What a difference a week makes.
Two weeks ago the Wyoming Cowboys were thoroughly demolished by a Boise State team that is currently ranked #3 in the nation. The Pokes played an amazingly sloppy game, with any kind of momentum change negated by penalties and turnovers. Dropped balls, an inability to run, poor blocking, and continued suspect tackling made it easy for BSU to rack up 50+ points against Wyoming's only touchdown (in which the extra point was missed).
Spring ahead to this past weekend, and we saw a completely different Wyoming team take to War Memorial Stadium.
The Air Force Falcons were coming off a close game against Top 10 team OU, and while they were a bit dinged up from that game, their potent option offense and scrappy defense almost allowed them to upset OU. They came into the Wyoming game with a lot of confidence, and a game plan that relied upon holding onto the ball for as long as possible. They also were very willing to go for it on 4th down. Their gameplan would have made it hard on anyone, especially considering the high level at which their defense is playing.
Most were not expecting Wyoming to win this game. And they didn't. But most were also not expecting Wyoming to play as well as they did against this very disciplined and talented Air Force team. From watching the game, here are the areas where I thought UW really stepped up.
The line play for both the offense and defense was tremendously improved from the previous three games. The offensive line allowed far less penetration against a scrappy and athletic AFA defense. They also opened up some actual running lanes. The defensive line was also very effective against AFA. Whether it is because they have improved a lot over the past week, or they match up against AFA much more closely in a physical sense remains to be seen come the Toledo game. UW also did not allow any long plays. 22 yards was the longest on the day from Air Force.
The running game finally achieved positive numbers. UW is no longer the worst running team in the nation. Alexander had a very good game against AFA with 123 yards, and Carta-Samuels was also able to put up 60 more for the day. What I found most interesting is that UW went to a read option offense against Air Force. One would not expect to get much traction on such an offense against a defense which constantly has to play against this type of scheme in practice. While the read option is not exactly a triple option, there are a lot of similarities between the two. And that Wyoming was able to produce some actual yards against such a defense speaks volumes for the work that the offensive line did in the week before this game.
Jefferson from Air Force does actually have a throwing arm, but the UW secondary was able to cover the receivers very well. AFA only achieved 66 yards through the air on 12 attempts. But Jefferson really did not need to go through the air very often, especially with the running game eating up 3 to 4 yards per carry throughout the game.
Perhaps the most important improvement in this game was the lack of penalties that UW committed. There were 2 for a combined 14 yards. AFA on the other hand committed 7 for 54 yards. While not huge as compared to other games, it actually made a big difference on some of AFA's drives. UW played a very disciplined game all around. There was a focus in this game that just was not present in any of the previous three.
Special teams also showed up well. Kick coverage was good. Marcel Gipson also was able to block an extra point attempt, and he was right there on two other attempts and missed those by a finger. The punting team was not on the same level as they were the week before against BSU, but they again did not allow any big plays.
The Pokes still lost though. The weaknesses that they showed were pretty evident. The defense had a hard time blowing up the AFA line, and getting any tackles for loss. AFA was able to still move the ball 3 to 4 yards a shot, and had plenty of runs that were 5 yards and greater. This allowed the Falcons to control the ball on offense, and did not allow the UW offense on the field for long periods of time.
It still does not look like UW has the personnel to run a true spread offense. We are also reminded that Carta-Samuels is still a true Sophomore. He was 6 of 11 for the day passing, gaining 66 yards and throwing an interception. The Pokes certainly did not sling the ball around an Air Force defense that has thrived on turnovers. But the lack of a passing game, and continually running against a defense which is a very good run defense, did not allow the Pokes to move the ball effectively or consistently.
The two turnovers for Wyoming essentially cost them the game. The very first possession where UW made it down inside the 20 yard line, Carta-Samuels threw an interception into the end zone. On the final UW possession where the Pokes were effectively driving the ball, and had a good chance to make a touchdown and win because of the blocked extra point against the Falcons, the usually sure-handed David Leonard coughed up the ball. It was an unfortunate play where the defender took a perfect shot at Leonard and put his helmet right on the ball, popping it up into the air and into the hands of a waiting defender. If neither of those had happened, then the Pokes would have likely won the game. But of course, woulda/coulda/shouldas do not count when it comes to the final score.
There were still some missed tackles, but not nearly as many as previous games. AFA was still able to effectively move the ball, and they were able to run through some of the initial tackles by the defense. Considering that their longest play was 22 yards, I would say that Wyoming really stepped up on the tackling and their positioning. It was a huge step forward for the Pokes.
Wyoming still has not played a complete game yet. But this was the closest they have come yet. If Wyoming had been able to throw the ball more, and actually complete those passes, then it would have been a much more interesting game for Pokes' Fans. It would have also moved the ball more effectively, and allowed UW to convert some 3rd and longs. As it was, the UW defense was on the field too much, and were ground down and exhausted by the end of the 4th quarter.
If UW can retain much of the good from this game, as well as improve upon the other aspects mentioned, then it should have a good chance to win against a solid Toledo team. But that preview will be coming in the next few days. At the very least though, UW showed a significant improvement between the BSU and AFA games. Hopefully they can keep improving throughout the rest of the season.