LARAMIE, Wyo. — The last time Nick Smith started a game, Wyoming was hosting Colorado State in 2015. The Cowboys had just one win on the season to that point, and they wouldn’t pick up another that day in Laramie.

Much has changed since then for the Cowboys. For one, since losing that game 26-7 to Colorado State, Wyoming has not lost another Mountain West regular-season game at War Memorial Stadium. The Cowboys have flipped their fortunes from a 2-10 cellar dweller to a team now competing for its second consecutive division title.

Smith has changed, too. He was a redshirt freshman then, starting because of injuries to Cameron Coffman and Josh Allen. If he starts Saturday in Wyoming’s regular-season finale against Fresno State, it will still be because Allen is hurt. But Smith feels much more comfortable about the idea.

“I feel like I’ve grown personally, just kind of more matured and try to handle situations just with some more patience and just trying to do it the best I can,” Smith said. “Making sure that I’m prepared as best I can and taking those aspects into the week and making sure I’m focused on attention to detail and executing well. I think I’ve just kind of grown as a player, too.

“So I think a combination of those things and a combination just of the volume of work that’s been put in between now as well is going to help.”

Allen injured his shoulder in the first half of Wyoming’s win Saturday at Air Force and threw just one pass after halftime before handing the ball over to Smith. Smith closed out the win, completing two of three passes for 39 yards.

Allen was not at practice Tuesday as he was receiving medical treatment. His mother posted on Facebook that Allen was having X-rays on Monday, but head coach Craig Bohl declined to comment on that Tuesday. Bohl said at his weekly press conference that he expects Allen to be cleared for practice sometime this week, but that he could be a game-time decision Saturday.

“Over the years, we’ve been in this situation — I don’t want to say several times, but enough times that you prepare a couple different guys for it,” offensive coordinator Brent Vigen told the Casper Star-Tribune, “and you prepare maybe a little bit differently based on who might play, and you do your best to position yourself to be able to move the ball and be able to score the ball when we get to Saturday.”

Allen’s loss would obviously be a disappointment for the Cowboys. The junior was named the Mountain West preseason offensive player of the year in July and is expected to be a first-round draft pick in the NFL draft in the future. But Wyoming has seen positive signs from Smith, too.

“I think he’s a guy that can generally do all the things that we ask Josh to do,” Vigen said. “I don’t think he maybe excels as much in the run game and doesn’t have as strong an arm as Josh. But I think Nick’s very capable in both ends. And what he didn’t have going into that game, he didn’t have the ball for the practice reps. So there were a few things that weren’t performed perfectly, I’ll say, but he did enough for us to win the game.

“And anytime a backup gets in there, you recognize that he’s getting maybe a third of the practice reps out of that. There’s always a little bit of a shrinking of the offense just because of that. So now as we prepare, Nick will get more reps this week and if he should have to play on Saturday, he’ll be that much more prepared.”

Smith competed with Allen for Wyoming’s starting spot in Spring 2016, but he did not see the field that year as Allen emerged as one of the conference’s top quarterbacks.

Smith said he always prepares as if he’s going to play, but Tuesday was different nonetheless.

He was the first guy taking snaps.

“It’s going to help out tremendously, and I think what you learn on the practice field definitely translates to what happens in the game,” Smith said. “There’s only so many reps throughout the week, and so we try to get as many as we can, but there’s only so much time. I think those reps are going to be super valuable, and we’ll definitely take advantage of them.”


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com