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Pokes get shut down by Fresno State, remain winless in Mountain West

Cowboys (4-2,0-2) drop defensive battle to Fresno State (5-2,2-1) as offense is shutout 17-0

NCAA Football: Fresno State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

In a potential Mountain West Conference Championship elimination game, the Wyoming Cowboys dropped their second straight conference matchup on Saturday afternoon, this time to the Fresno State Bulldogs. Despite being at home in Laramie, and the defense executing their game plan well for the majority of the contest, it was the Cowboy offense that shot themselves in the foot one too many times. The offense has looked pretty pitiful in two conference games thus far, and they’ll look to change that narrative come next week when the New Mexico Lobos come to town.

The turnover bug bit early and often for Chambers.

Sean Chambers has had difficulty holding on to the ball in recent weeks and Saturday afternoon was no different. After the Pokes forced a three & out on the Bulldog’s first drive, Chambers immediately gave the ball back, losing a fumble in his own territory on the Cowboy’s very first possession. On the ensuing Bulldog drive, it had looked like the Poke Defense had done a great job and halted the Bulldogs, forcing them into a field goal try. However, a controversial targeting call on Wyoming gave Fresno State life with a first down, eventually seeing them capitalize in the end zone with a bootleg touchdown pass from Jake Haener to his Tight End Juan Rodriguez for seven. Fresno State would take the early 7-0 advantage and hold on to it all the way to halftime, as the struggles for Chambers and the offense continued throughout the 2nd Quarter as well.

But there was seemingly no halftime adjustment

After the Poke Defense put on a clinic in the first half by consistently pressuring Haener, stalling opposing drives and erasing any sort of big play opportunities, the Cowboy attack continued to prove nonexistent as they were unable to give their defense any sort of room to breath. Chambers began the 2nd Half with another tipped interception, planting Fresno State inside the 10-yard line of Wyoming. In turn, that set up another minimal distance touchdown pass from Haener, this time to top-wideout Jalen Cropper, to make it 14-0. To put the icing on the cake, Chambers was relieved of his quarterbacking duties in favor of Levi WIlliams in the final quarter. Williams however did not create much of a difference, going 1-7 for 32 yards, adding on 1 interception as well.

Saturday’s positives all came from the defense

Despite the loss, it was an epic performance from the Poke defensive unit. They limited Jake Haener, one of the FBS’s most prolific passers thus far, to 15-28 on pass attempts for 96 yards (wow) and 2 touchdowns, both touchdowns coming from initial field position inside the 25-yard line. They also held both Fresno State Running Backs to under 80 yards each and combined for 4 TFLs. Defensive End Solomon Byrd recorded the lone sack on Jake Haener, and Linebacker Chad Muma and Safety Esaias Gandy led the way with 11 TOT each. It was an all-around phenomenal performance from Jay Sawvel’s defense and the 17 points allowed on the board fell on the hands of the incompetency of the Cowboy offense.

So will there be a QB change come next week vs. New Mexico?

Truly, only time will tell. Sean Chambers has put together a string of underwhelming performances and proved to be a liability with the ball in his hands. Levi Williams on the other hand does not present himself as much more of a deserving candidate having not put together very consistent totals when he has been given quarterback responsibilities in the past. In his postgame press-conference, Coach Bohl alluded to the fact that there will have to be a major switch-up on offense in order to fix what has been taking place on that side of the ball, and it seems to me that this week’s practice will be the greatest deciding factor in searching for that answer.

Nonetheless, the quarterback position isn’t the only thing that the Pokes need to focus on if they want to earn their first conference win next week. So what are the top things they need to work on in order to make that win a reality?

1. Turnover margin:

Yes, the quarterback was the most responsible player for losing the 5 turnovers on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean that more can be done in order to limit the turnover discrepancy. Despite the stout performance, the defense didn’t force any turnovers and the wide receivers had to be held at least slightly accountable for the balls that bounced off of their hands during the contest, regardless of if the pass was an accurate one, or not.

2. Efficiency in the passing game:

The obvious answer is quarterback play. Whoever the quarterback may be vs. the Lobos, they need to put together a far more efficient showing than the position has delivered in the past couple weeks. That means accurate passes, good decision-making, and a far better job conserving the football. Whether it be Chambers or Williams, that person can not be as much of a liability as they have in previous weeks.

3. Running game needs to pick up:

To give Chambers a bit of credit for his performance on Saturday, he did lead the team in rush yards with 51, however that should never be the case with a running back room as talented as the one the Pokes possess. Valladay was very limited for the first time this year. He totaled 9 carries for only 35 yards, while Swen had 7 carries for a measly 36. If Wyoming wants to have any success at all, both of those players need to have more of an impact on the stat sheet, and behind one of the best O-Lines in the Mountain West, these lackluster performances shouldn’t tally up.