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Wyoming will play San Jose State for the 12th time on Saturday.

The Cowboys enter the game at CEFCU Stadium (2 p.m., FS2) with a 7-4 lead in the series, but the Spartans have a 3-1 edge since joining the Mountain West.

The Pokes won the previous meeting 24-9 in 2018 in Laramie and lost 20-17 at San Jose State in 2017.

The Casper Star-Tribune caught up with Vytas Mazeika, a San Jose Mercury News correspondent covering the Spartans beat, to get his insight on UW’s opponent.

Ryan Thorburn: San Jose State won the Mountain West last season and finished 7-1 overall. Can you describe what the historic season meant to the program?

Vytas Mazeika: It certified the hiring of Bay Area native Brent Brennan, who grew up watching San Jose State football games but only won three games during his first two seasons at the helm. A 5-7 campaign in 2019 showed promise, but the Spartans struck gold last year during a truncated COVID-19 season in which San Jose State went unbeaten and defeated Boise State for the first time to claim the Mountain West title in Las Vegas. Near-capacity crowds were in attendance for each of the first three home games so far, with student support even causing penalties for the San Jose State offense on its own goal line.

RT: With Brennan, a candidate for the Arizona job last December after earning MWC coach of the year honors, sticking around to coach a veteran team, there were great expectations for the Spartans this season. Is this 4-4 start viewed as a major step back or has the schedule just been more difficult?

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VM: San Jose State went toe-to-toe at USC until the fourth quarter in its second game, but disappointing losses at Western Michigan and Colorado State didn’t meet expectations. The Spartans, who played in three different time zones during a four-week span, spent all of September on the road while traveling nearly 10,000 air miles. But San Jose State is 2-1 at home, nearly pulling off a major upset two weeks ago in a double-overtime loss to unbeaten San Diego State (7-0), which is ranked No. 21 in the nation. The final four games of the season will determine if the Spartans suffered a “major step back.”

RT: Super senior Nick Starkel has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury. Nick Nash, who had 213 yards passing and a career-high 121 yards rushing last week at UNLV, has been filling in. Which quarterback do you think will start against Wyoming and how do you see that matchup with the Cowboys’ defense playing out?

VM: All signs point to Nash, a dual-threat QB, making his fifth-career start. The Spartans struggle to get going immediately after the opening kickoff and the Cowboys have proved to be stingy against Mountain West opponents, particularly Fresno State’s prolific offense two weeks ago – with our local guy Jake Haener at QB only throwing for 96 yards in a 17-0 contest. In last week’s 27-20 comeback at UNLV, Nash proved more decisive on his first read and opted to scramble out of the pocket whenever the coverage didn’t suit him. Tight end Derrick Deese Jr. is clearly his favorite target and ranks 40th in the nation with 553 receiving yards.

RT: The Spartans nearly upset San Diego State in a defensive slugfest during their last home game. What are your expectations for San Jose State’s defense as it prepares for a Wyoming offense that hasn’t scored a touchdown since Oct. 9?

RT: Turnovers are not friendly to the Spartans, who’ve only intercepted one pass so far. Defensive end Cade Hall, last year’s Mountain West defensive player of the year with 10 sacks, forced a key fumble in the final minute of the first half at UNLV to help erase a 17-3 deficit. Linebacker Kyle Harmon ranks second in the conference in tackles per game, which helps negate the run game. But Brennan sounded most concerned about the mismatch with Wyoming wide receivers Isaiah Neyor (6-3, 210) and Ayden Eberhardt (6-2, 195).

RT: San Jose State seems to play up or down to the level of its competition, at least when looking at the 19-13 overtime loss to the undefeated Aztecs and the 27-20 comeback victory over the winless Rebels. How do you think Saturday’s game plays out with the Spartans opening as 3-point favorites over the slumping Cowboys?

VM: I expect San Jose State to take few risks, trust its defense and ask Nash to make quick, smart decisions. Punter Will Hart, a graduate transfer from Michigan, should play a key role in terms of field position. The Spartans will attempt to establish the run game behind bruising back Tyler Nevens, while utilizing an all-purpose weapon such as Shamar Garrett, our publication’s 2019 high school player of the year out of national powerhouse De La Salle. Turnovers might decide the final outcome.

Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn

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