The game with Texas this year was an eerie reminder of what happened last year. In the middle of the second quarter, Wyoming was improbably ahead 7-6. Then Texas woke up, and we missed some big tackles, and the scores came rolling in for the Longhorns. This game was not expected to be an upset for Wyoming, or even having a small potential for upset. Texas is a major football power, and they have athletes three deep for every position. Wyoming is still in the midst of building the program up so it can compete more effectively with Tier 1 teams from the AQ conferences. But when we start breaking a few things down, there were a lot of positives from the Texas game.
Wyoming played the first 1.5 quarters pretty tough against Texas, allowing only two field goals. Some smart plays and some lucky penalties kept the score from being run up. Wyoming's only TD drive was also saved by some penalties on the Texas side, and the mobility of Austyn Carta-Samuels certainly caused the Texas defense fits at time. Wyoming did get into field goal range a few times after the only scoring drive, but at that point Texas had really pulled ahead, and making field goals would not have gotten Wyoming any closer to winning than going for it on 4th down deep in Texas territory.
The positives we see are as follows:
Carta-Samuels is still a fairly efficient passer. After two games he has racked up 479 passing yards and an impressive 75% completion rate. He has 3 TDs and 1 Int. His rushing yards are not all that impressive due to sacks, but his 25 total yards rushing in the Texas game essentially led to the only touchdown for Wyoming. Austyn will get loose throughout the rest of this season, and his rushing stats will improve.
The receivers are making catches and actually getting some space between themselves and defenders. We have more speed at that position, and I believe we also have a lot better conditioning this year than we did last. With a 75% completion rate for Austyn, it is obvious that the receivers are actually catching balls this year as compared to last. This sounds like an obvious statement, but Wyoming was plagued by dropped balls all last year. Throughout the next few games, we should see further strides forward by this group and their production.
The offensive line is holding their own in pass situations. Yes, they have given up some sacks, and they are helped out by Austyn being as mobile as he is. But overall, I would say the o-line is holding its own. More practice and further games will help solidify this group, and Austyn will not feel as much pressure to scramble.
The special teams (aka Special Forces) are again solid, but have yet to show any huge plays so far. Kicking is much improved in terms of kickoffs and punts, but we have yet to see good production out of the field goal kickers. Coverage for kicks is again solid, but not overwhelming for opponents as of yet. This is one area where I believe we will see a lot of improvement, and by the middle of the season it should be where we hope it will.
The defensive secondary is very much a veteran group, and they were able to hold off most of the attacks that Texas threw at them. Unfortunately, some suspect tackling and a few pieces of bad luck allowed really big gains at the end of the second quarter in the Texas game, as well as a handful of plays in the second half which sealed the Poke's fate. Tackling and anticipating a receiver's first move after the catch will doubtless be practiced extensively this week. There should have been a lot fewer yards after catch in the Texas game, as the coverage was often there. Missed tackles and a lack of anticipation cost precious yards.
The conditioning of the players seems to be very good. So far we have one injury, and that was sustained to a backup offensive lineman during warm-ups (though a strained Achilles' Tendon is nothing to scoff at). A strong weight program and good conditioning throughout the off season has allowed the Pokes to play against a strong and physical Texas team without major injuries or incidents.
What still needs a lot of improvement:
The run game is horrible. 94 yards of rushing after two games is really pathetic. If it were not for a pass-happy spread offense, the Pokes should be 0-2. The offensive line is not able to open up rushing lanes effectively, and we do not (as of yet) have a running back which can find the holes and get north and south in a hurry. What holes the o-line is able to create are not open for long, and the amount of hesitation we are seeing from the running backs is stopping all positive gains from happening. There is no quick fix for this, and the Pokes will have to rely on the passing game and the threat of a mobile quarterback to keep the offense rolling. Until these backs get a lot more practice in, we will not see an effective rushing attack for at least the next two games (BSU and AFA).
The defensive line is just not able to get pressure to the quarterbacks as of yet. It is also having issues stopping the run effectively. They did show some positive gains in the Texas game, but not enough to turn the tide. There obviously is a learning curve going back to a 4-3 defense, and taking a couple of the larger linebackers and making them defensive ends is not the easiest transition for this group. I think we should see better production out of them with the upcoming BSU game, and again they may be a more effective line against the Air Force triple option attack. The speed is there, and we have some very good athletes, and certainly the next two games will give them a lot of experience in playing against a very challenging foe.
Sometimes we all need to remind ourselves that we are only in the second year of the Christensen system. While I appreciate what Joe Glenn was able to do for the Cowboys in his years here, he was never able to really elevate the gameplay to the top level expected of Mountain West teams in the latter half of this decade. With the success that Christensen saw in the second half of last season, and the big bowl win that they pulled off, it is easy to have much higher expectations of this group. While the strength and conditioning pieces are there due to a lot of work in the offseason and some strong student leadership to keep it going, it is still a young overall team with a lot of undeveloped talent.
Overall the Texas game was a good yardstick to measure this team with. It provided the team with a tough, physical, and talented opponent to play against, and to expose some of the weaknesses that the team obviously has. This next game should also serve the team well, but we will have a preview of that in the next few days.