Expectations aside, where have they improved, where have they digressed, and what should we expect for the rest of the 2015 season?
University of North Dakota L 13-24
Eastern Michigan L 29-48
Washington State L 14-31
At this time last year the Cowboys were 2-1 with the 1 loss coming against Oregon. After 3 games of non-conference play the Wyoming Cowboys are 0-3.They have dropped games to FCS opponent North Dakota, MAC cellar dweller Eastern Michigan, but did show some life in a losing effort to PAC-12 opponent Washington State.
Is there such a thing as a good 0-3? I suppose, but, in this case, it's not looking good for Cowboys. Talk of a bowl game being the next step in the programs progression was premature at best and at worst unrealistic. An article in the Casper Star Tribune detailed the often painful process of program building. Wyoming has lost 10 percent of it's 2014 do to matriculation and this does not account for graduating seniors.
You can read that article here
Wyoming has the 2nd fewest seniors (8) on a roster that also includes 45 true freshmen. Now it looks like being competitive in conference play may be the yard stick by which we measure Wyoming's growth. Let's take a look.
Wyoming does not possess a very prolific offense. It is understood that head coach Craig Bohl's philosophy does not necessarily translate into high point totals. When you undertake a ball control approach, are young, and not able to"out-athlete" opponents, you are particularly susceptible to the turnover and the penalty. When you don't have inherent quick strike ability it's hard to cover up mistakes. Aside from the opener vs North Dakota, where the Pokes were penalized 8 times for 96 Yards, Wyoming has been pretty good at not shooting themselves in the foot and now is averaging 6 per game.
Coming into this season, it was widely expected that if there was one thing that Wyoming would do well it would be rushing the football. With a stable of capable backs and Bohl's grind it out mentality, not only should Wyo be good at running the ball against potentially lesser teams, they would attempt to rush the ball. This has proven to be true. Wyo has averaged 49 rushing attempts per game (15th in FBS) 271.5 rushing yards per game (7th in FBS) and has possessed the ball for a very respectable 33:20 per game.
The team yards per carry currently sits at 5.5 (20th in FBS). Progress in the rushing game is evident. Versus UND the Cowboys were held to 41 total rushing yards (this included -17 yards by QB Cam Coffman).
Then came Eastern Michigan where UW ran the ball 58 times for 430 yards. This is perhaps one of the most misleading totals to have been put up by ANY team so far in CFB, as this feat merely preempted Wyoming's second loss of the season and was in large part due to the 1st and 2nd string quarterbacks being knocked out of action.
When the Cowboys headed to Pullman to play Washington State, it appeared that something had clicked. Wyo opened up the game with a pass -that appeared to be a check by Coffman- and then a successful jet sweep to Tanner Gentry. Offensive coordinator Brent Vigen appeared to have settled in with his play calling and found that all important balance that all offensive units like to have, and was able to score early on a play action pass that was beautifully set up by a solid ground attack.
With youth comes lack of depth, but with 5th year senior Cam Coffman at the tiller it was hoped that, at least at the quarterback position, there would be someone who would get the Pokes into the right play and who would keep the offense on schedule. When Coffman went down late in the home opener against UND you could hear the alarms sounding. Josh Allen contributed a valiant effort, but was lost for the season in the next game vs Eastern Michigan, where 3rd stringer Nick Smith went 3 of 13 for 7 yards. Coffman returned to play a solid game vs WSU, but at the end of the day, could not keep up with the Cougars athletes.The Cougars put the Cowboys away by a score of 31-14.
Let's take a look at the Wyoming passing numbers through 3 games.
Wyoming has averaged 26.5 Pass attempts per game (104th in FBS) and is completing 58.49% of these attempts (69th in FBS). They average only 164.0 total passing yards per game (106th in FBS) but this pretty unimpressive number should not be a shock as Wyoming has only thrown the ball 37.58% of all offensive plays. There is really not a lot to say about the Wyoming passing attack.
It seems that Bohl intends to stick to the run to set up the pass script and may likely be making a statement that he intends to have his team run block first come hell or high water. Judging by the WSU game though, it would appear that Brent Vigen might be more willing to "pitch backwards" by emphasizing the perimeter attack to open up the middle. Whether this is a function of the WSU defense or whether it's and introduction to a less conservative attack only time and the next few games will tell. As it were, Cam Coffman has made some nice throws and is more athletic in the pocket than one might assume. If he can stay healthy and keep his head on his shoulders, Wyoming will not be winless in 2015.
Unlike the offense, there was no real way to accurately predict what to expect from a largely untested Wyoming defense. What was known is that they would be young, not very deep, but potentially faster than last year's unit. Players like senior defensive ends Eddie Yarbrough and Siaosi Hala’api’api would provide some leadership but on a whole, it felt like the coaching staff was crossing their fingers and hoping that grit and toughness would carry the day, making up for a distinct lack of experience and proven talent. "We’re going to need to leverage the fact that you’ve got Eddie Yarbrough, (Siaosi), Uso and Chase," Says Craig Bohl regarding the defensive front. "They’re good, seasoned, veteran players. Now you’ve got some guys behind them that haven’t played. ... Those older guys are going to need to show up."
What we've seen is a front seven that has been, at times, bullied by what were perceived as teams with lesser talent. UND churned out rushing yardage against UW and, largely due to a bounty of penalties by the Wyoming defense in the form of 6 personal fouls, the defense gave up field position and could not get off of the field on 3rd downs.
Eastern Michigan followed suit but this time death came from above. EMU sophomore quarterback Brogan Roback, filling in for the injured EMU starter, went 17 of 24 for 330 yards and three touchdowns without throwing a pick. The Wyoming defense did not pressure the passer all day and, again, could not get off of the field on third downs.
Given this shoddy effort vs EMU, many Cowboy fans no doubt feared the worst when it was time to take on Washington State's well touted Mike Leach "air raid' offense. What a surprise when Wassu actually came out and successfully ran the ball early. WSU ended up with only 20 rushing attempts for 75 total yards, but, to be honest, it looked as if the Wyoming front was outclassed physically. Strong tackling and a gritty performance by Wyoming youngsters in the secondary kept the Pokes within striking distance until the 4th quarter when WSU pulled away.
This all translates into a team that has given up 442 yards per game (89th in FBS), has allowed opponents to convert 51.85% of 3rd downs (114th in FBS) and given up 39.5 points per game (106th in FBS)
The Wyoming Defense has thus far given up an average of 125 yards per game (31st in FBS) but, and this is a big but, Eastern Michigan didn't have to run the ball until after going up 21-0 and Washington State just flat out doesn't pound the rock in general. UND is really the only true litmus test which we can judge how the Cowboys are thus far fairing and, against them, they did not do so well, giving up 142 yards and 2 touch downs to UND running back John Santiago in his CFB debut.
It gets worse. Much worse. Opponents are completing 78.57% of passes (125 in FBS). Against Washington State they gave up 88.89% of pass attempts. This simply will not do. In football there are 3 ways to stop a passing attack: Sack the qb, breakup the pass or keep the opponent off of the field. Not only is Wyoming 0-3 record wise, but they are also a virtual 0-3 when it comes to disrupting passing attacks. Coming into the WSU game Wyoming had not recorded a sack in 10 quarters, couldn't stop opponents on 3rd downs and and couldn't catch a cold. Let's not belabor a point that the statistics clearly show: the pass defense stinks and WSU's receiver core shone more light on a secondary that, much like many parts of the defensive unit, were clearly over matched physically.
The Wyoming rebuild is one that might have its contractors walking uphill both ways, in the snow. I would suggest that If you are a Wyoming fan that you not bother to try and put lipstick on a pig. Just don't bother. Wyoming has not run well consistently, they haven't thrown well consistently, they haven't defended the run or pass well, and the special teams are in the arms of babes. This is a team, more importantly a program, that has to look to the future. If you need encouragement then look to a roster that has 45 true freshman and to the many players who are getting the opportunity to get their feet wet. Look to players like qb Josh Allen.
Look to players like running back Brian Hill. Look to center Charlie Renfree, guard Troy Boyland and right tackle Taylor Knestis of whom all are first year starters. Most of all, look to a team that, despite having their backsides handed to them, doesn't seem to quit. As conference play looms, there is opportunity "We’ve got a lot of things we can build on and a lot of places we need to get better." Says Senior quarterback Cam Coffman.
Brother, you ain't lying. This year is going to be Cowboy tough.