The Wyoming Cowboys rode a great effort by it’s defense and an offense that was able to convert some key opportunities late in the game.
The Cowboys took the opening kickoff and promptly drove 73 yards on 15 plays. The Falcons were a little too loose on the “bend but don’t break” defense, and Andrew Peasley took the opportunity to throw 7 easy short out passes that helped move the ball to the Falcon 2 yard line before the Falcons tightened it up, holding the Pokes to 3 points.
The Falcons followed with a drive of their own, but it was clear early that rushing yards were going to be hard to come by. The Falcons only gained 10 yards on the ground, and Haziiq Daniels was forced to throw twice for first downs. He was unsuccessful on his third attempt to convert, and the Falcons were forced to attempt a 54 yard field goal which sailed wide right.
Wyoming’s second score came in the second period after an exchange of punts gave the Pokes an advantageous field position. Clayton Stewart boomed a 66 yard punt that left the Falcons pinned at the three yard line. After a three and out, Carson Bay’s punt went only 36 yards, giving Wyoming the ball at the Falcon 42 yard line. After two nice rushes by Titus Swen, Peasley hit his receiver for a 14 yard touchdown to put the pokes up 10-0 at halftime.
On the first drive of the second half, the Falcons had a little more success running the ball, but the progress was slow. After 9 straight rushes, the Falcons had produced 34 yards and were confronted with a fourth and one at Wyoming’s 41 yard line. The Pokes stacked the line expecting the normal Daniels QB sneak, but the pitch went to John Lee Eldridge for a 35 yard gain. Three plays later Daniels hit David Cormier with a 9 yard pass for a touchdown.
Immediately after the drive that gave the Falcons the lead, the Cowboys gave the Falcon defense a gut check and the results were disappointing. After two stops, the Cowboys had a 3rd and 9 in Wyoming territory and Peasley was able to complete a deep pass to Wiatt Weiland for 24 yards and a first down. After that, the Pokes had no problem moving the ball into the end zone, culminated by Titus Swen and his entire offensive line surging into the end zone from 5 yards out for the final score of the game.
The shutdown of the Falcon rushing game is perplexing. Over the last two years, the Diesels have proven their prowess at creating lanes for Brad Roberts, et al. A noteworthy stat from this game are the list of tacklers on the Cowboy side of the line. Three of the top four tacklers on the Pokes were defensive linemen. Normally we see a lot of linebackers and safeties making most of the tackles against the Falcons. That’s an obvious indication that Wyoming’s defensive line had an outstanding night controlling the line of scrimmage. Is this an indication of a problem on the offensive line? My short answer is no. Think back last year when Utah State (in the first conference game of the year) torched the Falcon secondary for 448 yards and 5 TDs. It was not indicative of what would happen the rest of the year, and neither is this.
The other negative aspect of this game for the Falcons is the team performance at the end of the game. After showing some resilience by taking the lead with a couple of Daniels touchdown passes, the defense couldn’t stop Wyoming on it’s ensuing drive. The final offensive drive started well with John Lee Eldridge’s 19 yard run, but a questionable incomplete pass play on 2nd and 7 with 5 minutes left put the Falcons in a third and long situation near midfield (in four down territory). A second pass fell incomplete and the decision was made to punt the ball away and Wyoming was able to run out the clock from there.
As for flu bug that ran through the team and sidelined 5 starters, I think the biggest factor might have been the loss of practice time to prepare for Wyoming’s offense and defense on a short week. The replacement players played well, and the Falcons had no turnovers and no penalties. There was some confusion on offense at times, and Calhoun had to use a crucial time out to straighten things out.
In any case, Wyoming’s defense showed itself to be strong enough to stop the Falcon offense no matter how healthy or how much time the Falcons had to prepare.
Come back Thursday for a preview of Nevada-Air Force.