3 Quick takes: Losing Chambers hurts in more ways than one
RENO, Nev., -- Tears started welling up in his eyes.
Sean Chambers immediately knew something was very wrong. Unfortunately for the redshirt sophomore, he has plenty of experience in this department.
On the Cowboys third play from scrimmage in Saturday's season opener in Reno, Chambers was twisted around by a Nevada defender and his left foot dug into the sun-bleached turf inside Mackay Stadium. The Wolf Pack celebrated an opening series three-and-out around him as he rolled over on his knees and began violently punching the ground around the UW 28-yard line.
That's when we all knew something was terribly wrong.
Sources confirmed Chambers suffered a broken left fibula, though a UW spokesperson said it is "possibly" a break. A return to the field in a shortened eight-game season is unknown.
"We'll find out a lot more but I'd say It's probably in that category," head coach Craig Bohl said when asked if it was season-ending.
An ankle injury ended his highlight reel of a freshman campaign back in 2018. Last fall, ironically enough against Nevada, Chambers was lost for the season when he attempted to dive for the pile on. Once again, it was a Wolf Pack defender on the hit. Once again, Chambers' left foot got caught in the turf.
It had been 363 days since Chambers had taken a snap for the Cowboys. No one was more excited about the opportunity to get back on the field.
Arguably no one is more important to this team's success.
"He is one of my best friends. He's my roommate -- one of the guys I go to for everything," wide receiver Gunner Gentry said. "Losing him early, seeing him go down, especially after the way he ended the season last year, it was heartbreaking for me to see. He's a tough kid and, he's going to work hard to get back. I have a lot of faith in him."
The following 28-plus minutes of the first half, Wyoming managed just four first downs and 106 yards of total offense. A pair of Nevada fumbles aided in a couple of John Hoyland field goals, but it was apparent that something was wrong with this squad.
"It definitely hurt to see that, especially to see how he's battled this offseason and strived to be great this year," fellow team captain Chad Muma said. "It hurt all of us."
It can't be overstated -- Chambers is the unquestioned leader of this team. Bohl knows it. So do his players.
Chambers was taken off the field on the back of a cart. He never took his helmet off.
The air was officially out of the balloon. It didn't even make that awful squealing noise. It just popped. It seemed to take the visitor's confidence right with it.
Chambers did return to the sideline in a white t-shirt and his game-issued gold pants. He sat on a trainer's table and got his left foot wrapped. His teammates, mostly the wide receiver corps, came over and shared a prolonged, emotional moment with him.
Television cameras caught a glimpse of Chambers covering his eyes with one hand and a cell phone in the other. One can only presume his family was on the other end of that line hearing the devastating news.
Later, he stood with a pair of crutches and clapped as the Wyoming defense went out for the following series.
"It really goes to show the kind of person Sean is," Gentry said. "He's the big team-first guy. He really will serve others before he serves himself.
"... The way he came on the field, still in a ton of pain, still hurting, he came out and supported us. He was locked in the whole game. He was vocal and energized. To have that was huge. It goes to show that no matter what, you can fight through anything."
"He came back and he rallied for us," he said. "He was really there for us as a captain. He did a really good job motivating our defense and offense at the same time."
Secondary has rough day at the office
The numbers say it all really.
Nine different Nevada receivers snagged at least one pass Saturday night in Reno. Quarterback Carson Strong connected on 39-of-52 throws for 420 yards and four touchdowns to go along with zero interceptions.
"I saw them making some plays," Bohl said about the Wolf Pack wide outs. "We knew were going to have a hard time on the perimeter."
That's an understatment.
Strong went after Azizi Hearn and CJ Coldon all night long. The sophomore burned Wyoming linebackers and made life really hard on senior free safety Braden Smith, who was tasked for most of the night with stopping 6-foot, 6-inch, 240-pound tight end Cole Turner.
It didn't go well.
Turner led Nevada in receiving with 119 yards on seven catches. He also grabbed a pair of touchdowns, including a 50-yard strike where Coldon zigged in and Turner zagged out.
"The quarterback played well," Bohl added. "We had too much of a cushion, especially on vertical routes by the tight end into the heart of the defense.
"We gave up too many yards in the passing game. We need to clean some stuff up there."
Romeo Doubs finished with a team-high 12 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, and Tory Horton also caught a 26-yard scoring strike.
Punt return woes
Dontae Crow was having a nice night.
The senior from Sheridan had a pair of kick returns for 36 yards, including a long of 19. He also took his first punt return back 14 yards. He even caught a pass.
Then, with 8:30 remaining in the fourth quarter and the game tied at 28-28, Nevada punter Julian Diaz stood near his own goal line. The Cowboys had all the momentum and were about to have great field position.
That didn't happen.
Crow raced to get under the ball, but instead let it hit the turf. The ball bounced end over end all the way down to the Wyoming 10-yard line.
It gets worse.
With the visitors trailing by three and just 1:45 remaining in regulation, Diaz once again sent the ball flying Crow's way. Again, he let it bounce. This time it rolled all the way to the Wyoming 1-yard line.
For those of you keeping track at home, those were punts of 76 and 71 yards.
After the first mishandled punt, Levi Williams tossed an interception right into the arms of Berdale Robins, who bobbled the ball before eventually pulling it in around the UW 8-yard line.
Nevada netted three points off that turnover to take a late 31-28 lead.
The second punt led to a frantic 11-play, 74-yard drive in 1:07 that ended with a 42-yard field goal off the right foot of freshman kicker John Hoyland.
Bohl is not one to make snap judgements, and said he wants to look at the tape, but what he does knows is his team lost a ton of yards.
"Certainly the field moved a lot," he said when asked if he will evaluate the punt return position. "... It's always easy to be an armchair quarterback and ask why a guy didn't catch it. We lost a lot of field position. Maybe the punter did a great job? We will analyze that, but we certainly have got to be able to move the ball better off our punt return."