I'm more or less an old school football fan. I really don't mind grind it out, kick field goals and play defense teams. In fact, I love them. This is one of the reason's why I'm excited to see the Wyoming Cowboys take on the persona of a hard working, blue-collar Wyoming fan base.
The Wyoming football program is in the midst of a cultural and philosophical change, moving from pro-spread to power. The cheerful fiddle of Christensen finesse is being replaced by the bassoon and kick drum of coach Craig Bohl 's Nebraska power style offense.
Good bye yards after catch, say hello (hopefully) to 3rd and 1.
Last year, the Wyoming offense showed, well, that it was transitioning. The Pokes ranked first in the Mountain West in time of possession at over 32 minutes per game which was a nearly seven minute increase from the 2013 average, but also averaged only 21.5 points per game -- in the Mountain West, only Hawaii averaged less at 20.5 per. A major concern? Yes. The Pokes saw their 3rd down conversion rate drop from 2013s 44.44 percent to 39.43 percent in 2014. How could this be?
A little examined statistic called Punts/Offensive Score can say a lot about whether an offense is on track. Last year's Poke squad averaged a punt and a half per score. If you look at 2014 nationally ranked top 20 teams in this statistical category, you will notice that Oregon, Ohio State, Florida State and Alabama are all included. These four playoff teams averaged just over half a punt per score.
The bottom four teams in Punts/Offensive Score were SMU, Eastern Michigan, Kansas and Wake Forest. These teams' combined average was almost three punts per score. Each team ended up in the bottom 32 of 2014's national rankings
The conclusion is obvious and it feels a little silly to write this, but let's face it: teams that win score when they have possession of the ball and/or have the defensive fire power stop opponents when they do not.
Other, more subtle, factors exist:
The average starting field position for Wyoming was at their own 24 while opponents averaged the 34 yard line -- a 10 yard difference. One other team (Georgia State) had a worse showing in 2014. 10 yards is a huge difference and is a problem that was a focus of Spring drills, and that will have to continue to be addressed by special teams coordinator AJ Cooper during Fall camp:
"Right now we're focusing on punt and punt defense. For us the punt defense is the most important thing from special teams," Cooper said. "We're honing in on our punt defensive unit because we fee like the punt can help us pin people, on the defensive side of things that can really help our offense in terms of field position."
And the focus on the punt game is for a good reason:
As previously mentioned, 2014 Wyoming was dismal in terms of average starting field position vs opponent's average starting field position, where they ranked 126 in FBS. Two teams in the national FBS playoffs failed to rank in the top 50 in this category. Would you care to guess which teams? If you guessed Alabama and Florida State, you are correct. Notice any other similarities between The Tide and the 'Noles? How bout each of these teams was BLOWN out by their opponents on the national FBS playoff stage.
Wyoming brings back Junior punter Ethan Wood who played in all 12 games, where he put up 66 punts for a 41.4 yards per kick and dropped 18 punts inside the 20-yard line. The Cowboys, of course, hope that they will have to punt less, but in lieu of more scoring on the offensive side of the ball, punt coverage/return would be nice places to begin improving and, given the influx of competing depth and youth, this is an area that could show significant progress in 2015. It has to be better because a shorter field means more scoring chances for a Wyoming squad that will certainly be a grind it out team. The question is whether they will be grinding it out on a short field for points or on a long field to punt.