocked punt, the Owls have won the special teams battle in most of this season's games. Temple needs to come up with a big special teams' moment to set the stage and ignite the team.
Keep testing Temple's cornerbacks. The Owls cornerbacks are the weak link of a talented defense. Temple's corners have yielded long completions and underneath routes. Smith could take advantage of that and get big plays in the passing game.
Force turnovers. The Cowboys rank fourth nationally in turnover margin behind LSU, Oklahoma State and Toledo with a plus 1.25 margin per game. Wyoming needs to force fumbles and/or intercept passes to get the Owls offensive off the field.
Get Alvester Alexander going. The running back could get the Cowboys going with his big-play ability. A talented back, Alexander was on the Doak Walker Award Watch List. Wyoming needs to utilize him to keep pressure off of Smith and keep Temple's defense honest.