3 Quick takes: Hats of to the ‘Cats
LARAMIE -- Fifty-four.
That's how many times an FCS opponent has knocked off the "big boys" since Craig Bohl arrived in Laramie back in 2014. He had a front-row seat for one of those in Year 2. North Dakota strolled into War Memorial Stadium, built a 21-0 fourth quarter lead and held on for the 11-point win, its first ever against an FBS opponent.
Wyoming took just four snaps inside UND territory through the first three quarters.
It was ugly. I'm sure you remember.
Bohl has also been on the other side of this coin. From 2010 to '13, his North Dakota State teams won four straight in this scenario. The victims -- Kansas, Minnesota, CSU and Kansas State. Scheduling the Bison is not exactly a priority for FBS athletic directors these days. NDSU has added two more victories since Bohl left and is currently on a 6-0 run.
We are just two weeks into the 2021 season and five of these upsets have already happened.
Wyoming's biggest rival, Colorado State, took one on the chin in a blowout loss to South Dakota State Friday night in Fort Collins. Montana State's archenemy, the guys from Missoula, stunned No. 20 Washington 13-7 Saturday in Seattle.
Vanderbilt, UConn, Tulsa and Mountain West foe, UNLV, have also been on the losing end thanks to and upset-minded FCS school. In the Rebels' case, they were an underdog against Eastern Washington heading in.
There's nothing quick about these three takes. They typically hit the 'net the night of the game.
I wanted to re-watch the Cowboys' 19-16 escape job against the Bobcats one more time from the comfort of my office though. I needed to see if that game was as bad as it looked from the press box.
Bad isn't the right word. Evenly matched is more like it.
"Heck of a ball game," Bohl said Saturday. "Credit to Brent Vigen and their coaching staff. I thought they were well-prepared and had a good game plan. Certainly we were out of sync, particularly in the first half, and had a hard time getting some things generated."
There's a reason for that -- the Bobcats.
Montana State's defense was disruptive all afternoon. The offense, near perfectly balanced, finished with 30 carries and threw it 29 times.
If you need to re-read that last sentence again, go for it. When Vigen was the Cowboys' offensive coordinator the previous seven seasons, that just didn't happen. Ever.
Troy Andersen played as advertised. MSU's senior linebacker finished with 11 tackles and a pass breakup. He showed up to the point of attack with bad intentions. Just ask UW quarterback Sean Chambers.
The visitors didn't exactly get pushed around on the line of scrimmage -- on both sides -- either. The offensive line allowed just two sacks and opened plenty of holes for Isaiah Ifanse, including two massive ones in a fourth-quarter drive that eventually ended with a Bobcats' touchdown and a late lead. Ifanse finished with 103 yards on the ground.
New Mexico's Bobby Cole is the only running back to eclipse the 100-yard mark against the Pokes over the last 20 games. That happened last December.
MSU's defense held Xazavian Valladay in check Saturday. The Mountain West's back-to-back rushing champ rolled up just 77 yards on the ground. Wyoming finished with 151 as a team, nearly 70 yards below last year's season average.
"I thought we would have the chance to be disruptive," Vigen said postgame. "... I thought we held our own, you know they have all those starters but can only play
five. I did not think there would be an area where we would have this glaring miss-match.
"... I think it was evident on the field that we belonged out there. We just didn’t quite get enough in the end."
There were supposed to be plenty of glaring mismatches for the Cowboys.
MSU hadn't played a game in 623 days. They have an entirely new coaching staff and quarterback. Bohl has raved about the depth of his squad. Veterans at nearly every position allowed his team to work on plenty of extra things this fall, including a focus on the two-minute drill, which eventually saved their bacon Saturday.
Playing an FBS squad, turns out, is not one of those advantages.
"Credit to Montana State," Valladay said. "They definitely came out here, you know, they put their best foot forward."
It wasn't pretty. It rarely is when these type of teams roll into town. Super Senior Ayden Eberhardt was on this team in 2018 when Wofford nearly pulled off the upset in Laramie. It took a 75-yard sprint to the end zone from Trey Smith to fend off Idaho the following season, too.
"You know, I really couldn't tell you what it is," UW's senior receiver said about FCS teams playing the Cowboys close, adding that in this instance it could've been first-game jitters mixed with the familiarity of the the roster on MSU coaching staff. "... Getting a win at the end of the day is what we needed to do. That's what we came here to do and that's what we did."
In 2008, Bohl brought his NDSU team into Laramie. The Cowboys won just four games that fall, one of which was a 16-13 nail biter against the Bison. He said he knows what its like to get up for a big game like this as an FCS coach. At Wyoming, he knows what it's like to scrape by.
"Sometimes some guys begin to read their press clippings," Bohl said postgame. "There was some good things out there, but we got a lot of work to do. I'm excited about the resolve and the belief that our football team has. I'm not completely happy with some aspects of our performance.
"... Monday is Labor Day and we will be laboring."
Who was that guy?
Tim Polasek is big on body language.
Wyoming's new offensive coordinator had to have liked what he saw from his quarterback Saturday with 2:17 to go.
Chambers trotted onto the field for that final possession and calmly orchestrated an eight-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a 21-yard game-winning scoring strike down the seam to tight end Treyton Welch with just 47 ticks remaining on the clock.
Wyoming's redshirt sophomore missed some throws Saturday. He overshot a wide open Alex Brown in the third quarter for what would have been a sure walk-in touchdown. He tossed an easy interception into double coverage on the Cowboys' opening drive. He underthrew a flag route on both sides of the field.
There were some dandies, too.
Chambers dropped a perfect strike to Joshua Cobbs on the final possession. The completion came right between the corner and safety. It went for 24 yards. He also connected with Eberhardt four times for 71 yards. There were a couple quick outs, one over the middle and another right on the money down the east sideline for 22 yards.
But on that last drive, something looked different.
"It kind of gives me goosebumps right now talking about it, but (he was) confident," Eberhardt said with a smile. "... You know, everyone was confident and I think a lot of it stems from his body language."
For Welch, that was his first career touchdown catch in a Wyoming uniform. It couldn't have come at a better time, either. He raced down the seam, got behind the MSU linebacker and slightly glided toward the post.
Chambers hit him in stride.
Welch, he took care of the rest, snagging the ball with his right hand while a Bobcat defender was draped on him, holding his left arm.
"I like to say I used my third hand," Welch joked. "but, you know, it was a one-handed catch, I just used my third hand and stomach."
Did Welch see anything different about his quarterback on that final drive?
"Sean's body language was was great today," he said. "No matter what was going on, Sean's body language showed that we still have a chance and we still have hope and that's exactly what we did. We went out there and executed."
For the first time in 14 career starts, Chambers completed more than 10 passes in a game. He still hasn't eclipsed the 200-yard mark through the air. He fell just four yards short of that feat Saturday. He also completed nearly 60% of his passes while connecting on 15-of-26 throws.
Those might not seem like important milestones, and they certainly aren't gaudy numbers, but for a guy who hasn't taken a snap in 316 days and has been known for inconsistency in the passing game throughout his brief career, it was big.
Chambers downplayed what that drive did for his confidence. He said the two-minute drill is a staple in practices these days. He just made the plays he needed to. He said he simply liked the matchup between Welch and the linebacker.
"I think the standard of the bar has been set, you know? I think we have to meet that bar every time now," he said. "We can deliver the ball, we can catch the ball, we can run with the ball, we just have to do it now. You know, I keep saying it -- it's kind of beating a dead horse -- but we just have to go do it. You know, there's nothing to be said, we just got to do it."
If Wyoming gets more of the guy that was under center during that last 2:17, this offense could be dangerous.
A family reunion
Chambers said it was definitely different seeing Vigen on the opposing sideline Saturday afternoon.
Not just because that was the man who brought him to Laramie as a recruit from Kerman, California, but because as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator, Vigen was always in the booth calling plays.
"It was definitely strange, but I think we both did a good job of keeping it professional," said Chambers who met his former coach at midfield prior to kickoff. "You know, he's leading his team over there and I'm trying to help lead my team.
"... It was kind of unique. It's pretty cool for him and for him his family."
Valladay said he made it a point to chat with his old coordinator before the game, too.
"I told him before the game, I never thought a day in my life, that this would wind up happening," he said. "It was just like a family reunion today.
"... There's always love for coach Vigen. I wish them the best for the rest of the season."
Montana State's rookie head coach knew there would be a different feeling to this one. He spent the last seven years in Laramie, including the previous 18 with Bohl.
"Lot of emotion," Vigen said postgame. "That drive from Cheyenne, I’ve taken a hundred times. A lot of guys over on that sideline are like brothers, and players
that are like sons. But at this point, I’m a Bobcat. We’re on different teams and honestly I’m a competitor. You know, (for my) first head coaching experience to be in War Memorial Stadium, it was that way for whatever reason. Our guys played their tail off and that’s what I want it to be about."
The cupboard certainly wasn't bare in Bozeman, but it's pretty clear that Vigen already has his new team heading in the right direction. If they play the way they did Saturday, not many teams will be able to hang with the 'Cats.
I know for the first time in my life I will be tuning into the Montana-Montana State game this fall.
Just The Facts: Size Doesn't Matter For Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium
- Just The Facts: Size Doesn't Matter For Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium