Where does one start? Oh yes, a win.
Wyoming received its second win this season against what appears to be a somewhat disjointed and beat up Toledo Rockets team. Toledo was coming off from a big win at Purdue, and perhaps the 1-3 record that Wyoming held at that time caused them to feel overconfident in their playing ability, or perhaps they were looking ahead to next week when they visit Boise State on the blue turf. Needless to say, Wyoming came away with an interesting, if not surprising win against a solid Toledo team.
Defense for the Cowboys was the highlight of the game. Even without star linebacker Brian Hendricks in the lineup, the defense showed up big. Ghaali Muhammad played in that position throughout the game, and looked to have had a career night (admittedly, he has a short career at that position). His highlight was of a sack of the Toledo QB on a 4th and 5 yard play, which helped to seal the Wyoming win. Part of the reason the defense showed up so big is due to the marginal weather that the game experienced. It was wet and drizzling for most of the game, and the evening was very much on the cool side.
Toledo had very little production with their starting sophomore quarterback, Austin Dantin. Oddly enough, his numbers through the third quarter were not that far away from Wyoming's Austyn Carta-Samuels. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Terrance Owens. In the fourth quarter alone Owens threw for 108 yards, as compared to the 76 yards of Dantin through three. Toledo outgained Wyoming 374 to 266 yards. Oddly enough, Wyoming led in time of possession, and the starting field position for Wyoming was far superior to that of Toledo.
Wyoming's offense was able to produce when it had to. Wyoming was able to get a 17-0 lead by the third quarter, but offensive production was certainly not stellar. If not for a handful of trick plays such as fake field goals, a fake punt, and a reverse/throw by Leonards for a TD, then Wyoming really would have been stonewalled for much of the game. Last week's game against AFA saw Wyoming actually rush the ball effectively. This week saw less than 100 yards rushing. I'm not sure what changed, but perhaps just physically Wyoming's O-Line was just more competitive against AF's undersized D-Line. When playing another, more traditional FBS team in terms of line size, Wyoming is just outmuscled and cannot open up any effective running lanes.
Passing was not much better. ACS ended up with 102 yards, with a further 71 yards from Austin McCoy and David Leonard. The leading rusher was ACS with 56 yards, and Alexander coming in second with 35. The kicking game was again the strong point of the game. McCoy was able to pin Toledo against their end zone all night long. No return yards were given to Toledo on any of the punts for the night. This is good considering there were 8 punts for Wyoming that night. Ian Watts was 2-2 on field goals, and 2-2 for PATs.
The defense for Wyoming did a tremendous job though. Overall, this was probably their best game. Pitching a shutout through the 3rd quarter is impressive, especially against a team which demolished Purdue the week before. The defense was also able to hold on, even when the offense sputtered out and caused Toledo to start on a short field. ACS threw a very costly interception late in the game, but the defense was able to hold on and limited Toledo to 15 points. Of course, those 15 points came in pretty rapid fire. This was not the fault of the defense, but rather of the offense and they played for the last one and a half quarters. The secondary and linebacker corps look good, and the D-Line is starting to get some really good pushes. Gabe Knapton had a tremendous game on Saturday, and hopefully we will see that kind of effort from the rest of the line. Josh Biezuns also had a very productive night, and is looking to fill that DE spot nicely so far.
This was a game fully under control until the end of the 3rd quarter. Then Toledo woke up, started doing things right, and had a couple of balls go their way. Wyoming was able to hold onto their lead, but not add to it during a very spirited comeback attempt by the Rockets. The game was very much in question until Wyoming finally made a first down on their last drive of the game. After that point, Toledo was unable to stop the clock and Wyoming came away with a win.
Wyoming certainly needs to close out games much stronger. It is odd to think that last year Wyoming was very much a 4th quarter team. The overall team makeup has changed a bit, but one would expect that the returning players would help to continue closing strong. Giving up 15 points in the final quarter, and being unable to move the ball effectively during that final quarter, will lead to more lost games (much like the AFA game).
If there were two stats to hang a hat upon, it would be that Toledo was able to convert 2 of 19 3rd and 4th down attempts. The defense played very well, and if the UW offense had been able to consistently move the ball throughout the entire game, then it would have likely been a shutout for the Pokes.
Austyn Carta-Samuels is still very much a work in progress. While the weather conditions were not suitable for slinging the ball around, a much better job could have been done. Austyn had receivers open quite a bit of the time, but he would have troubles seeing them or delivering the ball. Vision in game situations is something that is learned, and can be improved with training. Hopefully Austyn can start looking downfield more effectively, and thereby actually seeing open receivers.
The one thing that has impressed me with this team is the constant improvement we see from week to week. While the BSU game was something of a step backwards for UW, there were still plenty of positives that came out of that game (namely the kicking). If the team keeps improving week in and out, then they will be in a very good position to reach 6 wins on the season, and perhaps 7 if they are able to beat both BYU and SDSU. Perhaps it really was a good thing to be tested so early in the season with so many rough games.
Bolger and Hendricks were held out of this game to allow them to heal a bit longer. Other than that, Wyoming does not have any outstanding injuries. This again is pretty impressive. Either the team is really, really strong... or they have been really, really lucky to not have suffered any extended or major injuries.
The next two games promise to be challenging, but Wyoming seemingly has worked hard to get into a position where they can win. While Toledo is not a traditional powerhouse, they are a team that is well respected, and one in which few non-conference foes like to schedule home-home games with. If we continue to see improvement week in and week out, it would not be a surprise if UW could be very competitive with Utah come October 16 in Laramie. But for that to happen, UW's offense needs a major shot of adrenaline.