There is playing tough football against a more skilled opponent, and then there is what the Cowboys did on Saturday night before a packed house. Boise State came to play at War Memorial Stadium with a chip on their shoulder. Wyoming came to play for respect. What we saw was a mixture of a well coached, disciplined team that dominated both aspects of the game, as well as a team that continually missed opportunities, shot themselves in the foot, and played with very few smarts.
First and foremost, Boise is very deserving of their ranking. After watching UW play a pretty spirited game against Texas, and actually playing some decent football, Boise simply came in and dominated. Boise played better against the Cowboys than Texas by a long shot. BSU came into a hostile environment, played at 7220 feet, and absolutely controlled the game from beginning to end.
I'm a pretty modest guy. I'm not into a lot of self-aggrandizement. So when they were introducing the starting Wyoming offense and defense on the big screen, I shuddered. Here was a video that showed off these guys looking tough. It really pumped up their image as a big time football program. Even Austyn Carta-Samuels gave a cute little wink at the end of his introduction. I can understand the appeal to appear on the big screen for these young men. Add in the new, special uniforms provided by Nike, and one would think that UW would be well on their way to busting the BCS. I guess my point here is if the Cowboys want to look like a big time program, they need to actually prove it on the field. Perhaps my thoughts on all the pageantry exhibited can be summed up by this quote from Hamlet:
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Ok, so Hamlet was contemplating deep things like the relative inconsequence of the life and death of a single person in a world that will move on without him regardless of how he rails against fate and existence. But in this situation it can be interpreted as a team who exhibited much flash and pomp, which reflected in the mirror of their poor actual performance, is now nothing but a minor footnote on Boise's schedule that may actually mean very little for them in the national championship narrative they are trying to write.
The narrative that the Cowboys wrote last night was filled with mistakes. UW should have picked off Kellen Moore three times. Shamiel Gary dropped an easy interception in the end zone. Moore threw another interception, but Matt Birkeness was called for roughing the passer, which negated that interception. Shamiel Gary then in fact did cleanly intercept Moore later in the game, but by that time Boise was already up by about 37 points.
The offense should have been the anchor for the team. Long, steady drives would have enabled the Pokes to control the time of possession. Plenty of short, quick passes for 5 yards a pop plus a smattering of run plays would have consistently moved the ball. Instead we saw the offensive line break down early, and often. Austyn was constantly running for his life. We also had several dropped passes which could have been big gains for the Pokes, but apparently catching the ball was something not worked on extensively by some of the players. This is not to say that all the wide receivers had butterfingers, as David Leonard made a spectacular catch while getting plastered by a Boise State defender. But when the receivers are wide open, and drop passes that are essentially right on the mark, the spread offense will not work. Throw in the inability of the offensive line to open up effective running lanes, and the inability of the running backs to actually make anything happen, reverting to a one dimensional team against an opponent like Boise State is a sure way to lose a ballgame.
The defense was problematic to say the least. First off the defensive line could not get very much pressure on Moore. The one time they got significant pressure on him, and he threw a pick, Mr. Birkeness had a brain seizure and roughed the passer. The secondary was burned often as well. They looked confused for most the game. I was very surprised that usually solid players like Chris Prosinski were not only out of position, but also had a hard time tackling still. The Gipson brothers also had a hard time containing Boise's receivers, and again we saw a lot of missed tackles and whiffs on players. Not only that, but they left such a buffer around the receivers that they could not get into position to either knock down the pass or even tackle at the point of the catch. Shamiel Gary had an impressive night with 17 tackles. Unfortunately, when the safety is making the majority of the tackles, then the ball is already too far down the field too often.
If there was one positive from this game, it is that it seems the team is in good overall shape. I have not heard of any major injuries, so in terms of physiology the Pokes are well conditioned and tough. Mental toughness and focus are certainly areas that need improvement. We have two pretty young lines, and their relative inexperience showed last night.
I have read rumors that Dave Christensen is sacrificing this season to give the young players a lot of experience, at the cost of pushing aside the upperclassmen and the chance of a winning season. I find this doubtful. In the competitive environment that is college football, it really does not pay to push aside more experienced players who may give the team a better chance to win. Fans, donors, and administrators want the wins. The athletic department needs the wins. So I really doubt that there is some kind of conspiracy to not play the best or most experienced players. From what I gather, there is no sense of entitlement for upper classmen, which could lead to some hurt feelings and players leaving the team.
Being a critic is easy. I sit here in my chair, drinking my coffee, and not having any bruises or strains from a rough and physical game the night before. I honestly do not like being so harsh. I am not out there busting my butt for 60 minutes of playtime, or three plus hours in realtime. But it is my job to report and analyze what exactly happened in those 60 minutes of play. The Pokes did not play an intelligent game, or a physical one. There was no real honor in this defeat. It is one thing to play a smart, tough game, but still lose to a better football team. It is another to play a game so fraught with individual errors that it leads to a blowout of near epic proportions. UW simply did not look good in any part of its game, except punting. But when a team puts on a punting exhibition, then obviously it is not making plays on either side of the ball.
I certainly hope this game lights a fire under the team, as they have another quality opponent coming in next week with the Air Force Falcons. There needs to be a much renewed focus on physicality and intelligence, not to mention playing with discipline to compete with a team that nearly knocked off number 7 ranked Oklahoma.