3 Quick takes: Trey, this one isn’t on you
LAS VEGAS -- No one took this loss harder than sixth-year running back Trey Smith.
Well, maybe some fans, who still can't believe what they just witnessed over the past three hours, but Smith stood before the media and poured his guts out.
The graduate transfer from Louisville had a big fumble inside the New Mexico 5-yard-line with just 3:10 remaining Saturday night in Las Vegas.
"I let the whole State of Wyoming down, I let my teammates down and I let my coaches down,” an emotional Smith said postgame after Wyoming fell to previously winless New Mexico, 17-16. “I got to do better. I got to be better. That shouldn’t happen. That’s my fault. The team fought as hard as they could. That’s my error. It’s just hard right now.”
Was it costly? You bet.
Was it the true dagger in this one? Hardly. It just put this game out of its misery.
Let me lay this out in black and white:
- New Mexico started its fourth-string quarterback. That guy, Connor Genal, is a walk-on and a redshirt freshman. This was his first-career start. He completed all of six passes and tossed a horrendous pick to CJ Coldon. He also fumbled on an attempted pitch on the Lobos' first drive. Wyoming's Charles Hicks snagged that one and rumbled down the sideline.
- After Genal was injured, the Lobos dug even deeper into their depth chart and sent Isaiah Chavez into the game. He is a true freshman. Also a walk-on. He completed just five balls. One was a 44-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Cole, who is still probably wide open somewhere. That all but sealed this one.
- New Mexico entered this game on a 14-game losing streak. It was the second longest in the nation. That is until Akron beat Bowling Green earlier in the day. By the time this one kicked off, the Lobos owned the longest skid in the country.
- The guys from Albuquerque had a 20-game losing streak in Mountain West play. They had lost 25 of the past 26.
- This team is playing in Las Vegas, Nevada -- not Las Vegas, New Mexico. That is 576 miles away from their home stadium. The Lobo players and coaching staff have lived in hotel rooms, practiced in parking lots and held team meetings in closed-down casinos since late October.
- Danny Gonzales, the first-year head coach at UNM, told the media last week he had a "terrible football team" after the Lobos gave up 28 points in the third quarter in a road loss to Utah State to fall to 0-5.
How is this Smith's fault again?
Here's where you can throw some of the blame around.
New Mexico entered this game with the 121st-ranked pass defense in the nation. That's out of 127 FBS teams. The Lobos allow nearly 309 yards per outing. Saturday, Wyoming racked up 91 -- yes, 91 -- yards through the air while completing just 5-of-17 passes.
Did Levi Williams have a great game? No.
My problem is with that No. 17 though. The number of pass attempts against the obvious weak link of this New Mexico defense.
Wyoming ran the ball 13 times on its first 16 plays from scrimmage. The Cowboys racked up all of 67 yards. They kicked a field goal on their first possession. New Mexico also gifted them a fumble that ended up inside the Lobos' 15-yard-line. Lucky for them because the Pokes' netted just three yards before that John Hoyland boot opened the scoring.
The other two drives ended with a punt and a turnover on downs.
I asked Craig Bohl if he expected to have more success through the air against this team?
"We certainly did," he said postgame, adding that the long ball was a focus this week. "We worked on a lot of stuff in practice ... We certainly needed to throw the ball better than we did tonight."
Better -- and more.
Williams whiffed on his first two pass attempts. Those came on the first and third play from scrimmage. After his third try, another incompletion, offensive coordinator Brent Vigen didn't have him throw again until the 9:54 mark of the second quarter.
That was a 10-yard completion to Treyton Welch.
Bohl likes to say that this team won't be taking any pages out of Mike Leach's playbook. We get it, Wyoming is a running team. That comes as a surprise to no one. Certainly not New Mexico, although the Cowboys did have plenty of success on the ground Saturday night, rushing for 283 yards. Smith added 154 to that number by himself.
Bohl also jokes that "every guy out there knows how to do two things -- coach Little League baseball and call offensive plays."
Even coach Buttermaker knew he needed to get guys on base if the Bad News Bears had a shot to beat the Yankees in the championship game.
In all seriousness, here's what we do know.
Wyoming didn't take advantage of a secondary that let Hawaii's Chevan Cordeiro throw for 410 yards? You might remember Cordeiro. He had minus-throwing yards against the Cowboys through the first quarter-plus in Laramie in Week 2. He finished with just 110 yards through the air that night.
San Jose State's Nick Starkel torched the Lobos for 467 yards through the air.
Nevada's Carson Strong went for 336.
Utah State's Andrew Peasley threw for 239 yards.
Gavin Beerup and Williams combined for 91. And one of Williams' throws went for 54 yards to Isaiah Neyor.
I'm not blaming them, either. This isn't on them.
I'm blaming a system that doesn't allow its quarterbacks to get into any sort of a groove. I'm blaming play calling that constantly overlooks a plethora of big, strong tight ends that could serve as easy outlets for a young quarterback trying to get into a game.
How about a screen?
How about a quick out?
You know, high-percentage stuff.
Wyoming's tailbacks are always afforded the opportunity to get into a rhythm. Often, it pays off. Quarterbacks? Rarely, if ever. Same can be said for wide receivers.
They kind of go hand in hand.
True, players need to execute the game plan. They aren't exempt. Bohl said there were misreads from the quarterbacks. Routes were disrupted, he added.
Players need to adjust.
So do the coaches.
New Mexico 17, Wyoming 16
Run, Bobby run
Was Wyoming's lack of depth starting to show on defense Saturday night?
"There's lack of depth showing everywhere," Bohl said. "They have lack of depth also. We are pushing through, answering the bell to play every game we can."
This wasn't a typical defensive performance by the Cowboys.
They gave up 223 rushing yards. That hasn't happened since Wyoming allowed Air Force to rack up 362 on the ground in 2018. Cole played the part of bulldozer Saturday night. The junior averaged six yards per carry while gashing the depleted Pokes for 131 yards on 22 carries.
He also caught a 44-yard touchdown pass. He was all alone. Wyoming's linebackers and safeties sucked in for the handoff. They forgot about No. 34.
"It's not necessarily lack of depth, everyone out there is more than capable," senior defensive end and team captain Garrett Crall said. "Give credit where credit is due. (Cole) ran the ball harder than I've seen somebody run in a long time."
Nathaniel Jones also added 55 yards on 11 carries and scored from 21 yards out.
Most of that credit needs to go to the Lobos' big guys up front. They dominated throughout this one, something rarely seen when it comes to the Cowboys -- or New Mexico.
The Lobos kept drives alive at the most inopportune times for the visitors. They were just 5-for-15 on third down, but those five seemed deflating. So did that 34:32 time of possession.
"There's a lot of emotions because I'm mad, I'm frustrated, sad and disappointed how we played," Crall said. "We did a lot of good things on defense. We got takeaways and some stops when we needed to. But, I think we can do better. We can't let a team like that get first downs and have life."
Out of energy?
Aside from the passing woes, Bohl pointed to another glaring stat that led to a double Gatorade shower for Gonzales after this one -- red zone offense.
Wyoming found itself inside the Lobos' 20-yard line four times Saturday night. They scored on three of those.
The issue? They were all field goals off the right foot of Hoyland. Nine total points. The other was Smith's late fumble. That's not getting it done.
"The red-zone offense was terrible tonight," Bohl said.
UW's head coach was asked if lack of energy played a role in this loss. He wasn't about to go there.
"I wouldn't classify it as energy, but execution," he said.
Was energy an issue? I don't think so. Neither does Crall or Smith.
"I believe the energy was there," Smith said. "We just didn't get the job done."
Crall said the mood surrounding the team was great from the hotel to pre-game warmups.
"... (We have to) keep our foot on the throttle and find a way to win games like that."
Here's a few other problems:
- Wyoming scored just six points off two New Mexico turnovers. The first was that Genal fumble that was returned to the Lobos' 15.
- The Cowboys were 1-of-11 on third down. But what really stings, they were just 1-of-4 on third and short, which means four yards or less. That's UW's bread and butter.
- The Cowboys put up a goose egg in the sack department against UNM. The Lobos had allowed 13 through five games.
The effort was there. The results -- and execution -- weren't.