3 Quick takes: UW’s offense a one-trick pony no more
LARAMIE -- Wyoming's defense played lights out through the majority of a Week 1 win over Montana State.
Last Saturday, it was the Cowboys' offense putting up 28 points in the first half and capping a 50-43 come-from-behind victory at Northern Illinois.
So, naturally, Craig Bohl's team put it all together against arguably the toughest opponent on the non-conference schedule Saturday in front of nearly 24,000 inside a sun-spanked War Memorial Stadium.
"I would say so," Wyoming's head coach said when asked if this 45-12 win over Ball State was the most complete game he's witnessed since at least 2016. "You know, there were elements last week. I thought that we looked really good, but there was times this game that we looked explosive on offense.
"... So, we're well pleased with our progress."
I don't think I'm alone in wondering what the Cowboys' last three seasons could have looked like with some semblance of a passing attack.
Just keep the opposing defense off balance. Maybe surprise them from time to time. Nothing crazy.
Wyoming lost to Tulsa, San Diego State, Utah State and Boise State by a combined 15 points in 2019. They had the ball late in all four of those games. A lack of passing game made the uphill climb seem unsurmountable.
How could a team with such a potent rushing attack find so few openings in the secondary?
It's still truly baffling to comprehend.
When Bohl and his staff started preaching the gospel of re-engineering this offense this offseason, I was skeptical. Admit it, so were you. After the narrow win over the Bobcats in the opener, some were openly questioning what had even changed.
So, what has changed?
For one, the guy under center looks comfortable and confident. Sean Chambers made a horrendous gaff on the first possession of the season, tossing an easy interception right to an MSU defender.
Since, he's been solid in every aspect.
Chambers has thrown for 601 yards. He's connected on four touchdown passes. The redshirt sophomore isn't running wild these days. When he does tuck it and take off, it's calculated. There's a purpose. It's not a last resort.
The Kerman, Calif., product already had the respect of the locker room. Now, he's earning it with this fanbase that has been starved for production from the quarterback spot since Josh Allen left town after the 2017 season.
Has it been perfect? Far from.
That's the good part, honestly.
Chambers is still completing just 58% of his passes. That's a huge improvement from year's past, but he'll be the first to tell you it needs to be better. He's also missed some throws. He overshot Isaiah Neyor twice in the first two weeks. He threw one just past the finger tips of Alex Brown in the opener, too. All three were sure walk-in touchdowns.
"I think we did a good job with that," Chambers said of the Cowboys' complete performance against Ball State. "I think we can even do better and that's pretty scary to think about."
Chambers hit throws from the pocket today. He rolled to his right and fired strikes, too. His footwork has improved. So has his vision.
Chamber has also shown the moment isn't too big for him. He's already led a pair of two-minute game-winning drives. He's been cool, calm. He said before the season that he feels no pressure. Why? He says no one expects much from him anyway.
He's sure playing like a guy who is living in the moment.
"We beat a really good Ball State team pretty handily today," Chambers said. "You know, we can keep going and keep improving. It's pretty exciting."
That playful, smiley guy is back. His confidence is beaming.
That's good news for the Pokes.
Wyoming 45, Ball State 12
Bohl made a very important phone call this week.
It was to Happy Valley. He wanted to know what to expect from the Cowboys' next opponent, Ball State. Mainly, what to expect from its offensive front, which is returning all five starters from its MAC Championship season a year ago.
So, who better to call than the Penn State coaching staff?
The Nittany Lions just knocked off the Cardinals 44-13 last Saturday, snapping Ball State's eight-game winning streak that dated back to last October. They did, however, only manage to pick up one quarterback sack.
"They said that (Ball State) is a lot bigger and stronger and well-coached. They had somewhat of a difficult time," Bohl said. "So, the pressure on the quarterback was key -- even if he didn't take a sack -- he was moving around and was having to do things under duress."
Oh, he took plenty of sacks. Six to be exact.
Ravontae Holt, the Cowboys' big defensive tackle, was credited with 2.5 of those. His running mate and fellow interior lineman, Cole Godbout, picked up the other half of that third takedown. Linebacker Easton Gibbs came free for one. So did Victor Jones and Solomon Byrd.
That's exactly what the Cowboys needed to do against Drew Plitt, a signal caller with nearly 7,000 career passing yards and 52 touchdowns.
Plitt was not sharp in this one -- to say the least.
The super senior completed just eight passes for 60 yards. He threw a pick-six to Keyon Blankenbaker in the first quarter. The camel's back was severed when Plitt took a sack late in the first half. Chad Muma hit him first. Jones finished the job. Plitt fumbled and laid on the turf as the ball bounced nearly 20 yards in the wrong direction.
Jaylen Pate recovered and Wyoming scored five plays later to make it a 31-0 advantage for the home team.
Plitt was benched for the remainder of this one.
"It was it was super gratifying," Muma said of seeing Plitt on the visiting sideline. "We knew coming in that he was an accurate thrower and a good QB with a lot of experience under his belt. So, the way that our defense played today was, extremely well, and kind of just shows last week was almost like a fluke."
We've been waiting for this pass rush to get going. Maybe it's the big fellas in the middle that lit the spark.
MORE UW FOOTBALL NEWS:
* Behind the numbers: UW vs. Ball State
* Three stars of the game
* Rants and Raves: Ball State Edition
* Turning point, unsung hero and what's next for UW football
Who is No. 30?
Wait, Wyoming has another game-changer at running back?
They sure do.
"I think we've known the whole time that he's a special guy," Chambers said of freshman Dawaiian McNeely, who finished with 48 yards on six carries, including a 16-yard touchdown -- the first of his career. "He's a really good football player.
"I guess he got to show Pokes Nation today."
McNeely did carry the ball 14 times for 55 yards in 2020. Thirteen of those -- and 54 yards -- came in a blowout victory over UNLV.
Bohl said the plan was to get the 6-foot-2, 190-pound McNeely some carries last week in DeKalb. An unthinkable second-half NIU comeback prevented that.
"He runs with great, great forward lean," Bohl said. "He's got a big frame. He doesn't have a lot of weight yet, but he packs a lot of punch and he's a hard guy to tackle."
Just ask Ball State.
On McNeely's touchdown scamper, he ran directly into the teeth of the Cardinals' front four. He bounced off and hit the gas, coasting toward the corner of the end zone.
Xazavian Valladay and Titus Swen combined for 24 carries and 104 rushing yards. Those two, with the addition of Trey Smith, already make up one of the best backfields in the nation. Add in McNeely, this group will be fresh and ready to ground and pound come winter time.
That will come in very handy when the Cowboys have back-to-back dates in Logan and Boise this November.
University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players
- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players